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Nationals vs. Phillies Series Preview: Let’s try this again

The Washington Nationals are struggling as they enter a pivotal series with the Philadelphia Phillies. Yes, it was the same situation last week.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Nationals (41-37) vs. Phillies (42-36) series info:

Game 1: Thursday, June 28 at 7:05 p.m. ET (MASN2/106.7 The Fan)

Game 2: Friday, June 29 at 7:05 p.m. EST (MASN2/106.7)

Game 3: Saturday, June 30 at 6:05 p.m. EST (MASN2/106.7)

Game 4: Sunday, July 1 at 1:35 p.m. EST (MASN2/106.7)

Pitching matchups:

Thursday: Tanner Roark (3-8, 4.27) vs. Aaron Nola (9-2, 2.58)

Friday: Erick Fedde (0-3, 5.32) vs. Nick Pivetta (4-6, 4.06)

Saturday: Jeremy Hellickson (2-0, 2.28) vs. Vince Velasquez (5-8, 4.69)

Sunday: Gio Gonzalez (6-5, 3.68) vs. Jake Arrieta (5-6, 3.54)

What to watch for:

Hellickson returns to the rotation

Sidelined since June 3 with a hamstring injury, Jeremy Hellickson is set to be activated off the disabled list Saturday to make his 10th start of the season. His stat line from his sole rehab start isn’t pretty (4.2 IP, 9 H, 11 ER, 4 Ks, 3 BB, 1 HBP) but the Nationals are hoping he was just working back up to full strength and will be all set by the weekend.

Washington currently sports a nine-man bullpen and so a corresponding move will likely force the front office to make a tough decision regarding its relief corps. Sammy Solis is the only member of the active bullpen with an option remaining but it’d be more likely that either Matt Grace is placed on waivers or a move with Shawn Kelley is made.

Rendon quietly finds his stroke

Although he snapped a nine-game hitting streak Tuesday, Anthony Rendon has been tearing the cover off the ball lately. Since June 15, Rendon is hitting .400 with 10 extra-base hits and just eight strikeouts in 50 plate appearances.

With how poorly the Nationals have been hitting as a whole, any kind of offensive production will be a huge boost for Washington. Manager Davey Martinez has Rendon penciled in batting second in the series opener.

NL East update

Despite the Nats’ abysmal play of late, they’re only sitting three and a half games back in the division thanks to the Cincinnati Reds taking two of three from the Atlanta Braves earlier this week. The Phillies are a game ahead of Washington, making this weekend series all the more important.

As far as run differential goes, the Nats (+25) and Phillies (+13) are nowhere near the Braves (+70). In fact, Atlanta’s run differential is the second-best mark in the National League, behind only the Chicago Cubs (+83).

Series history:

The Phillies lead the all-time series (2005-present) 129-118, including a mark of 62-57 at Citizens Bank Park. Each team has taken two of three at the opponent’s ballpark this year, leading to a 3-3 split in the season series.