The Phillies come into this weekend’s home series against the Nationals with one of the worst offenses in baseball. The Nationals come into the series boasting one of the best starting rotations, and after last night’s game against the Braves, have set a franchise record with 41 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings.
While the Nationals have been tearing it up on the rubber, the Phillies have been tearing it up at the plate, scoring 33 runs in their last four games. Over their last seven games, the team’s offense ranks fifth in the NL in home runs (8), fourth in total bases (110), fifth in OPS (.795), and second in hits (70). This could be a case of good timing for the Phillies. Unfortunately, the Nationals’ starters are enjoying a pretty successful stretch of their own.
Over their last seven games, Nationals pitching ranks first in the NL in ERA (1.38), second in average against (.215), and first in walks allowed (8). Max Scherzer, whom the Phillies will face tonight, will attempt to be the first player since Johnny Vander Meer in 1938 to pitch back-to-back no-hitters. Scherzer has been dominant for the Nats all season long, but in his last two starts, the right-hander has been exceptional, giving up no runs with 26 strikeouts and one walk in 18 innings pitched.
Scherzer will face a Phillies lineup that is coming off a poor showing against Yankees starter Ivan Nova, who made his first start since April 2014. Before facing Nova, however, the Phillies’ offense crushed a couple notable starters. Their first victim was Cardinals starter Michael Wacha, who the team tallied five runs in five innings against. Before that start, Wacha had been one of the best starters in baseball with a 9-2 record and a 2.48 ERA. Their next victim was Yankees starter Michael Pineda, who sported an 8-3 record and a 3.54 ERA going into the start. The Phillies torched Pineda, scoring eight runs in just 3.1 innings. C.C. Sabathia was next in line, as the offense knocked the former Cy Young winner for six runs in 4.2 innings.
How will Franco look against Scherzer tonight? He went 0-3 against him earlier this season.
Now the Phillies will take on baseball’s hottest pitcher, and in the process, will try to snap Washington’s scoreless streak. The offense’s most dangerous weapon is 22-year-old Maikel Franco, who has enjoyed a historic month of June, batting an incredible .395 with a .441 OBP and a 1.208 OPS. Franco has been even hotter over the last week, batting .550 with three homers and 11 RBIs.
The two players in front of Franco will be just as important for the Phillies’ offense as they get set to take on the Nationals’ starters. Ben Revere has had a successful month of June in Franco’s shadow, with a .367 average and a .394 OBP. The outfielder has been able to raise his average .40 points this month, and is now hitting .292 on the year.
While filling in for Chase Utley at second base, Cesar Hernandez has shown an ability to get on base, and was earning himself more playing time by doing so even before Utley landed on the DL. The 25-year-old is second on the team in walks behind Utley with 19, but he has done so in 86 less at-bats. He currently sits behind Franco for the team lead in OBP at .344. In the last week, Hernandez is batting .333 with a .429 OBP.
Obviously, the Phillies need to get runners on in front of the likes of Franco and Ryan Howard. Franco especially, since he sports a .355 average with runners on base. Getting runners on will not be easy against the Nationals, but if Revere and Hernandez can continue to set the table, then the Phillies could very well end the Nationals’ scoreless streak, and put a dent in that shiny armor of theirs.