The struggling Phillies come to town

brushback_harperThrough the first two months of the season, the National League East has been defined by mediocrity. The Washington Nationals, despite a 27-28 record, trail the first place Atlanta Braves by only 3 1/2 games. The New York Mets, with a 28-29 record, also trail the Braves by the same margin. The Miami Marlins sit one game ahead of both the Nationals and Mets.

But one team has been by far the worst. The Philadelphia Phillies are 24-31 and trail the Braves by 6 1/2 games. All NL East teams but one have a positive run differential. The Phillies have a horrid -41 run differential, the third-worst in the major leagues.

By many measures, the Phillies are a below-average team. Their offense is averaging 3.96 runs per game and has a 90 OPS+; the major league average is 4.16 runs per game and 97 OPS+. They don’t hit many home runs (45, 22nd in the majors) and strike out a fair share (457, 12th in the majors). Despite their ages, Carlos Ruiz (122 OPS+), Chase Utley (146 OPS+), Marlon Byrd (121 OPS+) and even Jimmy Rollins (108 OPS+) have all been productive, but much of the Phillies roster has been either hurt or simply ineffective. 

The Phillies’ pitching, again, has been bad. Overall, the Phillies have a 4.09 ERA (22nd in the majors) and 4.03 FIP (25th). The team’s best starter, Cliff Lee, is on the disabled list with an elbow issue. A.J. Burnett has a 3.79 ERA but has 64 strikeouts and 37 walks. Kyle Kendrick has a 4.21 ERA, Cole Hamels has been better of late but has a 4.01 ERA and Roberto Hernandez also has a 4.03 ERA. The bullpen has a 4.30 ERA, fifth-worst in the majors, despite an improved Jonathan Papelbon.

The Nationals have struggled against right-handed pitching this season but the Phillies have been worse. The Phillies are 18-22 against right-handers and have a .651 OPS against them, the fifth-worst in baseball. And, of course, that’s all that the Phillies will see from the Nationals this week: Jordan Zimmermann on Tuesday, Stephen Strasburg on Wednesday and Doug Fister on Thursday.

The Phillies come to Washington after dropping four games, including three straight, in a five-game series against the Mets. They are 7-13 in the past 20 games, only slightly worse than the Nationals’ 8-12 record in that span. Despite both teams’ flaws, the Nationals are getting a reeling Phillies team at an ideal time to improve their division standings — and the Nationals should take advantage of that.

FROM THE POST

Nationals right-hander Blake Treinen couldn’t throw 80 mph in high school, but he has more than enough now to get it done , writes Adam Kilgore.

Also, Ryan Zimmerman played nine innings in left field at Class A Potomac and expects to be back Tuesday, writes Kilgore.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Denard Span wants to steal 30 bases this season

Tanner Roark solid again in Nationals’ loss

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse 4, Buffalo 2: Aaron Laffey walked six and gave up two runs, one earned, on six hits over 5 1/3 innings. Zach Johnson, Ryan Mattheus and Michael Gonzalez combined for 3 2/3 scoreless innings. Steven Souza Jr. went 1 for 2 with his sixth home run of the season and walked twice. Through 37 games, Souza has a 1.037 OPS. Brian Goodwin hit a two-run home run.

Harrisburg was off.

Potomac 5, Salem 4: John Simms allowed two runs over 4 2/3 innings. Bryan Harper gave up two unearned runs over 1 2/3 innings and Travis Henke fired 2 2/3 scoreless innings. The Nationals walked off on Tony Renda’s fourth hit. Will Piwnica-Worms drove in two runs. On rehab, Ryan Zimmerman played nine innings in left field and went 2 for 4.

Hagerstown 4, Delmarva 2: Hector Silvestre allowed one run on seven hits and struck out three over seven innings. Jake Walsh allowed one unearned run over two innings. Isaac Ballou walked twice. Rafael Bautista and Wilmer Difo each drove in a run.

Also on Nationals Journal

Denard Span wants to steal 30 bases this season