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Washington Nationals Series Preview: First series of the year against the Philadelphia Phillies

The Nationals have now lost five of their last six games and face the Phillies who have won five of their last seven...

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The Washington Nationals had a pretty frustrating series in the Bronx over the weekend.

Despite an offensive outburst on Friday, Washington dropped the next two games on Saturday and Sunday with a combination of a lack of offense and poor fundamental baseball.

Having lost five of their last six games, the Nationals now get to greet the Philadelphia Phillies for the first time this season for a three-game series to start the week.

The Phillies are in decent form lately, having won five of their last seven games, but they continue to just kind of plod along rather than doing anything to really separate themselves from the pack in the bunched-up National League East.

Here’s the lowdown from Nationals Park ahead of the three-game set...

The schedule

  • Game One: Tuesday, May 11th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Wednesday, May 12th, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Three: Thursday, May 13th, 1:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN and MLB Network (out-of-market only), Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Pitching matchups

  • Game One: Erick Fedde (2-3, 5.27 ERA) vs Chase Anderson (1-3, 5.54 ERA)
  • Game Two: Jon Lester (0-1, 2.70 ERA) vs Zack Wheeler (3-2, 2.83 ERA)
  • Game Three: Patrick Corbin (1-3, 7.36 ERA) vs Zach Eflin (2-1, 3.38 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Starlin Castro: Before I say this, make sure you’re sitting comfortably so that you don’t fall out of your chair, but believe it or not, the usually free-swinging Castro has walked in each of his last five games while striking out just three times. Unbelievable, isn’t it?

In all seriousness, Castro has been seeing the ball exceptionally well at the plate since the calendar turned over to May, slashing .357/.471/.464 with a hit in each of the eight games, while recording an average exit velocity of 94.1mph in that span, according to Statcast.

Don’t expect Castro to suddenly become a walking, baseball-barreling machine because of a small sample, but it’s fair to say that this might be the most locked-in he’s been with his new team.

Zack Wheeler: Though the Phillies didn’t necessarily get the full benefit of Wheeler last season, this year with a full schedule, it looks like the former New York Mets’ pitcher is starting to thrive in Philadelphia.

On the season, Wheeler holds a 2.83 ERA and is sixth in the National League in fWAR among pitchers.

In his last three starts, he’s been even better posting a 1.88 ERA with 23 strikeouts while walking just five, including a complete-game shutout in his latest start.

The Nationals have generally had good success against Wheeler in his career, with the right-hander only having a 4.64 ERA against them with 101 strikeouts and 50 walks, but Washington will have its work cut out for them with the right-hander in a groove right now.

Who’s not?

Brad Hand: On the whole, the Nats’ new closer has had a pretty good start to his career in the nation’s capital, sporting a 1.59 ERA and earning three saves in four opportunities this season.

However, it was a different story over the weekend at Yankee Stadium. The left-hander struggled with command in his two appearances, walking three Yankees, striking out just one, and allowing one earned run in each, leaving a blown save and loss on his record.

Manager Dave Martinez is the type of manager who will trot his guy right back out there after a bad outing or two to try and get past it quickly, just as he did with hand on Sunday, so if there’s a save opportunity in this series, expect the lefty to be the guy out there again.

Alec Bohm: A much-ballyhooed prospect coming up through the minors, Bohm made a huge splash in his rookie season during the shortened 2020 campaign, coming second in NL Rookie of the Year voting behind Milwaukee Brewers’ reliever Devin Williams.

However, so far this year, Bohm hasn’t had as much success, especially at the plate.

On the year, Bohm has a measly .217/.245/.333 with four home runs. It’s even worse in his last 16 games though, the young third baseman is slashing just .197/.194/.311, hitting a pair of long balls, though he has struck out 15 times without walking a single time in that stretch.

Despite the struggles, Bohm is still hitting fifth or sixth consistently, but if he continues to struggle, that could be something that changes in the near future, even as a temporary measure.

From the opposing dugout

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One more thing to watch

The Nationals may have a decision looming in the not-too-distant future with regards to their rotation.

According to their skipper, Stephen Strasburg is ready to take the next step in his recovery with a simulated game on tap for the righty ahead of the series opener against the Phillies.

“Strasburg is here, he’s going through his workouts,” Martinez said at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. “He’ll throw a sim game, hopefully, get him up to 50 pitches, maybe three innings on Tuesday.”

While Strasburg is still at least a couple of weeks away from returning to the big league rotation, this is the first game-style test for him physically since he landed on the Injured List with right shoulder inflammation on April 18th.

Based on how this simulated game goes, the team will decide his next steps, be that going out in a rehab assignment — something they didn’t have the luxury of doing with injured players last year with no minor league season — with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, or another simulated start with the big league team’s eyes on him at the weekend.

With Strasburg’s return perhaps coming before the end of May, the microscope will be on some of the team’s current rotation members as they hope to keep their spot when the former World Series MVP returns to a major league mound.

Both Fedde and Corbin, the two pitchers who are probably most at risk of losing their spot to Strasburg, will pitch this series and will be hoping to impress with that decision on the horizon.