&;05 PM EST, MASN – Money Line: Washington -235, Run Line: 8
With the dust from the Trade Deadline having settled and both teams having bolstered their respective rosters, the San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals meet in a matchup of division leaders. With that said, when this three-game series is all said an done, it’s very likely that only ONE of these teams will carry that distinction. Simply put, life has been rather hard for the Giants (62-47, 1st in NL West) since the All-Star Break, as they have gone a dreadful 5-14 in that span, which included their longest losing streak of the campaign, six games. Compounding matters is the fact that division rival Los Angeles has gotten hot, and at this point has cut San Fran’s lead to a modest two games. Needless to say, Bruce Bochy and his charges are officially entering into desperation mode, even if the notoriously even-keeled skipper suggests otherwise. Traveling to Washington isn’t the ideal scenario for righting the ship, and if Friday’s 5-1 loss was any indication, their misery may have only just begun. Starting Pitcher Jeff Samardzija (9-8, 4.40 ERA), was tagged early on, yielding a pair of runs in the First Inning followed by another in the Third, as the hosts manufactured their triplicate of scores via a Single and two Sacrifice Flys. Despite settling down for a few innings, the 31-year old Righthander served up a pair of Home Runs before Bochy finally pulled him after the Seventh Inning. Offensively, apart from Angel Pagan’s solo homer in the Fourth (his eighth), the visiting side were rendered largely inert, producing just three hits, while striking out nine times. Taking the mound tonight for Bochy and Co. is Matt Cain (3-6, 5.53 ERA), whom the skipper hopes will round back into form now that he is a few weeks removed from a stint on the 15-Day Disabled List with a strained hamstring. It’s been a rough season thus far, for Cain, who has been relegated to just fourteen starts this season, and as a result has fallen towards the back end of the Giants’ Rotation. And one has to wonder at this point, given the acquisition of the Rays’ Matt Moore at the Trade Deadline, if he’ll eventually be optioned to the Bullpen for the Postseason. The proverbial clock is ticking on the 31-year old, who despite winning his last two starts since returning from the DL, has been far from solid; two weeks ago, Cain relinquished four earned runs (including two home runs) on four hits in 5.1 innings of a 9-7 victory over the Cincinnati Reds for his first win since May 21st, and then last week against the Nationals was yanked after five innings despite carrying a perfect game at the time of his exit. Though he hadn’t allowed a hit, the big Righthander wasn’t particularly spectacular, striking out five and walking four Nats, and with Bochy clearly monitoring his performance, the decision was made to continue to build up his arm strength, instead of letting him chase one of the more rare feats in the game. Indeed, there is a plan in place to get the 12th-year veteran ready for the Playoffs, but as we stated earlier, he very well may be better suited for the Bullpen at this point; in comparison to his fellow Starters, Cain’s ERA (5.53), WHIP (1.500), Hits per Nine Innings (10.4), Walks per Nine Innings (3.1), Strikeouts per Nine Innings (6.6), and Strikeout/Walk Ratio (2.13) represent the group’s worst. And honestly, he hasn’t really been very good for a while now; since going 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA back in 2012, Cain has gone a mediocre 15-27 with a 4.57 ERA, with a 2.44 Strikeout/Walk Ratio. With the Dodgers hot on their heels for the division lead, it might finally be put or shut up for the Righty.
Meanwhile, traveling in a vastly different direction are the Nationals (65-44, 1st in NL East) who in going 11-8 since the All-Star Break, have won seven out of their last nine outings, including four straight. Dusty Baker’s charges have earned a rather comfortable lead in the division, outpacing the Marlins by a sizable seven games. Of course, when talking about Washington, anything they accomplish in the Regular Season is little more than melodrama, for the pressure is on this team to produce in the Postseason, hence the reason they hired the venerable Baker. In twenty-one years in the Dugout, the 67-year old has taken his sides to the Playoffs on four different occasions, earning a 19-26 record, including a trip to the 2002 World Series with the Giants. It was against his former franchise that he may have received a welcome surprise to aid him in his task of turning his charges into champions, as Gio Gonzalez (7-9, 4.12 ERA) dominated the Giants in what was may signify his return to form. The 30-year old Lefthander lost six consecutive decisions from May to June, but has since circled the proverbial wagons, winning four out his past six starts, allowing just five earned runs in the process. Against San Francisco, he permitted one run on a pair of hits over the course of seven innings, racking up seven strikeouts compared to one walk. If he can come close to recapturing his 21-win form from 2012, then the Nationals’ Rotation has got to be considered the most terrifying in the Majors, let alone the National League. Speaking of terrifying, heading to the bump for Baker and Co. is Stephen Strasburg (15-1, 2.63 ERA), who after suffering his first defeat of the campaign has simply picked up where he left off. Since sustaining a 6-3 loss to the Dodgers back on July 21st, the big Righthander has won each of his last two starts, yielding just one run on six hits, while racking up thirteen strikeouts in comparison to four walks. With Clayton Kershaw out for the rest of the season, there is perhaps no better candidate for the National League Cy Young Award than the 28-year old, who ranks first in the league in both Wins (15) and Win Percentage (.938), fourth in both Strikeouts (161) and WHIP (0.980), and sixth in ERA (2.63). Furthermore, the seventh-year veteran has allowed one run or fewer in six of his past seven starts, a span in which his ERA has dropped from 3.03 to 2.63, while accruing fifty-one strikeouts to only fifteen walks. So yeah, he’s been downright dominant. Oh, and he’s pretty much owned San Francisco throughout his career, going 3-1 with a 2.79 ERA in seven starts, compiling forty-four strikeouts to fourteen walks over the course of 38.2 innings of labor. In other news, Washington too was active at the Trade Deadline, acquiring Reliever Mark Melancon (1.44 ERA, 30 Saves) from the Pittsburgh Pirates to help solidify what had been a shaky Bullpen. With Jonathan Papelbon performing erratically, the 31-year old Righthander will likely be handed the role of Closer, given his thirty Saves, which ranks fourth in the National League. The three-time All-Star has been stellar this season, racking up thirty-eight strikeouts to just nine walks, while averaging 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings. If the early returns are any indication, this move could very well be a coup for the franchise, for in his two appearances since the trade, Melancon yet to allow a run, while strikeout out three batters with no walks in two innings of work.