Phillies (12-17) vs. Nationals (21-9)
Coverage begins at 2 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App
After a 6-2 loss on Saturday night, the Phillies are hoping to salvage a win out of a three-game set with the MLB-best Nationals. The team has gone a full turn through the rotation without a win in their five-game losing streak and have lost eight of nine during a stretch against the three 2016 NL division winners.
Jeremy Hellickson takes the hill for the Phillies coming off his worst start of the season while Tanner Roark and the Nationals go for the sweep.
Here are five things to know for the series finale.
1. Not home sweet home
The Phillies lost six of seven during their road trip against the Dodgers and Cubs, but they hoped their fortunes would change with a return home. Well, the Nationals have had something to say about that. Two wins later, the Phillies are on the brink of being swept for the second time this season.
Believe it or not, the Phillies' bullpen has been on point this series, albeit in low leverage innings. Pitching from behind over six innings, the 'pen has held the Nationals scoreless.
Instead, the rotation has let the Phillies down. Nick Pivetta was only able to get through five innings and allowed three home runs in Game 1. Vince Velasquez had his longest outing of the season and looked dominant at times in his seven-inning performance. However, he surrendered six runs as Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman swatted home runs off the 24-year-old righty. Not a great look for Velasquez, who has given up at least one home run in each of his starts this year. The Phillies' staff has now given up 44 home runs, a league-high
Zimmerman has been particularly impressive. He led all of baseball with a .424 average going into this series and has somehow raised it all the way to .435. Odubel Herrera robbed him of a home run Saturday night, so Zimmerman hit a ball into the seats in his next at-bat to make up for it.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing for the Phillies is that the Nationals have done this without Bryce Harper. The slugging right fielder missed the first two games with a groin injury and the lineup has still produced 10 runs.
The Phillies are now 3-5 on the season against the Nationals, yet they have a +7 run differential thanks to the 17-3 win on Apr. 8.
2. Hellickson on the rebound
After pitching like a Cy Young candidate in his first five starts, the defending champions brought Hellickson down a peg in his last outing.
The 30-year-old veteran lasted just four innings -- his shortest outing of the season -- and gave up six runs, including three home runs. He surrendered eight hits and had as many walks (2) as strikeouts. For those four innings, he looked more like the reclamation project the Phillies acquired in the 2015-16 offseason than the steady presence he's provided in Philadelphia.
To be fair, the home runs aren't out of character for Hellickson. He's allowed at least 20 home runs in every full season he's had. Still, his start to 2017 was awfully encouraging with a heap of soft contact.
The concern with Hellickson is that his strikeouts have evaporated this season. He's never missed that many bats but his strikeouts per nine innings have gone from 7.33 last season to a paltry 3.44 this year. He's made up for that with improved control, walking just 1.32 batters per nine and a WHIP of just 1.00. That's fifth best in the NL.
Perhaps a third meeting with the Nats is just the remedy for Hellickson after Tuesday's struggles. He's thrown 12 innings against the Nats this year and allowed just seven baserunners and two runs with the Phillies winning both games.
3. A baker's dozen with Roark
In just his fifth MLB season, Roark has faced the Phillies 13 times and made 11 starts against them. The only team he has started more times against is the Miami Marlins.
Roark has had plenty of ups and downs against the Phillies with a 5-5 record and a 3.49 ERA. Prior to 2016, Roark had thrown 28 2/3 innings vs. the Phils and been had pounded for 22 runs. In 41 innings over the last two seasons, he's yielded just five runs. In five starts last season, he had a 0.79 ERA and a 3-0 record, thoroughly dominating the Phillies.
And for good measure, he took them on in April, allowing just two runs on four hits in seven innings. Needless to say, the Phillies are plenty familiar with the 30-year-old righty.
The player who has faced Roark the most -- and hits him the best -- is Herrera. In 18 at-bats, he's produced eight hits and struck out just once with three of the hits going for extra bases. Only Freddy Galvis (4 for 15) has a home run among current Phillies while Cameron Rupp, likely to sit with a day game after a night game, is just 2 for 15 with six strikeouts against Roark.
Roark, like Hellickson, is coming off his first loss of the season, which dropped him to 3-1 with a 4.04 ERA. He's given up at least two runs in every start and has walked nine batters in his last three outings. The Nationals have won four of his six starts (the other loss coming in his game vs. the Phils), but Roark hasn't been quite as good as his 2.89 ERA and general numbers from last season.
4. Players to watch
Phillies: Andrew Knapp has five hits in his last three starts and has a season line of .296/.387/.519. It's been an impressive start for someone in their first season of MLB action and catchers like Jorge Alfaro nipping at their heels.
Nationals: Daniel Murphy has hit Hellickson pretty well in 18 plate appearances. He's 5 for 17 with a walk and four of his hits (three doubles and a home run) have gone for extra bases.
5. This and that
• If the Phillies lose on Sunday, they would fall to six games under .500. They didn't fall that far under .500 until June 15 last season. The 2016 Phillies also avoided being swept for the second time until the end of May.
• Zimmerman has a 13-game hitting streak going into Sunday's action. He's been held hitless four times this season, three times by the Phils. Only two players (Mike Trout and Nelson Cruz) have longer hitting streaks currently going.
• The Nationals and Phillies are 29th and 30th, respectively, in wins above replacement produced by their bullpens.