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Series Preview: Giants And Nationals Battle To Be The NL’s Best

In their first full series in July, the first-place Washington Nationals (45-32) will come home to Washington to face off against the largely successful, first-place San Francisco Giants (45-35).

Last week, the Giants took over first place with a bang worthy of Fourth of July fireworks: they swept the former first-place Los Angeles Dodgers, prevented them from scoring a single run in the entire series and captured the top spot that the Dodgers had been monopolizing for most of the season. Giants’ opponents have scored just 10 runs in their last seven games, four of which were shutouts. Needless to say, the Giants will be rolling into Washington with some serious momentum.

Picking up the offense

Although the Nationals remain in the bottom half of the rankings in most offensive categories, recently they have been moving up. They scored 53 runs in their last seven games (compared to the Giants’ 24 runs scored in the same time period). The Nationals have hit the second most doubles (158) of all major league teams (with the help of one of their most recent All-Stars, Ian Desmond, who has hit 24 on the year), and have bumped their slugging percentage up to .407, which ranks sixth among National League Teams.

This boost in offense could really help them rise above the Giants, who don’t have the most super offense either. Their .381 slugging percentage ranks far behind the Nats at 25th place overall, and only one team has hit fewer home runs than the Giants. They have, however, hit the second-most triples in baseball (27) and stolen the third-most bases (65). The Giants are also much less prone to striking out than the Nats are: they have 526 times, while the Nationals have done it 642 times for second most in baseball.

In addition to their lack of power, another place the Giants leave themselves vulnerable to the Nationals’ surging offense is in the number of errors they commit. The Giants led the National League in errors for a good portion of the season, until a recent error-less stint dropped them to second place with 62. The Nationals’ defense has committed the third least errors of NL teams with 45.

Opposite coasts, similar strategies

The construction of these two first-place teams is very similar this year. Like the Nationals, the Giants are not a high-scoring team. The Giants and the Nats rank 23rd and 24th, respectively, in runs scored (317, 316). That works out to 4.10 runs scored per game for the Nationals, and 3.96 per game for the Giants. Teams that make a practice of keeping game scores low must have the pitching strength to back the offense up, and that is exactly what both of these teams have.

The Nationals have the best ERA of the major leagues at 3.19, and the Giants are not far behind with a third-place 3.37. The Giants relievers have recorded the most saves of all major league teams (30 in 37 opportunities), while the Nats are tied for the second most saves with 27 in 25 opportunities. The two staffs have walked the exact same number of batters (247, 17th place),  the list of comparisons goes on and on, as nearly all their pitching stats are incredibly close.

Although the top of the Giants’ pitching rotation will be matched up against the bottom of the Nationals’, from number one to number five there isn’t really a break in the Nats rotation, so they should fare well against the Giants’ top guys.

Thus, the possibility remains that some pitchers’ duels could emerge from this series, as the Giants’ hurlers, who have been called the “ideal pitching staff for a playoff contender,” go head to head with the consistently dominant arms of the Nationals.

Worth noting

- Combined, these two teams are sending seven players to the All-Star Game next week. The Giants are tied with the St. Louis Cardinals for most players from the same team this year. This season’s Giants All-Stars are Buster Posey, Melky Cabrera, Pablo Sandoval and Matt Cain.

- Despite his high 5.60 ERA, Tim Lincecum has been overcoming his struggles from the first part of the season, as evidenced by his two most recent starts. In his last two outings, he allowed seven hits through 13 innings pitched, with just three earned runs and 16 strikeouts.

- The Nationals (.584) and the Giants (.563) have the first and second best records in the National League.

- The Nationals are 20-25 against the Giants since 2005, and 11-12 at home.

Probable Starters

Jordan Zimmermann (4-6, 2.77 ERA) vs. Tim Lincecum (3-8, 5.60 ERA)

Edwin Jackson (4-4, 3.57 ERA) vs. Madison Bumgarner (10-4, 2.85 ERA)

Ross Detwiler (4-3, 3.30 ERA) vs. Matt Cain (9-3, 2.53 ERA)

Who’s hot?

Melky Cabrera (LF) .352 AVG, .514 SLG, 7 HR, 7 3B, 10 SB

Buster Posey (C ) .303 AVG, .480 SLG, 10 HR, 42 RBI

Pablo Sandoval (3B) .300 AVG, .471 SLG, 6 HR (in 45 games)

Sergio Romo (RP) 0.79 ERA, 4/4 SV/SVO, WHIP 0.75, (22.2 IP)

Who’s not?

Gregor Blanco (LF) .249 AVG, .717 OPS, 1-for-13 last three games

Joaquin Arias (2B) .245 AVG, .609 OPS,  0-for-6 last five games

Emmanuel Burriss (2B) .211 AVG, .491 OPS, 1-for-9 last six games

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