After a long trip in the midwest, the Nationals will finally return home today to face the Philadelphia Phillies for a three-game set ending on Sunday.
The Nationals and the Phillies are meeting again after a short hiatus from playing each other - to be exact, it's been nine days since the two teams faced off.
To this point in the season, series between Philadelphia and Washington have been pretty lopsided. The Nats went 2-1 against the Phillies in their first meetings in early April, then both swept each other on the road.
Dusty Baker thought the two teams would be better off trading ballparks if both wanted consistent results.
Said Baker, "It seems like our team is built better for (Citizens Bank Park) and their team is built better for (Nationals Park), which results in reverse sweeps."
"We hit a few balls that would have changed the ballgame in our park when they swept us - it’s a hitter-friendly ballpark - we’ll try to get our stuff together when we get back home."
The Phillies, a team mainly built on pitching, enjoyed the cavernous gaps and tall fences of Nationals Park in late April.
However, as most seasoned Nats fans know, with warm, humid, June weather, those fences and gaps get much easier to conquer for hitters.
The Phillies will throw Jeremy Hellickson, Aaron Nola and Adam Morgan against the Nationals. The Nats have had mixed results with Hellickson and Nola - in Philadelphia, the first time around, the Nats lit up Hellickson, posting five runs in three innings.
Later that month, at home, Hellickson held the Nats to two hits and no runs, and then only allowed one earned run over seven innings in Philadelphia.
Nola also had a rough outing his first time against the Nationals, allowing seven runs in five innings, shutting out Washington over seven innings in D.C., and then only allowing two runs in Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, Adam Morgan has only pitched once against the Nationals, a six inning stint on June 1st where he allowed six runs (although, we’ll see if pitching so close to his namesake neighborhood will improve his stats).
For the Nationals, the undefeated Stephen Strasburg will try and get things going on Friday night.
Strasburg was good, but not great, in a start that was cut short by cramping from dehydration. The righty went 5.1 innings and allowed three runs before exiting in an eventual loss for the Nationals.
"Tried to stay hydrated, drinking a lot of water and stuff, knowing it was going to be a hot one. But it kind of grabbed at me a little bit," Strasburg told the media at his locker, answering questions about his calf cramps. "It’s no different than getting a cramp anywhere. I mean, sometimes, it happens."
Strasburg, believe it or not, has still yet to face the Phillies, at home or away. In his career, the righty is 7-2 with a 2.18 ERA against Philadelphia.
Tomorrow, it will be Tanner Roark trying to match Aaron Nola, in his second start against Philadelphia. Most recently, on May 30th, Roark went seven innings, and only allowed two runs on four hits. However, in his next start against the Cincinnati Reds, Roark was unable to make it out of the third inning, allowing five runs on seven hits, but it was ultimately nullified by the Nats posting ten runs en route to a 10-9 victory.
Joe Ross, also coming off of a tough outing in the midwest, will finish things off on Sunday. Against the Chicago White Sox, Ross was only able to make it through four innings while surrendering five runs.
"I just felt a little out of rhythm. Just kind of searching. Command wasn’t there - just tried to do what I could with what I had," Ross said. "I kind of got knocked out early, but it’s all right."
Ross did have a plan for his next start, though.
"Just kind of slow down. I think I was rushing a bit... So slow down, take a deep breath, focus on each pitch."
On offense for the Phillies, there isn’t all that much to talk about lately, especially considering the fact that they're coming off of a series with the Chicago Cubs (who the Nats will see next week).
For the Nationals, excepting last night’s game, where a few regulars sat, the opposite has been true; The Nats posted 31 runs in three games between Cincinnati and Chicago.
"Hitting’s contagious, big time. That’s an old cliche, but this is a prime example that hitting is contagious," Baker told the press after the Nats posted their third win scoring ten runs or more in a row.
Earlier, Baker acknowledged that Anthony Rendon, a key part of the team’s offense during 2014, was finally turning a corner.
"We welcome Anthony back. He hasn’t been anywhere, but the ball is jumping off his bat again and he had some clutch hits for us."
Wilson Ramos, who is leading all catchers in Major League Baseball in two of the three Triple Crown categories, average and RBI, (and is tied for second in home runs with eight), has also been an integral part of the Nats offense, and was a big part of the three day scoring barrage alongside Ryan Zimmerman.
"This club can hit. We’ve been sporadic in our offense, inconsistent in our offense, so hitting breeds confidence and confidence is spreading around... Glad to have Zim back, Big Ramos continues to swing."
Meetings between the Nats and the Phillies have been comically lopsided, three games at a time, in terms of wins and losses. Don't expect that to last for too much longer.
The Nats are finally hitting their stride offensively, but Philadelphia has proved that they’re able to hold their own in a top-heavy NL East.
For Dusty Baker, all that’s important is winning some games before the Cubs come to town, and before the Nats head on their big west-coast road trip.
"We’re not home very long, and we’ve got a tough homestand," said Baker, after the final game of a nine-game road trip, before heading home.
"Then, we certainly got a tough road trip, that West coast trip is always tough, but right now, we’ve just got to go home and beat the Phillies."