Phillies-Nationals 5 things: 3rd time the charm against Nats, Joe Ross?


Phillies (29-33) at Nationals (38-24)
4:05 p.m. on CSN

After an ugly 8-0 loss Saturday, the Phillies turn to Adam Morgan as they try to avoid a three-game sweep at the hands of the NL East-leading Washington Nationals.

Here are five things to know for Sunday afternoon's tilt:

1. Road and overall woes
After going 3-7 on their recent 10-game homestand, the Phils haven't had any more luck to start their five-game road trip. Saturday's loss clinched a third straight road series loss and a fifth consecutive road defeat. So far, this series has certainly been a far cry from the three-game sweep of the Nationals in D.C. in late April.

The first two games against the Nats have followed the Phillies' recent trend: Struggles in the starting rotation and not nearly enough offense to make up for it. Even the Phillies' most consistent starter, Aaron Nola, fell victim to a strong Nationals offense Saturday, as he lasted just 3⅔ innings, his shortest outing of his career. 

The Nationals, meanwhile, are as hot as the Phillies are cold. They've now won five of their last six games, scoring eight or more runs in all five victories. After injuries derailed the Nats' offense last season, the NL East leaders are now first in the National League with 85 home runs and fourth with a .428 slugging percentage. 

The Phillies' offense is the second-worst in the NL with just 198 runs and a .365 team slugging percentage. 

2. Third time's the charm?
The Phils' struggling offense will have a tough task with young right-handed starter Joe Ross. The 23-year-old dominated the Phillies in two starts at Citizens Bank Park earlier this season, picking up wins on April 15 and May 31. He lasted at least seven innings and gave up just three hits in both starts, allowing just one run total.

Despite his success against the Phillies, Ross has cooled off slightly after a hot start to the season. He sported a 1.23 ERA after five starts, but his ERA is now 2.92. In his most recent outing, he lasted just four innings while surrendering five runs to the Chicago White Sox. Part of his recent struggles are from an increase in home runs, giving up five in his last six starts after allowing none in his first five.

Sunday's game will be just the 25th start of Ross' burgeoning career. The younger brother of Padres starter Tyson Ross, Joe Ross is expected to be a staple of the Nationals' rotation moving forward, so the Phillies will need to start hitting him at some point.

3. Back end of the rotation
If the Phillies are going to get back toward .500, they'll need a lot more out of Morgan and the bottom of their rotation. Morgan, who challenged for the fifth spot in the rotation in spring training, has been well below average since getting called up in late April.

However, after his ERA ballooned to 7.07 after giving up six runs to the Nationals on June 1, he bounced back with a gutsy performance against the Chicago Cubs his last time out. He gave up eight hits but held the MLB-best Cubs to just three runs in six innings. 

The Phils hope that quality start may be enough to get Morgan going. The 26-year-old lefty was better last season, pitching to a 4.48 ERA. More ugly outings like his last one against the Nats could make the front office consider calling up a prospect or two.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: While other parts of the offense have gone cold, Odubel Herrera keeps hitting. He has a .333 batting average in his last seven games. His .421 on-base percentage is fourth in all of baseball.

Nationals: Starting catcher Wilson Ramos has been hot this season. His .343 batting average, .396 OBP and .564 SLG are tops for catchers with at least 100 at-bats and his nine homers are tied with Milwaukee Brewers backstop Jonathan Lucroy for the MLB lead among catchers.

5. This and that
• Ramos went 3 for 3 last week against Morgan with a home run and four RBIs.

• Herrera is 1 for 4 against Ross with two walks. Ryan Howard and Maikel Franco are both 0 for 6 against Ross.

• The Phillies have not won a series since taking two of three against the Miami Marlins on May 16-18. That run includes seven series, not including a four-game split with the Brewers earlier this month.

• The Nationals have never won six straight games in one season against the Phillies since the franchise moved to Washington from Montreal in 2005.

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