Phillies-Nationals: What you need to know

Phillies-Nationals: What you need to know
May 26, 2013, 9:45 am
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Phillies (24-25) at Nationals (25-24)
1:35 p.m. – PHL17

Six strong innings from Jonathan Pettibone, early power and late clutch hitting, and effective outings from Chad Durbin, Jeremy Horst and Jonathan Papelbon gave the Phillies a two-run win over the Nationals on Saturday that evened the series at one game apiece.

Now the Phils go for the series win and the second-place tie with Washington.

Hamels vs. Strasburg
Cole Hamels (1-7, 4.45) and Stephen Strasburg (2-5, 2.66) are on the mound for what should be a dandy.

Both pitchers have gotten very little run support this season. The Phils have scored 2.87 runs per game while Hamels has been in – including 13 runs total in his last eight games. The Nats have scored 3.22 runs per game for Strasburg.

Hamels took a major step forward earlier this week, when he struck out 10 Marlins without a walk. Pitching coach Rich Dubee later commented that Hamels had his best fastball of the season.

It’s been an odd season for Hamels, who has pitched well half the time but struggled the other half. Hamels has allowed five runs twice and eight runs once, and in two other games walked five and six batters. In the other handful of starts he’s been virtually unhittable.

Strasburg isn’t striking out as many batters as usual. His season-high is eight. His K/9 is down from 11.2 in his career to 8.7 this year. Strasburg’s groundball rate is higher than ever, though, at 50.3 percent.

Strasburg has been excellent in six of 10 starts. He’s done his part. But run support hasn’t been the only unlucky aspect of his season. He’s also allowed nine unearned runs.

In four starts vs. the Nationals last season, Hamels went 3-1 with a 1.93 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 28 innings. Adam LaRoche has long been an enemy – he’s a .320 lifetime hitter off Hamels with four homers. Bryce Harper is 5 for 13 (.385), and Ryan Zimmerman is 17 for 60 (.283) with three doubles and two homers.

Strasburg faced the Phillies twice in 2012 and struggled both times, allowing nine runs in 10 innings while striking out just seven.

Dom Bombs
Domonic Brown hit another homer on Saturday, his team-leading ninth of the season. He also doubled in an insurance run in the eighth inning. In May, he’s hit .291 with a .570 slugging percentage, six homers, 16 RBIs, four doubles and a triple. He has five extra-base hits in his last five games.

Brown is being much more aggressive and it’s led him to his best month as a pro. He hasn’t walked yet this month, which is due more to swings on the first or second pitch than anything else.

Brown has a .301 OBP but it’s not the kind of .301 you worry about. He’s always shown impressive plate discipline. Now he’s showing 30-home run power. And batting sixth, his power is much more meaningful than a few extra walks here and there, especially when the guys below him in the order don’t do much hitting themselves.

Not a morning person
Hamels is usually money at night, but historically he’s been far less effective with these early starts.

At night, Hamels has a 3.12 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. He’s won 61 percent of his games.

During the day, Hamels has a 3.95 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP. He’s won 52 percent of his games.

The first mile-marker
If the Phillies win, they’ll reach .500 for the first time since they were 6-6. It would be the first milestone and it would come a day before Memorial Day, which is often viewed as the first real checkpoint of the baseball season.

The Phils are 10-7 since they shut an ailing Roy Halladay down. If you throw out the 10-0 loss to the Reds, they’ve outscored their opponents 61-49 over that span.