The Washington Nationals victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks last night clinched their seven of eight series (corrected, thanks @natsrgreat) in the 2012 season. The Nats are sitting in first place in the NL East with a 16-9 record and a two-game win streak after losing 5 in a row to NL West teams. Stockpiling series wins is wonderful, but I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that this upcoming series is the one that has been anticipated, perhaps more anxiously than eagerly, in the dugout, front office, in the stands and on couches tuned to the D.C. nine. I’m talking about the first Philadelphia Phillies series of 2012.
Joining me to preview the series and answer some questions about the Phillies and their fans is Kevin McGuire of Macho Row. This isn’t his first rodeo here, having been a guest prognosticator in 2011 for Redskins vs. Eagles and Nats vs. Phillies.
WFY: Roy Halliday. Cliff Lee. Cole Hamels. Roy Oswalt. A dream rotation — the best on paper in baseball since the mid-1990s Atlanta Braves. Last year it got them to the NLDS, but no farther. Did that Sports Illustrated cover jinx them? This year, Oswalt’s gone. How formidable is the rotation right now?
KMc: I find it hard to say that the Sports Illustrated cover jinxed them because the starting pitching was really as advertised, if not better. What doomed the Phillies was a stale offense that couldn’t get a hit when they needed it the most and that does not work out well for any team when they go up against a guy like Chris Carpenter in an anything-goes Game Five.
This season the starting rotation is once again the strength of the team an should be for the remainder of the year if they stay healthy. Cliff Lee will miss this weekend due to an extended stay on the disabled list and Roy Halladay’s performance Wednesday night was anything but encouraging, but these are guys that any team would throw in their rotation without hesitation and there should be no reason to be too concerned about them if they are on the mound. Halladay has earned a pass for his latest outing, coughing up a six-run lead in Atlanta in a wild game.
Cole Hamels is once again dominant as well, and shame on me waiting so long to mention his name. In the final year of his current contract, Hamels is flashing some nasty stuff and has been the best pitcher on the staff so far for my money.
WFY: When are Chase Utley and Ryan Howard due back? Seeing that Howard is just starting a mega-contract after tearing his ACL, well, that scares me with Ryan Zimmerman.
KMc: Your guess is as good as mine, but we may start to get an idea of where they stand. Ryan Howard (Achilles heel, not ACL) has already started working out in Clearwater and the best case scenario probably has him coming back to the team in about six weeks. Again, that may be optimistic, but it’s a start. Chase Utley is just getting started with his baseball activity and he has taken some batting practice recently with the team, so that is a positive sight to see. The problem with Utley is he is so secretive about his injury status, even with the team it seems so it is difficult to predict when exactly he will be back. But if he is in Clearwater working out, that is good to know.
WFY: How is Jim Thome doing?
KMc: Allow me to preface that Jim Thome is one of my all-time favorite players; a real class act in a game that seems to have too few of them. This is why it pains me to say that Jim Thome is playing like his age would suggest, which is to say that he can’t catch up to a fastball. Thome was placed on the disabled list this week with some back strain issues. To put it simply, it may have been a matter of time. I was one of many excited b the return of Thome to the Phillies, but then reality set in that signing an aging player that may have too strong a personal relationship with the manager may not have been the best move, even if relatively cheap.
But hey, if Thome comes off the bench in September or October and smacks a key home run to the seats in right field, it will be worth it, right?
WFY: What is the state of Nats-Phillies rivalry? I’m starting to get the idea that some Phillies fans are not adjusting to the ascending Nats very well. “Take Back the Park” seems to have upset a few folks up there too. Is it being seen as a real rivalry by Phillies fans now? That Nats did take last year’s season series for the first time in 5 years…
KMc: I think we address this every year or so when the teams first meet and I don’t think my answer changes too much. With the Nationals clearly a team making moves to improve and showing progress in building as a franchise, the rivalry continues to progress as well. While I cant speak for an entire fan base, and my opinions may differ from some of the more vocal opinions, I think the fact that the Nationals are being discussed in one fashion or another in the area shows that the rivalry is alive and well between the Phillies and Nationals.
I don’t know if I would say that Phillies fans aren’t adjusting to the Nationals ascending, but when the organization goes out of their way to keep Phillies fans out of their stadium it is certainly not going to sit well with fans. For the record, I have absolutely no problem with the Nationals attempting to “Take Back the Park,” in fact I applaud them for doing so. I remember plenty of times Veterans Stadium and Citizens Bank Park was invaded by Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees fans in inter-league play and New York Mets fans in division play, and if Phillies fans are honest about it they will tell you it was not all that long ago that this was the case in our own neck of the woods. That said, the Phillies never held a promotion designed to keep out one particular fan base, so this is seen as a “new low” by the Nationals (again, generalizing the reaction here, not saying I feel the same way).
Will “Take Back the Park” work? Who knows. Maybe more Phillies fans went out of their way to grab a ticket for the game because of it. Heck, maybe that was the plan all along?
WFY: There seems to be a bit of hate directed at Jayson Werth from part of the Phillies fanbase — why?
KMc: It’s not too difficult to understand really, he took more money to play for a franchise that was widely regarded to be a bottom feeder in the division. He has said things to suggest the Nationals are a good team and that he thinks Nationals Park can be a good home field advantage for his new team. Oh, the horror!
I’m not blaming Werth at all for taking a larger payday to play for Washington, but some people just feel that he turned his back on the team. As though the Phillies made Jayson Werth who he is and he should have stuck with the team. Heck, maybe the Phillies did make Werth who he is, but I’m sure I would have done the exact same thing.
The hatred does go overboard at times. The thing is Werth is the most visible and recognizable player on the Nationals roster for Phillies fans. He played a key role in two World Series teams, winning one championship in the process. We know so much about Werth, which makes it easy to pick on him. You and your D.C. area friends should know I’m never one to boo too many players, and I don’t think Werth is boo-worthy in my book. He did his part on the team and was a dependable contributor, and he got rewarded for his efforts with a bigger contract. It just happens to be in another city.
Twenty years from now when the Phillies welcome back their 2008 World Series championship team, nobody will be booing Werth. But for now, he plays for a division rival so of course we’ll hate him!
KMc: This may be the toughest question of them all! Both are great in heir own ways, and maybe I’ll be pulling an upset here but I have always been an Action News guy so I’ll go with that.
WFY: What is the quintessential beer and food at Citizens Bank Park?
KMc: One of the great things about going to a game at Citizens Bank Park is that you have plenty of options for food other than the traditional standbys of hot dogs, chicken fingers and fries.
I’m going to leave out the obvious, which would be the Chickie’s and Pete’s crab fries (well worth the wait, and the lines move quicker than they look). While a stop to Bull’s BBQ or Tony Luke’s will rarely be a bad call, I’ll recommend grabbing a Schmitter, which despite popular belief is not named after Hall of Fame third baseman and the greatest Phillies player in franchise history Mike Schmidt. Consider it an alternative to the traditional cheese steak, with steak, salami, tomatoes, three different kinds of cheese and a special sauce.
As for drink, I asked some people on Twitter for their feedback because I’m the guy who brings his own water bottles to the game.I got back a variety of answers, including the regular aluminum pint bottle of Bud Light and the Sam’s Seasonal or Sierra Nevada. I’m not really a Bud Light kind of guy and I would side with the Sam’s Seasonal myself.
WFY: What is your prediction for this series and the season series between these Northeast Corridor rivals? Am I going to owe a friend a half-smoke or is he ponying up for cheesesteak for the second year in a row?
KMc: I think this weekend will go to the Nationals. Getting Stephen Strasburg vs. Kyle Kendrick Friday night should mean a win for the home team, and the way the offense can sputter I wouldn’t hesitate to issue a no-hitter warning right now. Saturday could be tough for the Phillies against Gio Gonzalez, but Vance Worley should be capable of keeping any game within reach. Sunday night though should go to the visitors with Cole Hamels on the mound. I know Jordan Zimmermann has some decent numbers early on, but I’ll bet on Hamels in just about any pitching match-up under the national spotlight.
Of course, the Nationals have always given the Phillies the fits, so this could be a bit of a wake-up call for the Phillies. I wouldn’t necessarily rule out a season victory for your home team again this season, and until the Phillies get Utley and Howard back wins will continue to be difficult to come by. The Nationals should be in the picture all season, as will the Phillies. This season these games between the two teams will carry the most importance they ever have for both sides. When push comes to shove, I’m going to give the Phillies the one-game season victory, just because I know the Phillies have a closer (can’t say the same about Washington, and that can hurt big time by September) and I expect Halladay, Lee and Hamels to lead the way on the mound over the long haul.