The San Francisco Giants (24-20) may be the reigning World Series champions, but as the Washington Nationals (23-21) head to AT&T Park for the final stop of their West Coast excursion, they bring with them a strong record of success against the Giants.
Last year, the Nationals dominated in matchups between the two teams, winning five of six games and outscoring them 45-24. This year, though the Nationals have been a less dominating team overall, the Giants have been experiencing their own struggles as well. San Francisco’s recent slide should make this series an interesting one to watch, considering the impact it could have on either team’s momentum.
The Giants are coming home from a road trip during which they won only one of six games against the Toronto Blue Jays and Colorado Rockies, leading them to relinquish their first-place status to the Rockies after holding it for 25 days of the season.
The Nationals just split a series with the San Diego Padres, putting them at 3-4 on their 10-game road trip as they continue to working on boosting their offensive production. The Giants’ starters put together a 9.82 ERA over their own road trip, so perhaps the Nats will be able to capitalize on their opponent’s current struggle to spark their offense.
The Problem With Pitching
The Nationals aren’t the only team that has experienced a dip in pitching performance between this year and last. The Giants kept pace with the Nationals as two of the top MLB pitching rotations in 2012, but have sunk dramatically lower in 2013.
Last year the Giants finished with a seventh-place 3.68 ERA, not far behind the Nats’ second-place 3.33 ERA. This year the picture is much different, with the Giants in 20th place with a 4.21 team ERA and the Nationals’ 3.42 ERA in fifth.
There is still a long way to go through this season, leaving ample room for those numbers to change, but it doesn’t help when key players on each team are unable to perform to their potential.
On the Giants’ end, Ryan Vogelsong is their pitching rotation’s biggest weak spot. He pitched for a 14-9 record and a 3.37 ERA in 189.2 innings with the Giants last season, but has been struggling mightily on the mound this year. Through eight starts and 41.1 innings, he has a 1-4 record with an 8.06 ERA, and lasted only 4.2, 4.1 and 2.0 innings in his last three starts.
Manager Bruce Bochy wants to give Vogelsong more time to work out his problems, according to MLB.com, but there is no doubt his lack of production is negatively impacting the Giants’ success.
Luckily for the Nationals, their pitching problem is likely an easier fix.
Ross Detwiler will miss his regularly scheduled start with an oblique strain, but reports that he is feeling better daily and hopes to be back in the rotation the next time around, according to the Washington Times.
In the meantime, manager Davey Johnson turned to lefty Zach Duke to fill in for Detwiler, despite his recent struggles.
In his last outing, Duke allowed four earned runs on four hits, and made only two outs before being pulled from the game.
This spot start will be Duke’s first start since July 2010, and he hopes to use it as an opportunity for recovery from his poor performance recently, according to MLB.com.
“I have to get out there and give us a chance to win the game and re-prove to the organization and to the guys in this clubhouse that I can pitch and get people out," Duke said.
Duke began his career as a starter, and in 168 career starts he has a 4.59 ERA. He has performed similarly as a reliever with a 4.40 ERA in 30 games.
Duke and Vogelsong will face off in the series opener as each vies for his chance at redemption.
Bryce Harper will be back in the lineup on Monday, after missing time while he continued to deal with injuries from his wall collision at Dodger Stadium. Jayson Werth had hoped to make his return when the Nationals head back to D.C. on Friday, but Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post reported that Werth would likely miss two more weeks after an MRI showed his injury was worse than previously thought.
In The Zone
Adam LaRoche (1B) .382 AVG, .462 OBP, .636 SLG, 4 HR (16-game hitting streak)
Marco Scutaro (2B) .486 AVG, .526 OBP, .657 SLG, 3 SO, 5 2B (17-game hitting streak)
Hunter Pence (RF) .348 AVG, .375 OBP, .565 SLG, 3 2B (last six games)
Gregor Blanco (LF) .238 AVG, .261 OBP, .286 SLG, 6 SO (last six games)
Pablo Sandoval (3B) .200 AVG, .222 OBP, .360 SLG, 1 HR (last six games)
5/20, Zach Duke (0-0, 8.40 ERA, .344 BAA, 10 SO, 15 IP) vs. Ryan Vogelsong (1-4, 8.06 ERA, .333 BAA, 38 SO)
5/21, Stephen Strasburg (2-5, 2.83 ERA, .217 BAA, 55 SO) vs. Matt Cain (3-2, 5.43 ERA, .234 BAA, 49 SO)
5/22, Gio Gonzalez (3-2, 4.01 ERA, .204 BAA, 52 SO) vs. Madison Bumgarner (4-2, 3.09 ERA, .213 BAA, 58 SO)