Full Breakdown of Potential Nationals vs. Phillies NLDS Matchup
The Philadelphia Phillies are on the outside looking in, but they're really starting to steam up the windows. If they bust down the door, they will be a very unwelcome guest at the postseason party.
If the Phillies make it to the NLDS, they will meet the Nationals, who hope to play rude hosts.
Here is a complete breakdown of a potential NLDS matchup between the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Nationals have scored the fourth most runs in the National League.
The Phillies on the other hand, rank ninth of the 16 teams in the NL in runs scored.
The Nationals offense actually struggled during the first half of the season. The Nats bats were only able to climb the NL ranks after a second half of the season that has turned into a home run derby.
The Nats are 38-7 when they homer at least twice in a game. In addition, they hit 20 home runs in a five-game span from Sept. 4-8, a feat last accomplished by the 2006 Atlanta Braves.
Something to think about for a five-game series.
The Nationals have solid range in the outfield with a plus arm at every starting position.
But the strength of the Nationals defense is their infield. There is a Gold Glove-caliber player at every position, with Ryan Zimmerman having already won the award once at third base, Kurt Suzuki and Adam LaRoche (pictured) receiving consideration in the past at catcher and first base respectively, and middle infielders Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa expected to do the same in the near future.
The Nationals bench players, unofficially led by Chad Tracy, are so good they even earned themselves a nickname.
"The Goon Squad" will do the dirty work this fall.
STARTING ROTATION: Even
The Washington Nationals' starting rotation is the reason why the Nats were able to get off to a fast start despite a struggling offense, and the rotation has powered the team to the best record in baseball.
The depth of the Nationals stating rotation should help ease the loss of Stephen Strasburg due to his rehab from Tommy John surgery. Washington's starting pitchers lead the Phillies rotation in wins, ERA, batting average against, home runs allowed and WHIP.
The Phillies starting rotation is the main reason that Philadelphia is even in the playoff discussion at all. Significant first-half injuries slowed down the starters and by extension the team. But after the All-Star break, a healthy rotation led by Cliff Lee (pictured) has once again proven its worth, and the Phillies are in the playoff chase. Philadelphia's starters lead the Nationals starters in quality starts, innings pitched, walks, strikeouts and complete games.
Starting pitching will keep every game of this series close and help make it an instant classic.
Like their starting rotation, the Nationals bullpen has depth. A revelation this season has been Ryan Mattheus, who began the season in the minor leagues but has since found a niche by retiring the opposing team's best hitters. And the Nationals bullpen has not one but two former starters in Craig Stammen and Tom Gorzelanny, who have both become excellent multi-inning relievers.
But the strength of the Nationals bullpen is in the back end. Tyler Clippard (pictured) stepped in as closer for the injured Drew Storen and has been just as dominant as he was while pitching the eighth inning. Storen has since returned and is back to his unhittable self.
Now the Nationals can throw closer-caliber stuff at the opposing hitters for two consecutive innings late in the game. That's quite a luxury to have in the playoffs.
Davey Johnson has managed more than 2,000 games with five teams and has a winning percentage of .564. That is the 13th best winning percentage all-time, minimum 1,000 games and the best among qualified active managers.
But Johnson has won only one World Series and one pennant, earned that same year. And he hasn't coached in the playoffs since 1997, which was his second consecutive trip to the ALCS. His hiring by the Nationals halfway through the 2011 season marked his first MLB managerial position since 2000.
Charlie Manuel (pictured) has a career winning percentage similar to that of Johnson at .556, in about 600 fewer games. Manuel also has one World Series title to his name but has won two pennants. And his teams have qualified for the playoffs in each of the last five complete seasons and six out of 10 for his career.
The game-within-the-game that is managing a baseball team will become even more fascinating in this series involving these two masters of their craft, especially as Johnson tries to show Manuel that managing in the playoffs is just like riding a bike.
PLAYOFF EXPERIENCE: Phillies
This one's not even close.
The Philadelphia Phillies have significantly more playoff experience than the Washington Nationals. The Phils have made the playoffs for five straight years, and went to the World Series in both 2008 and 2009.
There are still several key contributors left from the 2008 World Series championship squad (pictured), including Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz. The pitching staff includes more playoff veterans who were added since 2008, including Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon.
The Washington Nationals only have two players who have won a World Series ring: Edwin Jackson with the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals and Jayson Werth with—ironically enough—the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies.
The bulk of the Nationals roster has never even seen the postseason, including starting pitchers Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez, relief pitchers Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, and position players Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Michael Morse, Kurt Suzuki and Bryce Harper.
These young Nats will learn playoff baseball the hard way when they play the Phillies.
HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE: Phillies
The Washington Nationals have enjoyed much larger crowds at Nationals Park this season, and as the significance of each game has increased, so has the intensity and passion of the home crowds.
But no visiting team wants to play baseball in Philadelphia.
How inhospitable does the City of Brotherly Love become in October?
Just ask the Tampa Bay Rays.
At the All-Star break, the Phillies were 13 games under .500 and left for dead.
But they have been reincarnated by going 37-24 since then. With a .500 record at 74-74, they are four games behind St. Louis in the NL Wild Card Standings.
The Phightin' Phils have only 14 games left with which to work some black magic. To qualify for MLB's new postseason, they will have to play like a team possessed. And if they do make the playoffs, they will be downright scary.
Just think back to last year, when the St. Louis Cardinals overcame a 10.5-game deficit on Aug. 28 to make the playoffs as a Wild Card and go on to win the World Series.
Deja vu all over again?
The Washington Nationals are about to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since moving to the nation's capitol. Their reward may be the Philadelphia Phillies, the absolute last team they want to face in the NLDS.
On paper, the Nationals look like the stronger team. But the Phillies play them tough. With six games remaining between the two I-95 rivals, the season series currently stands at 7-5 in favor of the Phils. And the Phillies will be bolstered by the intangibles of playoff experience and end-of-season momentum.
Taking all this into account, this figures to be an intense, hard-fought affair between two budding rivals. This NLDS will definitely go the distance of five games, but don't expect the minimum number of innings to be played. It will come down to the wire, and right now it's too close to call.
The real winner in this series will be the baseball fans lucky enough to watch two divisional foes forge a new rivalry in the cauldron known as postseason baseball.