Phillies-Nationals: 5 things you need to know

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Phillies-Nationals: 5 things you need to know

Phillies (1-2) vs. Nationals (1-2)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

After dropping the first series of the season to the Boston Red Sox, the Phillies remain home to take on another stacked team in the Washington Nationals.

The Nats entered the season with 6/1 odds (per Bovada) to win the World Series, the shortest in baseball. But Washington didn’t have such a hot series against the Mets, scoring just six runs total in three games.

Of course, the Phillies’ starting pitching isn’t in the same stratosphere as the Mets’, so this series is shaping up to be quite a challenge.

Here are five game notes to get you set for the series opener:

Murderer’s row
The Phillies begin an absolutely brutal 10-game stretch tonight. They’ll face Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer this weekend.

Then they go to New York to face the reigning Rookie of the Year in Jacob deGrom, then Matt Harvey and Jon Niese.

After that, the Phils head to Washington, where they’ll oppose Fister, Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg.

The number of aces and No. 2 starters in the NL East is yet another reason the Phillies should be rebuilding. This division is the toughest in baseball when it comes to starting pitching, and even if the Phillies had .500-like talent, it would be hard to avoid a losing season going up against horses like these.

J-Will on the hill
Jerome Williams was a pleasant surprise for the Phils last season, going 4-2 with a 2.83 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in nine starts after signing in early August.

It was an unlikely career resurgence for a pitcher who had a 9.90 ERA with the Rangers and a 6.04 ERA with the Astros in 2014 before latching onto the back end of the Phils’ rotation.

Can he carry those strong final two months into 2015?

If the spring was any indication, that answer is probably no. Williams went 0-4 in Grapefruit League play with a 7.40 ERA and 1.84 WHIP. His opponents hit .368 with five home runs in 20 2/3 innings.

The Phillies know Williams doesn’t have upside and they know it will be challenging for him to piece together an ERA below 4.50, but if he can provide them six innings and four runs or fewer, that would represent an adequate season debut.

Defensive woes
Both of these infields struggled to field the ball on Thursday night.

Ryan Howard had issues scooping throws in the fifth inning against the Red Sox. One was on a poor throw from Freddy Galvis, the other from Cody Asche after Asche had made an impressive diving stop down the third-base line.

No runs were scored in that inning, but it was a perfect example of why groundballers won’t be as successful with this team as they could be elsewhere. A.J. Burnett didn’t pitch well overall last season, but he was a case in point.

As for the Nats, Ian Desmond committed his third error already this season against the Mets, which led to three unearned runs for Stephen Strasburg. Nationals pitchers could feel some frustration early this season with a middle infield of Desmond and Dan Uggla.

The book on Gio
Gonzalez is a stifling lefty who has always limited hits, but will struggle when his control is off.

Since joining the Nats in 2012, Gonzalez is 42-26 with a 3.25 ERA in 91 starts. He’s faced the Phillies 12 times over that span, going 6-4 with a 3.05 ERA with 72 strikeouts and 22 walks in 73 2/3 innings.

The Phillies’ two veteran lefties, Howard and Chase Utley, have both struggled mightily against Gonzalez. Utley is 3 for 17 and Howard is 0 for 11 with six strikeouts.

You might see Darin Ruf get the start at first base for Howard, especially since a few Phillies outfielders have hit Gonzalez well. Ruf is 6 for 16 off Gonzalez with two homers.

Jeff Francoeur is 5 for 14 with two doubles and a homer against the southpaw. And two of the Phillies’ left-handed hitting outfielders have had success — Grady Sizemore is 7 for 14 with two doubles and a triple, and Ben Revere is 8 for 19.

Sold on the Nats?
I’m not. Washington will almost certainly win the NL East, it has too much talent not to. But beyond that, I don’t see this Nats offense as having enough to advance deep into October, especially with Rendon on the DL and Adam LaRoche on the south side of Chicago.

If Washington is to win it all this season, Bryce Harper will need to carry the Nats on his back. He is a .272 career hitter that gets treated like he’s a perennial MVP candidate. This Nats team doesn’t have a ton of power, so a .290/30-home run season from Harper will be necessary for Washington to beat teams like the Cardinals and Dodgers in the playoffs.

Best of MLB: Matt Kemp walk-off HR lifts Braves over Giants

Best of MLB: Matt Kemp walk-off HR lifts Braves over Giants

ATLANTA -- Matt Kemp hit a two-run homer off Cory Gearrin in the 11th inning to lift the Atlanta Braves to a 5-3 win over the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday night.

The homer, the third of the game for Atlanta, was Kemp's seventh game-ending shot of his career.

Gearrin (1-2) walked Nick Markakis with one out before Kemp's homer barely cleared the right field wall..

Matt Adams hit a two-run homer and Tyler Flowers also homered off Jeff Samardzija.

Braves Sean Newcomb, who gave up one run in six innings, was denied his first win when Hunter Pence's homer off Braves closer Jim Johnson tied the game at 3-3 in the ninth. It was Johnson's fifth blown save in 18 chances (see full recap).

Diamondbacks ride 10-run 4th inning to victory
DENVER -- Taijuan Walker pitched six solid innings and slapped an RBI single during Arizona's biggest inning ever on the road -- a 10-run fourth -- and the Diamondbacks went on to beat the Colorado Rockies 16-5 on Wednesday night.

Shaking off Tuesday's tough loss in which Colorado rallied late for a one-run win, the Diamondbacks sent 14 men to the plate and pounded out nine hits, including a two-run double and RBI single by Brandon Drury in his two at-bats in the inning. Drury finished with four hits and career-high six RBIs and the Diamondbacks established season highs in run and hits (20).

David Peralta and Paul Goldschmidt also connected for two hits in the inning and combined for three RBIs, helping the Diamondbacks snap the Rockies' winning streak at six games and setting up Thursday's match between the NL West rivals as the decisive game in the series (see full recap).

Royals rally past Red Sox on Perez grand slam
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Salvador Perez hit his first career grand slam, connecting in the eighth inning to rally the Kansas City Royals over the Boston Red Sox 6-4 Wednesday.

The Royals have won nine of 11 and moved within a game of .500.

Perez homered over the Kansas City bullpen in left field on the ninth pitch from Robby Scott (0-1). With Boston leading 4-2, reliever Matt Barnes started the inning by walking Jorge Bonifacio and Lorenzo Cain on 12 pitches.

Scott was summoned to face Eric Hosmer, but walked him on four pitches to load the bases for Perez. The All-Star catcher fouled off three full-count deliveries before hitting his 15th home run of the season.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Perez was the first Kansas City player to hit a grand slam in the eighth inning or later with the Royals trailing since Frank White in 1986.

Jorge Soria (3-2) worked a spotless eighth. Kelvin Herrera pitched the ninth for his 17th save in 19 chances (see full recap).

Phillies on pace for 111 losses after bizarre late-game bullpen meltdown

Phillies on pace for 111 losses after bizarre late-game bullpen meltdown

BOX SCORE

In the big picture — and that's what has really mattered right from the beginning of this season — something quite positive happened for the Phillies on Wednesday night: A young, promising pitcher took a nice step forward and for the second straight start offered hope that he might just be a reliable piece of the rotation when this rebuilding club is ready to be relevant again.

But in the narrow view, it was easy to look right past Nick Pivetta's six innings of three-run, 10-strikeout ball. That's how bad the losing has been. Every night offers a gaper delay on the highway to 100 losses.

Did we say 100?

How about 111? That's the Phillies' current pace after an ugly 7-6 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals (see Instant Replay) — and 111 losses would match a franchise high set in 1941 when Doc Prothro's club went 43-111.

It's bad, folks.

But you already knew that.

This one was especially unsightly for how the Phillies lost it. They blew a five-run lead under the weight of a barrage of home runs — two against the bullpen in the eighth and ninth innings — had the potential winning run cut down at the plate by 20 feet in the bottom of the ninth then lost it in the 10th after a troubling meltdown by reliever Edubray Ramos.

You almost had to see it to believe it. And if you didn't see it, don't bother looking for a replay. It will only hurt your eyes.

"We let that five-run lead get away from us," manager Pete Mackanin said. "Real disappointing night. Pivetta did a really good job for us, gave us six good innings. And we had 16 hits; you have to win a game when you get 16 hits. We couldn't push any more runs across until that 10th inning. Very disappointing."

Pivetta — 19 strikeouts in his last two starts — took a 5-0 lead to the mound in the fifth and was tagged for a home run on a 3-2 fastball in that inning. No problem. He issued a two-out walk in the sixth then served up a first-pitch, two-run homer to Jedd Gyorko. Little problem, but not fatal.

Things started to turn bad in the eighth when reliever Joaquin Benoit served up a first-pitch homer to Jose Martinez to make it a one-run game and they got worse when Hector Neris blew his second save in three games when he gave up a game-tying homer to Tommy Pham (his second of the game) on a 1-1 fastball in the ninth.

In the 10th, Ramos gave up a leadoff double to Martinez. The reliever then balked Martinez to third and gifted him home plate on an errant pickoff throw to first base. (It sailed way over Tommy Joseph's head.) The Cards ended up scoring two runs in the frame. The second one came in handy when the Phils pushed across one in the bottom of the inning.

Ramos looks like a pitcher who needs to go to the minors to clear his head. In his last three outings, he has faced eight batters and allowed three hits, three walks and seven runs. He has also committed a costly balk and a costly error, signs that's he becoming a little overwhelmed.

"I don't know what to tell you," Mackanin said. "It looks like he's mixed up or something. He's not the same guy."

Ramos declined to speak with reporters after the game.

But Odubel Herrera and Pat Neshek did agree to chat.

Neshek, the Phillies' best reliever, was conspicuously absent from a close game. He threw 28 pitches Sunday, had a day off Monday and threw 11 on Tuesday. He was not available. What was curious was that Mackanin said Neshek had told him he was sore. Neshek said he never said such a thing, that he showed up to the ballpark and was told he was getting a day off, which he actually thought was a good idea. But sore? Not so, he said.

As for Herrera, he drew attention for running through third base coach Juan Samuel's stop sign in the bottom of the ninth inning and getting nailed at the plate for the final out. Samuel said it was the first time a player had ever run through one of his stop signs. In this case, Herrera almost ran him over.

"It's just bad timing for it," Samuel said.

There was some question as to whether Samuel's stop sign went up too late, but Herrera dismissed that. He said he was simply running with his head down.

"I was playing aggressive," he said. "I wanted to win the game. So when I was rounding third, I put my head down. I kept going to home plate. I saw [the stop sign]. But I saw it late. I put my head down. That's my mistake."

Making a mistake didn't make Herrera unique Wednesday night.

"The mistakes we're making are giving the other team too many pitches to hit," Mackanin said. "Those are our mistakes. Especially late in the game."