The 2019 MLB season has hardly started but the Washington Nationals are already in the middle of their second series of the year against the Philadelphia Phillies. The first was a two-game series last week, which featured Bryce Harper's first return to the nation's capital, and they split it 1-1.
Ahead of Tuesday's Nats-Phillies game, here are three things to watch for the second matchup in the three-game series.
1. Can Bryce Harper play a good host vs. his old team?
To the Phillies' fans that is. On the road at Nationals Park, Harper put on a show, rubbing his talent in the face of his booing former fans. In the two-game series vs. the Nats last week on seven at-bats, the $330 million man had five hits and drove in three RBI while getting walked three times. He reminded Washington exactly how much it will miss him -- and hate playing against him for the next 13 years -- but can he show the Phillies' hometown crowd how well he can play against his former team?
2. Will the pitching woes continue?
Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Sean Doolittle look like the only guys on the mound holding it together. So far this season, the Nationals' pitching issues seem like they picked up right where they left off last year. The bullpen is struggling, so whether Scherzer or Strasburg are nearly perfect or make a tiny mistake, Doolittle is already 2-0 and the only reliable one out of the bullpen.
Example? Trevor Rosenthal's ERA is infinity.
“We have to come up with something. We have to figure something out for him,” manager Davey Martinez said about Rosenthal, who missed all of 2018 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. “These guys have got to pitch. But we’re going to need Rosey. We really are. So we’ve got to get him right.”
After out-dueling Noah Syndergaard and the New York Mets in his first start of the season, Strasburg will face off against the Phillies' Aaron Nola. If the Nats' right-hander can give the team a good start, perhaps he'll inspire the bullpen. Or the team will have to pray Strasburg survives eight strong innings with Doolittle closing it out.
3. Can Anthony Rendon stay hot?
Yes, it's still very, very early in the 2019 seaon. But the Nationals' third baseman has one of the best batting averages in the NL. And against the Phillies last week in the two-game series, Rendon went 5-for-8 with two home runs and three RBI. The Nats need him to keep doing what he's doing, especially against of offensive power like the Phillies.