Philadelphia Phillies' starter A.J. Burnett's first outing in August ended after just 1 ⅔ innings pitched, when he pretty much asked home plate umpire Chris Guccione to eject him after he surrendering three hits, two walks and five runs, one earned, in what ended up an 11-0 loss to the Nationals in Washington, D.C.
Burnett made his opinion of Guccione's work behind the plate clear and was dramatically tossed.
In two starts against the Nats since then, the 37-year-old, 16-year veteran has given up just two earned runs in 14 IP (1.29 ERA) against the Phillies' divisional rivals, shutting them down in a 3-2 win in Citizens Bank Park last week and limiting the Nationals to one run in a 3-1 win in Nationals Park on Saturday afternoon.
In the four of his last seven starts that have been against teams other than the Nationals, the right-hander has given up 19 ER in 25 ⅔ IP (6.66 ERA).
In five outings against the Nats this season before Saturday's start, Burnett was (3-2) against Washington with a 4.13 ERA over 28 ⅓ IP. He lowered his ERA against the Nationals to 3.56 in the Phillies' 3-1 win in the second game of three in the nation's capital this weekend and helped Philadelphia win the season series with the NL East's first-place team with their tenth win in eighteen games.
Burnett's only two wins in 10 second-half starts have been wins over the Nationals. Before Saturday's, all three of his wins over the Nats came at home in Citizens Bank Park.
So what is it about Burnett that Washington's hitters can't figure out?
Nats' skipper Matt Williams was asked after the Nationals' fifth straight loss to the Phillies and their seventh loss in the last nine games between the divisional rivals.
"We beat [Burnett] here once," Williams told reporters, "but he's a good matchup against our guys. Middle of our order guys have some damage against him, but not a whole lot of base hits. He matches up pretty well with our team over time. Seems to throw strikes against us, his walk totals are certainly lower against our team than the other teams he faces, but it's one of those things in baseball where there are good matchups and there aren't, but he matches pretty well against our guys thus far."
The Nationals put two runners on in two of the first three innings on Saturday, but came up empty. The Nats pushed a run across in the fifth on a sac fly by Anthony Rendon, but stranded two runners in that inning and Burnett retired the last seven batters he faced before leaving the game after seven innings.
"We had some opportunities," Williams said, "but he made pitches when he had to. He's a veteran pticher. He's been there. He understands what he needs to do out there, [and] he made good pitches."
Burnett might match up well with the Nationals, but it isn't only the right-hander helping the Phillies handle their NL East rivals this season.
After the Nationals won eight of the first thirteen games with the Phillies this season, they've now dropped five straight.
"Well over the last five it hasn't been good for us," Williams admitted.
"We've got a chance again tomorrow, but it's been a case of them pitching really well against us, Burnett especially. It doesn't get any easier tomorrow with Cole [Hamels]. We'll have to see what we can do against him."
In three starts against the Nationals this season, Hamels is (0-1) with a 2.57 ERA in 21 IP over which Nats' hitters have been held to a .205/.253/.308 line.
In his career, Hamels is (15-7) in 31 starts against Washington with a 2.58 ERA and a .220/.275/.338 line against.
So have all the dramatic comebacks, the recently-completed road trip, the 14-inning game that ended it and the other six extra innings games in the last month-plus taken their toll on the Nationals, who are just 4-6 in their last 10 games though they are 21-13 since the start of August?
"Today is a little flat," Williams said, "but yesterday we scored eight runs. I mean, it's one of those games, so I don't really put much stock into that, other than today was a touch flat, but against a guy that matches up well against us too, so it looks that way."
The Nationals have one more with the Phillies this afternoon, then it's three with the Atlanta Braves, whose win on Saturday combined with Washington's loss, got them within six games in the East with six games against the Nationals left this season.
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