Phillies-Nationals 5 Things: Catching NL East-leading Nats at Right Time - NBC 10 Philadelphia

Phillies-Nationals 5 Things: Catching NL East-leading Nats at Right Time

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    Phillies-Nationals 5 Things: Catching NL East-leading Nats at Right Time
    CSNPhilly.com
    Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Catching NL East-leading Nats at right time

    Phillies (13-19) vs. Nationals (22-12)
    7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

    For the fourth time this series, the Phillies will open a three-game set with the Nationals. The Nats have dealt with consecutive rainouts while the Phillies haven't played since Wednesday either. The original matchup of Nick Pivetta and Tanner Roark is still on tap with the Nationals skipping fifth starter A.J. Cole in the rotation.

    Here are five things to know for Saturday night's game.

    1. Zimmermann cooling off
    One of the biggest stories in baseball this year has been the re-emergence of the Nationals' first baseman. Zimmerman, now 32, has seen his numbers consistently decline over the last five years and hasn't played a full season since 2013.

    Finally healthy, he raced out to a batting average above .400 and an MLB-high 13 home runs through 30 games. Zimmerman hit just 15 home runs in 115 games last year while batting a paltry .218. His batting line forced manager Dusty Baker to bury him in the bottom half of the Nationals' lineup.

    Well, Zimmerman left Philadelphia on Sunday with a .435 batting average and .907 slugging percentage and he now faces the Phillies following a 1-for-14 series against the Orioles. His average is down to .393 and he struck out three times, creating outs in between Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy.

    The Nats' first baseman still leads all of baseball in batting average and RBI while tied for the overall lead in home runs. The series vs. the Orioles, however, could be a sign of an oncoming slump as Zimmerman falls back down to earth. Still, a healthy, hitting Zimmerman provides a much-needed righty power bat in the middle of Harper and Murphy, who were forced to bat back-to-back last season. He can help split them up and keep opposing managers honest with the platoon advantage.

    The Phillies have tamed Zimmerman this season, at least relative to the rest of the league. He's batting .308/.333/.769 with three homers off Phillies pitching. Compare that to his .524 average vs. the Mets and .417 mark vs. the Marlins and it looks a lot more palatable. 

    2. Round 2
    Thanks to two days off and the rainout this week, Pivetta will make his first start in eight days … against the exact same team. It'll be just his third start of his MLB career and all three will be against 2016 postseason teams. Not an easy task for the rookie righty.

    In his first start against the Nationals, Pivetta was tagged for three home runs over five innings. All three were by right-handed hitters, including a shocking one by opposing starter Stephen Strasburg. The other two were by Zimmerman (of course) and Anthony Rendon, the last two going back-to-back in Pivetta's last inning of work.

    Through 10 innings in the majors, Pivetta has given up four home runs and holds a 5.40 ERA. He's given up a bevy of hits - 18 to be exact. However, his peripherals aren't so bad with 11 strikeouts to just one walk. Perhaps with a bit more batted ball luck (or some lesser opponents), Pivetta could find his bearings. 

    However, he may not have much time to keep his rotation spot. Aaron Nola could be back as soon as the next turn through the rotation and Nola's return likely spells a return to Triple A Lehigh Valley for Pivetta. Even though the home runs muddy his numbers, Pivetta has shown something in his first MLB stint and would go a long way toward earning a longer stay this season with a strong start against a team that has already seen him (and tagged him hard) Saturday.

    3. Roark … again
    Stop me if you've heard this before, but Roark is scheduled to start against the Phillies. If that seems like deja vu, it's probably because Roark has already faced the Phillies twice this year after taking the hill five times against the Phils last year. Needless to say, the two teams are pretty familiar.

    Roark had another quality start in Philadelphia on Sunday, giving up two unearned runs, two hits and three walks over six innings of work. That came after holding the Phils to two runs on four hits over seven innings April 15. The surprising turn of events is that the Nationals lost both of those starts, although that has much more to do with their faltering bullpen (more on that below). 

    Last season, Roark threw 34 innings over five starts vs. the Phillies, pitching to a 0.79 ERA. His performance against the Mets, Braves and Phillies last season played a big part in a career season from the righty. He has a 3.46 ERA over seven starts this season after posting a 2.83 mark in 2016.

    Roark depends on his 92 mph sinker and a 93 mph four-seam fastball. Off-speed, he goes to a mid-80s slider and changeup as well as a 77 mph curveball. Odubel Herrera has the best numbers of any Phillie off Roark. He's 9 for 21 with three doubles and three RBIs in 24 plate appearances. Freddy Galvis has a home run off the 30-year-old and is 5 for 17 against him. Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco are a combined 9 for 40 with no extra-base hits.

    4. Bullpen blues
    The Nationals had another bullpen meltdown this week, just a few days after blowing a 5-2 lead to the Phillies last Sunday. 

    After Max Scherzer pitched the Nats to a 4-2 lead through eight innings Tuesday, manager Dusty Baker turned to Enny Romero to close out the game vs. the Orioles. Romero proceeded to walk the leadoff batter before giving up two two-out hits that tied the game. Two innings later, Jacob Turner gave up a walk-off hit in the 11th inning. 

    The Nationals' 5.40 bullpen ERA is the second worst in baseball behind the beleaguered Tigers bullpen. They've produced a -0.6 bullpen Wins Above Replacement (WAR), better only than the Phillies (-0.9). They've blown six saves with Romero, Matt Albers, Blake Treinen and others all failing in late game situations.

    Luckily for the Nats, help is on the way. Koda Glover made a rehab appearance Wednesday and was activated Friday. Presumed closer Shawn Kelley threw a simulated game this week and is back for toinght's game as well. The duo took the spots of Cole and Matt Grace on the roster. The Nationals could be in play for a reliever at the trade deadline this year (David Robertson and Kelvim Herrera come to mind) but they're going to have to rely on internal improvement for now. 

    Treinen is a pitcher to keep an eye on. He seems broken at the moment with an 8.10 ERA. Treinen was the closer to start the season and the team hoped his 2.28 ERA over 67 innings last season would translate to the closing role. Relievers tend to be volatile from year to year, but his collapse has been sudden. He still has his mid-90s sinker as a weapon and it's not farfetched to think he can rebound.

    5. This and that
    • Aaron Altherr comes into this game on fire. He's up to a .351/.435/.743 batting line this season and has at least one home run and three RBIs in each of his last three games. He has nine extra-base hits in his last eight games, cementing his spot in the Phillies' outfield for now.

    • Before Friday's game was postponed, the Phillies recalled RHP Luis Garcia, taking the spot of Jake Thompson, who was optioned after Wednesday's loss to the Mariners.

    • Despite trailing the Nationals by seven games in the standings, the Phillies are a respectable 4-5 against their division foe this year. That comes after a 5-14 record in 2016.

    • After this weekend, the Phillies and Nationals don't play against until September. Then, they play a four-game set in Washington and a trio of games in Philadelphia to close out their season series.

    • Saturday is the start of a nine-game road trip for the Phillies. After a three-game stay in the nation's capital, they'll head southwest for an interleague duel with the Rangers before facing the Pirates next weekend. For the Rangers series, former Texas farmhand Jerad Eickhoff is schedule to face his former squad for the first time Tuesday.