We’ve got a dandy of a pitching matchup in Philadelphia on Friday night as the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies open up a three-game weekend set between NL East rivals. It will be Max Scherzer for the visiting Nats and Zack Wheeler for the host Phils with the line basically in the -115 range for the Phillies and a low total of 7 per Bovada Sportsbook.
It won’t affect these two guys too much based on what we’ve seen over their careers, but with the announcement that Major League Baseball was seriously cracking down on the use of sticky substances by pitchers is going to have a major impact across all of baseball as we go forward. It is in your best interest to tread lightly as we see what happens in the aftermath of that announcement.
Every pitcher is going to be put under a microscope now. In the case of Max Scherzer, he saw some big gains in the spin rate with his curveball beginning in 2019 and also with his cutter in 2020. Maybe those are just some mechanical adjustments, but we’ll have to wait and see. Increased spin rates create tighter, late movement on the baseball, which makes it harder to hit and harder to center on.
Scherzer has a 2.34 ERA with a 3.19 FIP in his 69.1 innings of work this season. He’s got another huge K% of 36.5% and another excellent BB% of 5.4%. The only issue for Scherzer is the same one that he’s had for two years now and that’s the home run rate. As a guy that keeps tilting more and more to the fly ball side, you take the great with the annoying, in the sense that Scherzer has a .177 batting average against, but will give up some long balls.
The Nationals could use a few more long balls on the offensive side. They went into play on Thursday with only 53 and had a .311 wOBA, which ranked 13th in baseball. After scoring just one run against Tucker Davidson and the Braves bullpen, they didn’t exactly improve those numbers at all. The Nationals put a lot of balls in play and have made some decent contact this season, but haven’t hit for a lot of power to this point.
Washington only ranks 22nd in home wOBA at .302, so they’ve been a much better road offense this season. Nationals Park typically gets good as the weather warms up, so that’s something that you’ll want to think about as the season moves forward. In this one, the Nationals are on the road, so that could prove to be a positive.
The Phillies offense has been below average pretty much everywhere. Philadelphia is currently playing without Bryce Harper and also missed catcher JT Realmuto for a while in April, but there are more than enough good hitters here to fashion a quality offense. Unfortunately, the Phillies have struck out a ton. They’ve struck out in over 28% of their plate appearances at home and have not been able to generate a whole lot of power as result.
For the full season, the Phillies are 18th in wOBA. They’re in the middle of the pack in fWAR among position players, but their defensive metrics are a little screwy. They’ve done well in UZR and the Def metric, which encompasses a lot of different factors, but still rank 28th in Defensive Runs Saved. This has been a bad defensive team for the most part in recent seasons, but they’ve seemingly fared a bit better this season.
Still, Zack Wheeler has taken it upon himself to try and get outs. Wheeler’s K% is north of 31% this season after he only struck out 53 batters in 71 innings last season. He’s struck out 92 in 75 this season and has actually lowered what was already a stellar walk rate. Wheeler is throwing harder this season and has the strikeout increase, but still has a similar Hard Hit% to what we’ve seen from him.
It’s been a great season for Wheeler. It has not been a great season for the Phillies bullpen. They made some changes and had a major overhaul coming into the year, but the Phillies still have a 4.68 ERA and a 4.53 FIP from their relievers on the season. It has been a disappointing development in that regard.
Nationals vs. Phillies Free Pick
The Nationals and Phillies both have aces on the mound, which is good given that both offenses have had their issues this season. Washington has the higher profile offensively, but the Nationals also haven’t faced a whole lot of Zack Wheelers this season. It’s too hard to play a total this low in Philadelphia, so we’ll have to pick a side. Washington is playing a bit better and seems to have more reliable bullpen options, so they’ll get the nod here.
Pick: Washington Nationals