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.

Tonight's lineup: Nick Williams, J.P. Crawford sit vs. lefty

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Tonight's lineup: Nick Williams, J.P. Crawford sit vs. lefty

With the Phillies facing lefty Alex Wood tonight, Tommy Joseph gets a rare start at first base.

It's Joseph's third start in the Phillies' last 12 games. He's become a forgotten man with the Phils' outfield fully healthy and Rhys Hoskins thriving at first base.

Pete Mackanin is using the matchup with a southpaw as a reason to get Joseph in the mix. Joseph has actually been dreadful this season against lefties, hitting just .197/.272/.410 in 135 plate appearances.

J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams have the night off.

Andrew Knapp is behind the plate to catch his second game since returning from a six-week DL stint.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Rhys Hoskins, LF
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Maikel Franco, 3B
7. Tommy Joseph, 1B
8. Andrew Knapp, C
9. Jake Thompson, P

Phillies-Dodgers thoughts: Rhys Hoskins refuses to go into a slump

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Phillies-Dodgers thoughts: Rhys Hoskins refuses to go into a slump

Phillies (60-91) vs. Dodgers (96-55)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Well, this series hasn't gone as planned.

Despite facing Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish, the Phillies have beaten the Dodgers on back-to-back nights to force at least a split. 

For L.A., it continues a miserable four-week stretch. The Dodgers were 91-36 on Aug. 25 and have gone 4-19 since.

The Phillies, meanwhile, are 31-33 since the All-Star break and 17-14 since Aug. 6.

More on tonight's game and the series in general:

• Last night was yet another fantastic game for Rhys Hoskins, who hit the game-deciding three-run double, drove in four runs in all and reached base three times. 

It appeared Hoskins was going into a slump after he went 0 for 11 with six strikeouts against the Athletics this past weekend, but he's responded by reaching base in five of seven plate appearances against the Dodgers. 

Through 39 games, Hoskins has hit .299/.428/.739 with five doubles, 18 homers and 43 RBIs. He has 29 walks and 33 strikeouts.

Odubel Herrera hit his 40th double of the season last night, becoming the first Phillie since Jayson Werth in 2010 to reach 40. 

The Phils had just one player hit 40 doubles in 2008 (Chase Utley), 2009 (Jimmy Rollins) and 2010 (Werth) and then none from 2011-16.

• Another scoreless inning last night from Luis Garcia, who's allowed one run in his last 18 appearances and has a 2.43 ERA in 61 games.

Nick Williams picked up his 11th infield single of the season last night. That kind of speed will allow him to maintain a higher batting average on balls in play than most players (see story).

• The Phillies face left-hander Alex Wood, who's had a career year. Wood is 15-3 with a 2.69 ERA in 140⅓ innings this season, with 144 strikeouts, 37 walks and just 13 home runs allowed. 

Lefties and righties alike have struggled against Wood, but he's been much more hittable since the All-Star break. Wood had a 1.56 ERA in the first half and has a 4.07 ERA since.

In his last start, Wood shut out the Nationals over six innings with eight strikeouts. In his previous three starts, he allowed 12 runs and six homers in 17 innings.

• Two Phillies, in particular, have seen Wood well: Freddy Galvis is 7 for 13 with a double; Cesar Hernandez is 5 for 11 with a double and three walks. 

Jake Thompson starts for the Phillies. He's 2-2 with a 4.46 ERA in nine games (six starts). He put 10 Marlins on base in 5⅓ innings in his last start but didn't allow a run.

• The Phillies would need to go 2-9 or worse the rest of the way to reach 100 losses. If the season ended today they'd pick second in the 2018 draft. The Giants are 1½ games worse.