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Washington Nationals Series Preview: Max Scherzer set to return against Philadelphia Phillies

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The Nationals have won eight of their last 10 and they send their two best pitchers this season to the mound in Philly...

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Well, would you look at that, the Washington Nationals might have something brewing here.

Sure, they’re still 33-36 and five games back in the National League East, but they’re finally playing something resembling winning baseball for an extended period of time this season after a big series win over the New York Mets this past weekend.

Now they need to carry it over into seven more divisional games, starting with a trip to Citizen’s Bank Park to play the Philadelphia Phillies in a two-game set.

The Phillies are heading home from a 2-4 West Coast trip against the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, seemingly continuing to tread water at .500 this season.

With the Nationals looking like they have started to figure things out, this series comes at a good time for them as they hope to overtake the Phillies with a sweep and have their two best pitchers this season set to go in Max Scherzer and Erick Fedde.

Here’s the lowdown from Philadelphia ahead of the midweek series...

The schedule

  • Game One: Tuesday, June 22nd, 7:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN, Radio: 106.7 The Fan
  • Game Two: Wednesday, June 23rd, 1:05 pm EDT. TV: MASN and MLB Network (out-of-market only), Radio: 106.7 The Fan

Pitching matchups

  • Game One: Max Scherzer (5-4, 2.21 ERA) vs Zack Wheeler (5-3, 2.15 ERA)
  • Game Two: Erick Fedde (4-4, 3.33 ERA) vs Vince Velasquez (2-2, 4.44 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Erick Fedde: It will take more than a stint on the COVID IL to derail the run that Fedde is on.

Fedde was on a stretch of seven starts with a 3.35 ERA before he tested positive for COVID-19, missing some time as he awaited clearance to return then had to build his arm back up.

In his two starts since returning, Fedde hasn’t missed a beat, delivering 12 scoreless innings while striking out 13 and walking four — though the four free passes did come in the same start — extending his strong run in the rotation to nine starts with a 2.54 ERA and 3.75 FIP.

The right-hander has been the Nationals’ best starter not named Max Scherzer this season and he will look to continue his recent dominance on the mound in the second game of the series.

Andrew McCutchen: In a lineup that has some of the game’s current stars, McCutchen can sometimes get overlooked as a 34-year-old who is in the downswing of his career.

However, the 2013 NL MVP has been able to roll back the clock a little bit with his performance in the month of June.

This month, McCutchen is slashing a strong .320/.426/.700 slash line with five home runs, 14 RBIs, and he has also recorded six multi-hit efforts in 15 games.

According to FanGraphs, his 195 wRC+ is the highest among qualifiers in the senior circuit since the month started.

Having started the season as the Phillies’ leadoff hitter, McCutchen has dropped to the middle of the lineup and is thriving in his new spot in the order and the Nats will need to be wary.

Who’s not?

Josh Harrison: To start the season, Harrison was one of the few consistent bats that the Nationals had in their lineup as the team sputtered out of the gate after its COVID outbreak.

While he maintained a decent showing with the bat into May, lately, regression has hit hard.

In June, Harrison is slashing just .208/.306/.264 with only three extra-base hits, 14 strikeouts, and three walks. He has been hit by five pitches though, which has kept his on-base percentage up, but it’s hardly something the utility man has been happy with at the time.

With Starlin Castro back from the Restricted List, Harrison, Castro, and Jordy Mercer should continue to split time at second and third, but Luis García is back at Triple-A and is looming if those three infielders continue to struggle to produce consistently.

Héctor Neris: Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Phillies are being held back by a less-than-reliable bullpen. As a group, they have an ERA of 4.36 and FIP of 4.50 which rank 21st and 24th in the majors respectively while their 14 blown saves are tied for second-most in MLB.

No pitcher has epitomized their struggles over the years than Neris, who has always seemingly had a tumultuous time in the back-end of their bullpen as the team’s on-off closer.

On the whole in 2021 though, Neris has been solid for the Phillies. The right-hander has stumbled lately though with two blown saves in back-to-back appearances on June 10th and 12th, seeing his ERA on the season rise from 1.90 to 3.16 after those two outings.

If the Nationals are trailing late with Neris set to come in, it’s far from a sure thing that he’ll be able to shut the door without drama, especially with some recent hiccups under his belt.

From the opposing dugout

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One more thing to watch

After a brief absence with what the team described as groin inflammation, Max Scherzer is set to return to the Nats’ rotation in the first game of this series against the Phillies on Tuesday.

The last time Nationals fans saw Scherzer, he lasted just 12 pitches against the Giants. He was subsequently placed on the 10-day Injured List retroactive to June 12th after he tried and failed to have a bullpen session as the Nats remained cautious.

Thankfully, Scherzer and Nationals manager Dave Martinez never thought the injury was serious.

On Sunday, Scherzer had another go at a bullpen session, which would’ve set him up to start this series opener. It’s safe to say that the session went well based on his response.

“Forty-pitch bullpen, all good,” Scherzer told reporters on the field on Sunday, as quoted by Mark Zuckerman of MASN Sports. “See you Tuesday.”

With the time off, are the Nationals expecting their prized right-hander to be limited at all?

“No,” Martinez responded. “He’s going to go out there, and that’s one thing we always talk about with him, he doesn’t want any limitations and neither do we.

“We want him to go out there and just go through the game like he normally does, and give us as many pitches as he possibly can.”

The Nationals have been rolling since Scherzer’s last start with an 8-2 record in that time.

But if they’re going to try and make a comeback in the NL East, they need Scherzer to continue performing as he has so far this season. That starts with a big start against the second-place Phillies this evening.