The Nationals arrive in Philly to face a the defending champs, who at 8-8 are in third place in the NL East trailing the Braves and Marlins. In fairness to the Phillies though, they've played the Scats a lot less than Atlanta and Florida have.
Here's my preview of the Phillies series, including the line-up, bullpen, and game one starter Joe Blanton.
When the Phils Are Up
--The story of the early season for the Phillies is that Jimmy Rollins is hitting like Sonny Rollins (who for all I know may have been a great ballplayer in his day, but not now). The former MVP is hitting an anemic .162 / .205 / .235. They say he isn't hurt, but they need a lot more from him if they're going to contend again this year.
--Chase Utley's tearing up the league with a .322 / .437 / .593 start. Remember when he was supposed to be hurt now?
--Designated hitter Raul Ibanez is endearing himself to Phillies fans early on with a .328 / .394 / .656 line in the early going. He's totally locked in, walking more and striking out less than his career averages. He's even playing pretty good defense, having not yet made a single error this year. (Now THERE'S a streak that's due to end.)
--Here's hoping that someone told Manny what every other manager in the NL knows, that you match up a lefty against Ryan Howard whenever possible. That's what you do with a 50-homer guy with a 300-point career OPS platoon split. Period.
--Jayson Werth is picking up where he left off last year, using his very good strike-zone command and power to hit righties and absolutely destroy lefties.
--Pedro Feliz continues to stink at the plate, but has been 1.5 runs below average with the glove in a very small sample size so far this season. He's a little less awful against lefties, but mostly he's terrible. He won the hearts of Phillies fans with a .313 / .368 / .575 line in "late and close" situations last season, but they'd still be better off not picking up the club option for 2010.
--Shane Victorino is struggling a bit in the early going, but actually his Ks are down and walks are up. His BABIP is way down at .250, and that'll come up.
--With Carlos Ruiz rehabbing, bad, old Chris Coste and prospect Lou Marson have been splitting the starts at catcher. Marson is showing off his touted on-base skills with a .375 OBP, while Coste is hitting a bad-even-for-Chris-Coste .281 OBP. Marson's defense is supposed to be suspect, but it'd have to be a lot worse to make up for the drop-off at the plate.
On the Mound
Joe Blanton: Blanton is coming in with a 7.30 ERA in 3 starts. It's a fitting comeuppance for a team that gave up far too much to get a guy with an PECOTA ERA projection almost exactly equal to that of Odalis Perez (he's actually a little better than Odalis, but not much).
Still, Blanton isn't as bad as he's looked so far. He's suffering from a 15% HR/FB rate (11% is typical), .430 BABIP (.310 is average), and 64.5% strand rate (70% is typical).
He throws a standard fastball-slider-change-curve repertoire. He doesn't strike out anyone, but he keeps the ball on the ground and will usually keep his team in the game.
Brad Lidge has seen a good bit of overdue regression to the mean after a great season that was made even more remarkable by some statistical anomalies, most notably a 3.9% HR/FB rate. This year he's at a whopping 37.9%. That's 3 dingers in 8.2 innings, giving him an ugly 7.29 ERA in the early going. That won't continue either, but no one should be terribly shocked that Lidge had a run of gopherballs in him. His velocity is down very slightly, but at at 93 mph he's still got enough to whiff 12.49 per 9. Some people are worrying about pre-season reports of elbow tendinitis, but I think he's fine. It's just that no one goes season after season without ever giving up a homer. Not even Lights Out Lidge.
Ryan Madson is their excellent set-up man, and he's off to a fast start, whiffing 14 of the first 39 batters he's faced this season. Scott Eyre is doing his job as the LOOGY, facing 8 lefties so far (and two righties) and retiring them all.
Season record: 13-5
I really don't like Martis's flyball tendencies and (sample size alert!) big platoon split against the Phils' slugging lefties in Citizens Bank. But the Scats should hit enough off Blanton to give themselves a chance to win this one. I say they do, 7-6.