If nothing else, the Washington Nationals showed some true grit over the course of their recent road trip. The Nats came home late Wednesday night/early Thursday morning on what the team likes to call a “happy flight” even though this one touched down at Dulles airport at 3:26 a.m. Last night, a 9-7 win in 11 innings against the team with the best record in the A.L. will raise the spirits of any team as they now get ready to face the team with the best record in the Majors in a 4-game series.
The Nationals welcome the San Francisco Giants into town after their own extra innings game Wednesday. Conversely, the Giants lost 4-3 to the hands of the Texas Rangers. The Nats are coming off arguably the best 4-6 road trip this season, and one that hopefully leads to momentum. The Giants had an early game yesterday and arrived at Dulles almost five hours earlier than the Nats.
Giants Scouting Report:
The Giants may not be a very good team on paper in many aspects, that is for certain, but they are on top of baseball at the moment with the best record in baseball and many analysts still wonder if they are pretenders. The team does not boast the superstar talents that helped them win multiple World Series championships in the 2010s. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner are all gone, but some holdovers like Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford are still producing with a new surrounding cast including a new wave of talent that makes them dangerous.
Entering the season, expectations were low for the Giants under manager Gabe Kapler who was run out of Philadelphia in his first managerial gig. Even though they came a tiebreaker away from making the postseason in 2020, there was not much hope in the Bay Area. The Giants have beaten even their wildest expectations, to this point. They are currently leading the NL West by two games over their big money rivals, the Dodgers and Padres.
They are led, as always, by dominant pitching. Former Oriole and Braves castoff Kevin Gausman has headlined their rotation. His 1.27 ERA in 77 innings is astounding as it stands, but the fact that he has a 4.04 career ERA makes the feat all the more impressive. Behind him, the Giants have many other castoffs like Anthony DeSclafani, Thursday night’s starter, Alex Wood, former Brave and Dodger, and former ace Johnny Cueto. Their aging core is underwhelming in a casual discussion, but a very solid team on the field when you actually see them play. Their air tight defense and effective pitching has forced opponents to maximize opportunities. The Giants’ bullpen is headlined by Taylor Rodgers, their sidewinding closer, Jake McGee, and a number of other relievers. They are a surprisingly productive group, and very tough to string hits against late in ballgames.
The hitting core is still full of the old guard for the Giants. Fresh off a forfeited year in 2020, Posey looks like the same player that won an MVP. He has hit .336, the highest mark for him since 2012. Additionally, the Giants have players like Crawford, the slick fielding shortstop and Brandon Belt, their long time first baseman who hit that famous home run in the 18th inning in Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS to crush the souls of Nats’ fans. What the team lacks in fire power, they make up for in overall solid play. Kapler has reversed the narrative that surrounded him during his time in Philadelphia. Additionally, he has changed the culture of the Giants’ organization following the departure of longtime manager Bruce Bochy.
Also, general manager Farhad Zaidi already pulled off an April trade with the Yankees to get Mike Tauchman. The Giants should be buyers at the trade deadline to snag a big bat for the outfield. The last time they did that was in 2011 and traded a kid named Zack Wheeler to the Mets for a rental of Carlos Beltran.
Nats’ Dream Matchup or Worst Nightmare?
The Nats, for what it’s worth, match up pretty well with the Giants. They are both led by their pitching staff. They both have aging cores, but still are producing despite their age. Finally, they both are underrated on a national level. This amounts to be a great weekend series between the clubs, but the Nats must know what they are facing. Fresh off a split with the Rays, the team most likely feels very good. They can’t let that turn into overconfidence because the Giants will take that and use it to beat up on the Nats this weekend if that is the case. Additionally, the Nats need to give their bullpen some rest. Luckily for the Nats, they have Max Scherzer on the hill Thursday night. He is pitching at such a high level recently that he seems to go at least seven innings every start.
Then again, the pitching can only do so much. It will come down to how the team hits, especially with runners in scoring position. Davey Martinez talks a lot about not trying to “be THE guy, just a guy” when addressing the team’s struggles. That might be what the team needs, quite frankly. The mindset is starting to haunt the Nats, and it’s clear that guys are pressing when there are ducks on the pond late in games. There have been signs of life, though. The extra innings game on Wednesday night was a great example of the Nats cashing in with a runner in scoring position. The scenario is exactly what the Nationals needed: no outs, man on second and three chances to get him home. The situational hitting is something that obviously needs to improve, and maybe that will help the team out in the long run.
These two teams will square off for a four game set in the first game(s) that Nationals fans will be able to attend at full capacity. The fans routinely give the team a boost, and potentially the team needs a little home cooking to jump start this season. If they can muster a strong homestand, the team can go from sellers to buyers in an instant. That, of course, cannot be done without taking care of the Giants, a foe that will challenge the Nationals. As the late Yogi Berra once said, “It’s getting late early”, and that quote might just encapsulate the feeling around the Nationals.