Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Can Aaron Nola quiet NL East leader?


Phillies (29-32) at Nationals (37-24)
12:05 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies look to right the ship after losing for the 13th time in their last 17 games. They'll turn to Aaron Nola while trying to prevent a three-game losing streak, while the Nationals call on Tanner Roark, who picked up a win against the Phillies last week.

Here are five things to know before Saturday's matchup.

1. An extended skid
The Phillies have come careening downward over the last few weeks. Before you look at the numbers, one of the main reasons for the skid is quite simple: the level of competition they've faced has been tough as nails. 

After this weekend, the Phils will have played 12 total games against first-place squads over the last three weeks (six against the Nationals and six against the Cubs). The Phillies' last two series wins are against the Brewers and Braves, two less-than-stellar squads. 

In the 13 losses during this stretch, the Phillies' pitching staff has given up 5.7 runs per game. Their pitching depth will have to either shine or be exposed in the coming weeks with Vince Velasquez going on the disabled list following Charlie Morton's injury early in the season.

2. Non-stop Nola
Nola has had a mixed bag of results against the Nationals in 2016. His first start against the Nats was by far his worst of the season, the only time he didn't complete six innings … and that doesn't even mention the seven runs he gave up.

His last two outings against Washington have been much better. No runs on two hits and seven strikeouts was his line on April 28, but he couldn't get a win thanks to a lack of offense while he was in the game. On May 31, he gave up two runs in six innings, a solid start but a loss nonetheless.

The key for Nola is the long ball. The Phillies are 7-0 when he doesn't give up a home run and 0-5 in the five games he's allowed a homer. 

Beyond his home run numbers, he's been remarkably consistent. He's walked either one or two batters in each of his last nine starts while striking out between five and nine. If there's any starter the Phillies can truly rely on, it's the 23-year-old righty.

3. Tanner time
The April 28 start that Nola couldn't get a win despite shutting the Phillies out? His opponent was Roark, who matched him with seven innings of two-hit ball. Roark made another start against the Phils last week, allowing two runs on four hits in seven innings. 

Roark came out of the gate this year with a 2.03 ERA after seven starts, including the first game against the Phillies. He hasn't been as crisp in his last five starts, including a three-inning clunker against the Reds on Sunday. The Reds' relatively weak offense knocked him out early with five runs on seven hits.

The start was only his third this year with more outs in the air than on the ground. Roark excels not just with strikeouts (he had 15 in a game in April), but primarily by keeping the ball on the ground. He may have a tough matchup with a certain Phillies rookie though.

4. The unstoppable Joseph?
Roark hasn't faced the Phillies' new sensation in the middle of the order. Tommy Joseph has ripped the cover off the ball recently, adding his sixth and seventh home runs of the season against the Nationals on Friday.

Pete Mackanin can't sit him — Joseph has officially taken Ryan Howard's job (see story)

Joseph brings a six-game hitting streak into Saturday, a period that includes five two-hit games. His streak has brought his batting average from .244 on June 1 to a cool .323 with a .677 slugging percentage on June 10.

The only negative are his strikeouts. He struck out in his other two at-bats Friday and has 18 strikeouts in 65 at-bats, which accounts over 27 percent of his ABs. Furthermore, he has only walked twice. As pitchers learn how to attack Joseph, he'll have to get better about working the count and avoiding K's.

5. This and that
• Four of the five hitters Nola has faced the most are potentially facing him Saturday. Jayson Werth is his most-faced hitter, picking up four hits in 14 at-bats. That includes two home runs.

• Bryce Harper is 6 for 10 against Nola with two home runs. Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon are a combined 6 for 21 while each hitting a home run off the righty.

• Howard, now the Phillies' "other" first baseman, is 4 for 15 with a home run and two walks against Roark. 

• Odubel Herrera has reached base in half his plate appearances against Roark. He's 4 for 9 with a walk. 

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