WASHINGTON, D.C. - Pitching matchups like Sunday's are a major reason why the Phillies signed Jake Arrieta.
Arrieta (3-1, 3.49 ERA) will be opposed by Nationals ace Max Scherzer (6-1, 1.79) Sunday at 1:35 p.m. in the rubber match in D.C.
In the past, a meeting with Scherzer would have been (and has been) an automatic loss. He's faced the Phillies 12 times since joining the Nationals and Washington is 11-1. Scherzer personally is 8-0 against the Phils in those games with a 2.35 ERA.
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But only one of those games was a true pitcher's duel between Scherzer and Aaron Nola. These were the Phillies' other 11 starters:
• Sean O'Sullivan three times
• Vince Velasquez three times
• Jerad Eickhoff twice
• Jake Thompson, Aaron Harang and Adam Morgan once apiece
Yes, Arrieta is coming off his worst start of the season - six runs, 10 baserunners in 3⅔ innings in Miami - but he is obviously a far cry from the names on that list.
Current Nationals have just under 140 career plate appearances against Arrieta ... and no home runs. Bryce Harper (4 for 14, six walks) and Matt Adams (7 for 22, two doubles, five walks) have seen him the best.
Even after allowing eight hits in Miami while recording just 11 outs, Arrieta has held his opponents this season to a .223 batting average. That has been a constant theme since he came to the National League. Since 2014, Arrieta has allowed just 6.6 hits per nine innings, second-fewest in the majors over that span behind only Clayton Kershaw. He's allowed 205 fewer hits than innings pitched.
Early as it is in the season, a series win would be meaningful for the Phillies right now. They are just 6-12 against the NL East and have dropped three straight series since sweeping the Pirates.
If Arrieta can outduel Scherzer, or if the Phillies' offense can improbably come alive against the owner of the last two NL Cy Young awards, it would be a big confidence boost.
Opportunities like this are why the Phils signed Arrieta, and Sunday's game will be must-see TV for any baseball fan.
"As a baseball fan I get excited every day to come to the ballpark," manager Gabe Kapler said, "but no doubt, Scherzer vs. Arrieta, day game, last game of the series to settle it ... huge moment, and we're all pretty stoked for it."