Friday, April 17, 2015

.300: Good Batting Average, Horrid Winning Percentage

GAME RECAP: Nats Swat Phils 5-2

The Nationals continued to break out of their early-season offensive funk with a 5-2 victory over the Phillies on Thursday night at Nationals Park. Washington has scored 22 runs in its past three games and has won two straight for the first time this season. Yunel Escobar homered on the game's first pitch from Phillies starter Cole Hamels. Michael Taylor's fifth-inning solo home run gave Washington a 3-2 lead, and Ryan Zimmerman had a two-run double as the Nationals produced an efficient six hits. "Things are starting to get rolling right now," Taylor said. "The pitching has been there the whole time, guys are starting to swing it, so it'll be fun to see what happens going forward." Washington starter Doug Fister got the victory, going 6 2/3 innings while giving up two runs (one earned) and striking out four. Fister got some help from reliever Matt Thornton, who entered with bases loaded and two outs in the seventh and got Chase Utley to line out to Taylor in center field. "We're a good team," Nationals left fielder Jayson Werth said. "We've got a good lineup. We're just grinding out games, grinding out at-bats. We'll be fine. We just have to keep going."

  • Hamels held the Nationals to one run on two hits over seven innings when they last met on April 11. The results weren't quite as good this time, beginning with Escobar's first-pitch homer, and the left-hander wound up allowing five runs on five hits in his six-inning stint. This ended a streak of 21 consecutive road starts in which Hamels allowed three earned runs or fewer -- the longest active streak in the Major Leagues.
  • "The position I'm in, I'm supposed to be that guy that stops the slide or stops the bleeding, however you want to call it," said Hamels, referring to the loss being the Phillies' fifth straight. "That's kind of my job. Not being able to do [that] today is definitely frustrating."
  • Not hitting at the right times has been a problem that's plagued the Phillies throughout the early season. They went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and stranded seven in the loss. The Phillies now are batting just .149 (11-for-74) with RISP.
  • It will be interesting to see where Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg puts first baseman Ryan Howard in the lineup. The struggling slugger was dropped down to seventh in Thursday's contest, a move that raised a few eyebrows, as the skipper is trying to get Howard started.

The Nationals and Phillies will meet for the fifth time in this young season on Friday in the second game of a four-game weekend series between the National League East rivals. Max Scherzer starts for the Nationals, taking a 0.66 ERA -- and a losing record (0-1) -- into the outing after two starts this season. Phillies starter Sean O'Sullivan is looking for his first Major League win in four years. Sean O'Sullivan will make his second start of the season Friday and is looking for his first Major League victory since 2011 (with the Royals). He gave up two runs on five hits in six innings in a loss to Friday's opponent, the Nationals, on April 12 but got a no-decision. The game starts at 7:05 p.m. ET.


Homer Happy Hamels – Cole Hamels threw effectively for most of his start against the Nationals on Thursday. He just ran into a problem that continues to arise early in the 2015 season. Hamels gave up two homers in a 5-2 Phillies loss to the Nationals in the opener of a four-game series. The left-hander now has allowed a Major League-high seven homers in his first 18 innings. In this game, Hamels gave up five runs on five hits in six innings. Yunel Escobar sent Hamels' first pitch of the game over the fence in center. Michael Taylor led off the fifth with a shot that gave the Nationals a 3-2 lead, and Washington didn't trail again. "They're definitely adding up," said Hamels, who has allowed 12 total hits this season. "What happened was [I was] getting behind in the count and leaving pitches up in a very hittable location. Just have to get the ball down, I guess." Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said that location is definitely the cause of the problem, and it's just something Hamels will need to work on. The start also ended a Major League-best streak of 21 straight road starts in which Hamels had allowed three earned runs or fewer. Hamels now must go back to work and try to find an answer to this puzzle. "It could be a couple of different things," Hamels said. "You just have to go out there and really just kind of work with it and make a couple of adjustments."

Moving On Up Down – Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg shook up his batting order before the series opener with the Nationals on Thursday, and the biggest move was dropping struggling first baseman Ryan Howard to seventh in the starting lineup for the first time since 2006. Howard went 1-for-3 with an intentional walk in Philadelphia's 5-2 loss to Washington. He twice flied out to left, drew the intentional walk that loaded the bases in a one-run third, and singled to right through a shift to start the ninth. Howard said afterward that he understood why Sandberg made the move. "I've been in situations like this before," Howard said. "This isn't the first time that I've gotten moved down in the lineup or anything like that. For me, you just try to look at it as an internal challenge. Do I feel l can hit fourth? Yeah, I know I can. I'm not worried about it. I'm not trying to look too far into it or anything like that. If I'm hitting in the seven-hole, do the best I can that day." Howard had a .148 average entering the game, and it moved up to .167. The ninth-inning single snapped an 0-for-7 slide. Sandberg said the two spoke early Thursday afternoon, and the skipper explained his thoughts to the veteran. "I talked to him this afternoon and just told him, 'Hey, it's creating a lineup, trying to win the baseball game,'" Sandberg said. "And so [I told him], 'In the meantime, just keep working.' Howie's doing everything that's asked on the defensive side of the ball, and the offensive side of the ball. If he could get hot, then I'd have some flexibility and choices in the lineup, so that would be the best scenario."

Please Define ‘Balance’ – The song remained the same for the Phillies' offense in Thursday's 5-2 loss to the Nationals to start a four-game series. The Phillies now are stuck in a five-game losing streak and have not been able to come through with hits at key times throughout the first two weeks of the season. It happened again Thursday, as the Phillies went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and stranded seven. They entered the game 29th in the Major Leagues with a .159 average with runners in scoring position. That number fell to .149 (11-for-74) after Thursday's defeat. Philadelphia had its chances, loading the bases with one out in the third, and getting Darin Ruf's sacrifice fly to left for a 2-1 lead. Pitcher Cole Hamels then grounded out to end the inning. Nationals starter Doug Fister retired nine in a row before the Phillies loaded the bases again with two outs in the seventh. Matt Thornton came on for Fister and ended the threat by retiring Chase Utley on a fly ball to center. "The [early] opportunity we had with ... the bases loaded was minimized to the sac fly," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "We did have some balls hit hard. Chase hit three balls hard. [Cody Asche] hit a couple of balls hard, right at the defense, nothing to show for it there." Sandberg shook up the lineup before the game, even dropping struggling first baseman Ryan Howard to seventh, and the Phillies finished with five hits in addition to getting some good swings. The skipper is hoping for better in this area soon. "I like the balance of [the lineup], and it didn't totally produce tonight, but there's some balance there," Sandberg said.

The Phillies are starting the season as expected and are now at the bottom of the NL east at 3-7. Given the departures, aging stars, injuries, and performance this spring, don’t expect their competitive place in the standings to last. All time, the Phillies are 34-37-1 on this day.

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