Phillies-Nationals: What you need to know

Phillies-Nationals: What you need to know

July 8, 2013, 1:30 pm
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Phillies (43-46) vs. Nationals (46-42)
7:05 p.m. – CSN

The Phillies begin a week that could shape their future with a four-game home series against the Washington Nationals. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said last week that the way the Phils play during their 10-game homestand leading up to the All-Star break will help determine the organization’s decision to buy or sell as the July 31 trade deadline nears.

The Phils began the homestand by taking two of three from the Braves, who lead the NL East by four games over the Nats and 7½ over the Phillies. Washington, though, is the division’s hottest team, having won four straight and nine of 13.

Harper makes a difference

The Nats have been one of baseball’s worst offensive teams in 2013, both because of disappointing years from several starters and injuries to Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos.

All are back now, and the Nats’ offense is clicking. Since Harper returned on July 1, Washington has averaged 6.1 runs and gone 5-2. Harper hasn’t done much himself –- he’s 5 for 25 with one extra-base hit in those seven games –- but his presence changes everything. It pushes Ryan Zimmerman to the cleanup role and lets Werth and Ian Desmond share time batting second and sixth. Along with Adam LaRoche in the five-hole, that is a formidable middle of the order.

Harper, hitting .274 with 13 homers, 29 RBIs and a .924 OPS this season, has been tough for the Phillies to retire. In 21 games against them he’s hit .307 with a .395 on-base percentage and eight extra-base hits.

He is, however, hitting just .196 this season against left-handed pitchers. The Phillies have three consecutive lefties going from Monday-Wednesday.

Lannan faces former team

John Lannan (1-3, 5.15) has disappointed through three-plus months with the Phillies, missing 10 starts with a knee injury and tossing just three quality starts in seven tries.

This is his second time facing the Nats since his return from the DL –- on June 17 he gave up two runs in five innings in a Phillies win.

Lannan had his best night as a Phillie on June 28, allowing one run over seven innings in a 16-1 win at Dodger Stadium, but followed that up with an 11-hit clunker in Pittsburgh last Wednesday.

The only Nat who has done damage against Lannan is Jayson Werth, who is 9 for 27 with four homers, two doubles and four walks in just over 30 plate appearances. Much of that production came when the two were in reverse roles, with Werth on the Phillies and Lannan pitching for the Nats.

Everyone’s hit Haren

The Nationals counter with 32-year-old right-hander Dan Haren, who is a shell of his former self.

Haren was 4-9 with a 6.15 ERA before hitting the DL on June 25 with shoulder soreness. This is his first start back.

The Phillies beat the Nats both times they faced Haren this year. They’ve hit three homers and scored seven runs off him in 12 innings. The longball has been a problem all year –- he’s served up 19 in 82 innings, which is the highest home run rate for any major-league pitcher in 2013.

Haren’s splitter is still an elite pitch, but the problem he’s running into is that his fastball and cutter have lost velocity and often come in flat. Opponents have hit .370 with 15 home runs in 219 at-bats against his sinker and cutter. Right-handed hitters are 15 for 30 (.500) off the sinker.

Dominating the division

Now 21-13 vs. the NL East, the Phils have the best division record of all five teams. The Braves are second at 19-13, and the Nats are 15-15.

The Phils have held their own against the two teams ahead of them, going 6-6 and winning their last two series against the Braves and Nationals.

The Phillies are still 7½ games behind the Reds for the second wild-card, but they’ve jumped ahead of the four NL West teams in the race for the final playoff spot.

Hittin’ season

The Phillies are 4-2 in July with a .303 batting average and .452 slugging percentage.

The outfield –- Ben Revere, Domonic Brown and Delmon Young -– has combined to hit .375 in 72 at-bats, with 12 RBIs in six games.

Chase Utley, too, has been a consistent force since returning from the DL. He’s hit in 14 of his last 15 games, batting .328 with a 1.044 OPS. During that stretch he has four homers, six doubles, a triple and 15 runs. A .388 on-base percentage is exactly what you look for from a two-hole hitter, and that’s where Utley was until Ryan Howard’s injury forced him back into the three-spot.

Utley -- who will be coveted by teams like the Athletics, Blue Jays, Dodgers and Orioles at the trade deadline -- leads all NL second basemen with a .513 slugging percentage.