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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ty Wigginton is 0 for his last 9 with six strikeouts.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org