Natitude Comes North: Phillies look to escape cellar against rival Nationals

Cole Hamels starts the series finale against the Nationals on Wednesday. (Philliedelphia/Kevin Durso)
Anything between these two teams has been anticipated for quite some time. For Phillies fans who didn't make the trip to Washington, this is their first chance to see it firsthand.

The Nationals took the first series of this newfound rivalry in the nation's capital at the beginning of the month, taking two of three games from the Phillies. The Phillies are still where they were then, stuck in last place. The Nationals have fallen from the peak of the NL East, but still sit a healthy second.

The Nationals are doing all this with a very banged-up roster. Out with injuries are Jayson Werth, Mike Morse, Wilson Ramos, Brad Lidge, Drew Storen and recent call-up Sandy Leon. The Nationals are very shorthanded, but they've managed to get quite a bit of production from what they have.

What they have is Ryan Zimmerman, out during the first series between the two teams, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Adam LaRoche and rookie sensation Bryce Harper. Leading the way in run production is LaRoche, who has a team-high seven home runs and 30 RBIs. His .313 average ranks second on the team behind only Steve Lombardozzi.

Harper has been at the center of several incidents between the two teams. The first involved Cole Hamels' suspension as Hamels intentionally hit Harper with a pitch in the first inning of the May 6 meeting between the two teams. Today, Harper said he hopes to be booed by Phillie fans this week.

Here are the pitching matchups for the series.

In the opener, Kyle Kendrick (0-3, 5.96 ERA) goes against Gio Gonzalez (5-1, 2.22 ERA) – Kendrick took a no-decision in his last start against the Cubs on Wednesday but was a big reason the Phillies went on to win the game. Kendrick allowed two runs (one earned) over six innings. He pitched five innings allowing one run against the Nationals on May 4. The Nationals came back to win the game in 11 innings, 4-3. In his career against the Nationals (14 games, 13 starts), Kendrick is 2-3 with a 5.19 ERA.

Gonzalez remained hot in picking up another win by beating the Pirates, pitching seven innings and allowing three runs in his last start. He also allowed one run on four hits over seven innings against the Phillies on May 5. That was his only career appearance against the Phillies.

In the middle game, Roy Halladay (4-3, 3.22 ERA) faces Jordan Zimmerman (2-4, 2.58 ERA) – Halladay won his last start, allowing three runs over eight innings to the Cubs. It was his first win in a month. In his career against the Nationals (16 games, 15 starts), Halladay is 11-1 with a 2.28 ERA.

Zimmerman is coming off his worst start of the season, allowing four runs over six innings to the Pirates in taking the loss. He allowed three runs in six innings in losing to the Phillies on May 6. In his career against the Phillies (four starts), Zimmerman is 0-3 with a 6.00 ERA.

In the finale, Cole Hamels (6-1, 2.48 ERA) gets the start against Edwin Jackson (1-1, 3.31 ERA) – Hamels pitched seven solid inning allowing three runs in a winning effort against the Red Sox on Friday. Hamels only loss this season came in his season debut. Hamels allowed one run in eight innings to the Nationals on May 6. In his career against the Nationals (21 starts), Hamels is 11-4 with a 2.62 ERA.

Jackson took a no-decision in his last start allowing one run over eight innings to the Orioles in an eventual 2-1 loss in 11 innings for the Nationals. Jackson hasn't factored into a decision since April 19. In his career against the Phillies (one start), Jackson is 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA.

Prediction:
May 21 – Phillies 3, Nationals 5
May 22 – Phillies 5, Nationals 2
May 23 – Phillies 6, Nationals 2

My predictions this week are much like that of the Red Sox series; they can go either way.

In the opener, I lean more toward the Nationals not because of Kyle Kendrick but because of Gio Gonzalez. While he is due to be hit around a bit, it's going to take a solid effort offensively for the Phillies to take this one.

The next two games favor the Phillies because of the pitching. Not only are Halladay and Hamels two of the Phillies best pitchers, they have the most experience against the Nationals, which helps the Phillies even more.

Perhaps the most important things is to give the offense a chance to score first. Lead-off home runs in each of the Phillies last two games, both losses, thwarted that chance, which makes the task of scoring seem harder. Scoring first really does make a difference. The Phillies are going to need to be able to pitch consistently over an entire game.

The Phillies need to improve their record within the division if they want to advance out of last place. This is their first of several chances coming in the next two weeks. But starting strong on this run is important and the Phillies certainly have the tools to do so.

The Phillies stretch against winning teams continues when they face the Cardinals, Mets and Marlins in their next three series.

Kevin Durso is a contributor for Philliedelphia. You can follow him on twitter @KDursoPhilsNet.