Washington Nationals Series Preview: Nats look to bounce back vs. Phillies

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Armed with one of the deepest rosters in the National League and the best rotation in baseball, the Washington Nationals kicked off the 2015 season Monday with the expectation that they would tear through the NL East and runaway with the division title at the end of the season. During a mostly disappointing Opening Series against the Mets, the Nationals were reminded that that is a lot easier said than done.

The Nationals were sluggish in all aspects of the game, except for pitching. The defense made costly errors and the offense was, for the most part, nowhere to be found. The Nationals were outscored, 11-6, over three games, and only managed to squeeze out one win thanks to a stellar start from Jordan Zimmermann Wednesday night.

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Fortunately for the Nationals, the series against the Mets is officially over and they move on to face one of the weakest teams in the National League in the Philadelphia Phillies. Tonight, the Nationals kick off a three-game series against their arch rivals from the City of Brotherly Love, and it should give them a good shot at redeeming themselves from this week’s disappointing series loss to the Mets.

The two teams kick things off tonight as Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez takes the mound in his season debut. The Phillies will counter with right-hander Jerome Williams. It should be an interesting start from Gonzalez as the left-hander is coming off a dominant Spring Training in which he recorded 19 strike outs and a 2.79 ERA over 19 1/3 solid innings of work.

It won’t be easy for Gonzalez, as several Phillies players have hit him well throughout his career. Cody Asche, Ben Revere and Grady Sizemore all have batting averages above .400 against Gonzalez. But Gonzalez looked great this spring and many say he’s pitching as well as he did in 2012, when he won 21 games for the Nationals. A good start from Gonzalez tonight could go a long way in helping the Nationals move on from their struggles against the Mets.

While the team hopes for a good start from Gonzalez, it’d be helpful if the offense came to life against the Phillies. Several Nationals players have seen success against Williams in the past, such as Dan Uggla, who has a home run and four RBIs in his career against the Phillies starter.

Tomorrow night’s game will be harder for the Nationals as they’ll have to face Phillies ace Cole Hamels. Fortunately for Washington, they have an ace of their own taking the mound in Doug Fister, who won 16 games and boasted a 2.41 ERA with the Nationals last season.

While it won’t be easy to get things going against Hamels, several Nationals players have proven that he’s hittable in their careers. Perhaps the player who’s seen the most success against Hamels is Ryan Zimmerman, who has three career home runs against the Phillies’ left-hander.

Finally, the two teams wrap things up Sunday afternoon, when Max Scherzer and the Nationals face off against Sean O’Sullivan and the Phillies. It’ll be Scherzer’s second start off the season as the right-hander looks to build off a dominant season debut in which he struck out eight batters and didn’t allow an earned run over 7 2/3 brilliant innings.

The Nationals offense will look to do some damage against O’Sullivan, who will be making his first career start against the Nationals.

It’ll be interesting to see what the Nationals can accomplish against the Phillies this weekend. Philadelphia won the season series between the two clubs last season, but the Nationals are a different team this year and should be able to beat the Phillies more times than not. That being said, the Nationals have always struggled against the Phillies, and if they play like they did against the Mets this week, they may very well leave Philadelphia Sunday night with another series loss under their belts.

If the offense improves and the pitching staff delivers, however, the Nationals should leave Philadelphia feeling a whole lot better than they do right now.

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