Phillies-Nationals: What you need to know

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Phillies-Nationals: What you need to know

Phillies (13-15) at Washington Nationals (18-9)8:05 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies entered this weekends series with the Washington Nationals hoping to move above .500 for the first time since starting the season 1-0, and in the process pick up at least one game on the team that has spent the majority of 2012 atop the NL East.

Instead, the Phils dropped consecutive games at Nationals Park to fall to two games under .500, 5 behind Washington and into last place in the division.

The Phillies can at least salvage a frustrating series Sunday night when Cole Hamels gives them their one and only starting pitching advantage of the three-game set.

Starting Pitchers
Hamels, 3-1 with a 2.78 ERA, is off to another great start, and a team truly knows it has an ace when it can count on him to deliver a better-than-quality start when he doesnt have his best stuff working.

Hamels last start in Atlanta wasnt spectacular, but he held the Braves to two runs over six innings, struck out six and induced as many groundballs as flyballs.

Hamels has a .248 opponents batting average and a .661 OPS against, so he is essentially making all hitters look like Orioles utility infielder Robert Andino. With six strikeouts Sunday night, Hamels will re-take the NL lead on Gio Gonzalez.

This will be Hamels fourth consecutive road start. He allowed five runs in 20 innings over the last three and the Phillies won each game.

Going for the Nationals is 25-year-old righthander Jordan Zimmermann, who is 1-2 with a 1.89 ERA and 0.84 WHIP. Zimmermann allowed one run in each of his first four starts before getting tagged for four (three earned) Tuesday vs. Arizona.

Last season was Zimmermanns first full year in the bigs, and he went 8-11 with a 3.18 ERA and just 31 walks against 124 strikeouts. The Nats had him on a strict innings count of 160.

Zimmermann uses a 93-95 mile per hour fastball, a mid-80s slider, a high-70s curveball and, very rarely, a mid-80s changeup. The slider was far and away his best pitch in 2011.

Head-to-head
The Phillies are 79-51 (.608) against the Nationals since they moved to Washington in 2005, but have lost seven in a row in the series and 11 of 13. This is the fifth straight series with the Nats that the Phils havent won.

Hamels is 10-4 with a 2.71 ERA in 20 starts against Washington. Hes struck out 136 and walked 36 in 129 innings. Hes also 2-0 with a 2.05 ERA in four starts at Nationals Park.

Current Nats are batting .227 off Hamels, but do have nine home runs, seven doubles and a slugging percentage of .448. As weve written all weekend, though, those numbers are aided by Ryan Zimmerman, who is currently on the disabled list with a shoulder injury.

Zimmermann has not been effective in three starts against the Phillies. He is 0-2 with a 6.60 ERA and a .328 opponents batting average. Shane Victorino is 3 for 8 off Zimmermann with two doubles and Carlos Ruiz is 3 for 7 with a homer.

Previous games
The Nationals won the first game of the series, 4-3, in 11 innings Friday night. The Phils held leads of 2-0 and 3-1, but blown calls by a three-man umpiring crew and a leaky bullpen gave away the advantage.

The Phillies struck first Saturday but the Nats got to Vance Worley an inning later and eventually won easily, 7-1, as the often wild Gonzalez threw strike after strike.

Whos hot
Ruiz, who even found a way to contribute on a bad offensive day for the Phils. He drove in the only run Saturday with a shallow sacrifice fly. He has hit in seven of eight games, and four of those were multi-hit games. Ruiz is batting .325.352.588 on the season. Just gaudy numbers, especially for a catcher.

Laynce Nix figures to start at first base. He went 0 for 2 in his last start but in the three before that was 5 for 9 with a homer, two doubles and four RBI.
Whos not
Ty Wigginton is 0 for his last 9 with six strikeouts.
Sound off
With the Phils at risk of moving 6 games back of the Nationals with a loss, is this an early-season must-win?

E-mail Corey Seidman at cseidman@comcastsportsnet.com

Tonight's lineup: WIth only RHP left, could Ryan Howard start every game?

Tonight's lineup: WIth only RHP left, could Ryan Howard start every game?

If healthy, Ryan Howard is expected to start all three games in the Phillies' final series of the season Sept. 2-4 at home against the Mets.

He might also start the entire Braves series.

The Phillies' final six games are all against right-handed starting pitchers: Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Josh Collmenter in Atlanta; Robert Gsellman, Bartolo Colon and Noah Syndergaard with the Mets. That could mean six starts for Howard before his time with the Phillies expires.

Howard's batting average has been below .200 for practically the entire season, but he's been much better since the All-Star break, hitting .259/.325/.598 with 11 homers, five doubles and 25 RBIs in 123 plate appearances (see game notes). He went 0 for 6 in his last two starts but homered in each of his two previous starts to reach 23 for the third year in a row.

Here's the Phillies' full lineup Tuesday against Teheran:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Roman Quinn, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Aaron Altherr, RF
9. Jerad Eickhoff, P

Matt Kemp is out of the Braves' lineup.

1. Ender Inciarte, CF
2. Adonis Garcia, 3B
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B
4. Nick Markakis, RF
5. Tyler Flowers, C
6. Jace Peterson, 2B
7. Dansby Swanson, SS
8. Mallex Smith, LF
9. Julio Teheran, P

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Phillies-Braves 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff approaches 200-inning mark

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff approaches 200-inning mark

Phillies (70-86) at Braves (63-92)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

After losing by three possessions on Sunday and getting an off day Monday to think about it, the Phillies are back in action Tuesday night to begin their final road series of 2016.

Let's take a look:

1. The finish line nears
Forty-nine down, two to go. The Phillies have just two series left this season, a three-gamer in Atlanta and then a set with the Mets at home to close it out. 

The Phils have a series record of 18-25-6. They have just six series wins in 21 tries since the All-Star break (6-12-3). 

The Phillies and Braves have played seven times in the second half and the Phils are 2-5 — they split a four-game series July 28-31 in Atlanta and were swept at home Sept. 2-4.

With 70 wins, the Phillies have already beaten their over-under by four victories. If they manage to split these final six games, they'll finish 10 games better than they did in 2015.

The Braves, meanwhile, will avoid 100 losses. That didn't look possible when they were 33-66 and on pace for 109 losses. But Atlanta has been much better the last six weeks, especially offensively.

2. Freeman's monstrous year
Whether it was the addition of Matt Kemp or just regression to his true talent level, Freddie Freeman has been a force of nature this summer.

Freeman started slowly. Through June 12, he was hitting .242 with a .750 OPS in 61 games. Since then? He's hit .347/.445/.673 with 33 doubles, five triples, 23 homers and 69 RBIs in 91 games. The Braves are just three games under .500 over that span at 44-47.

It's pretty amazing that Freeman has had an MVP-caliber season in a lineup that offers so little protection. This has been the best year of his seven-year career. In 669 plate appearances, he's hit .305/.402/.570 with 43 doubles, six triples, 32 homers and 87 RBIs. He's also walked 86 times. 

Freeman's best work this year has come against the Phillies. In 16 games, he's gone 22 for 60 (.367) with a .449 OBP, five doubles, five homers and 10 RBIs.

3. The push toward 200
Jerad Eickhoff makes his 32nd start of the season tonight and will likely have one more on the final day. He enters tonight's game with 187⅓ innings pitched, 12⅔ shy of the 200-inning benchmark every pitcher seeks.

Eickhoff said early in the summer that 200 innings would be meaningful to him and acknowledged it just sounds different than 195. It's taken health, stamina and consistency for Eickhoff to get to this point at age 26 in his first full big-league season.

Eickhoff (11-14, 3.75 ERA) has made six consecutive quality starts. He's steadied the Phillies' rotation for four months now. Since May 22, Eickhoff is 10-8 with a 3.52 ERA, but if you remove the one dreadful outing at hitter-friendly Coors Field, his ERA over that span is 3.13. He very well could be the opening day starter in 2017.

Eickhoff has faced the Braves five times in his career and gone 2-1 with a 1.45 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. 

Freeman is 5 for 14 against him with a double and a homer, but all other active Braves have hit a combined .209 with no extra-base hits in more than 75 plate appearances.

Eickhoff won't have to deal with Kemp, who has been hot lately but is out of Tuesday's lineup.

4. Last look at Teheran
The Phillies take on talented Braves right-hander Julio Teheran for the third time this season and 15th time in his six-year career.

Could it be their last time seeing him in an Atlanta uniform? That's always a possibility for the rebuilding Braves with Teheran, who has long been an intriguing trade candidate. A 25-year-old with a 3.37 career ERA and one of the more team-friendly contracts in baseball, Teheran figures to have immense trade value this offseason. He's due $31 million over the next three seasons in a sport where pitchers half as talented now earn similar average annual salaries.

If Teheran is eventually dealt for a package of prospects, the Phillies won't be sad to see him go. He's 7-4 with a 2.31 ERA and has allowed just five home runs to them in 89⅔ career innings. His starts against the Phillies the last three years have been even better: 6-2, 1.39 ERA, 56 strikeouts, 13 walks, one homer allowed in 71 innings.

His last time out, Teheran allowed just one run over seven innings to the Mets but struck out only one batter. He hasn't missed many bats lately, generating just three swings-and-misses in his last start and six two outings before that.

Teheran has five pitches but mostly uses a four-seam fastball/slider combination. When he last faced the Phillies on Sept. 4, 90 of his 119 pitches were four-seamers or sliders.

Current Phillies have hit .219 collectively against Teheran in 169 at-bats. Freddy Galvis has seen him the best, going 7 for 18 (all singles) with three walks. Ryan Howard has two doubles and two solo homers off Teheran in 26 ABs.

5. This and that
• File this one under stats nobody would have predicted: The Braves have the highest on-base percentage in the majors since the All-Star break at .346. The Phillies are fifth-worst at .306.

• In 50 games with Atlanta, Kemp has hit .287/.341/.508 with 13 doubles, 10 homers and 35 RBIs. He had 16 walks in 100 games with the Padres and has 18 in half as many games with the Braves. His poor defense has still made him a net negative player this season (if you believe in WAR), but the Braves are 26-24 since acquiring him.

• If the season ended today, the Phillies would have the ninth pick in next June's draft. Based on the records of the teams around them, they are a near lock to pick either 8th, 9th or 10th.

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