The San Francisco Giants currently lead the NL West by one game, and they've had some tough tests this year.
However, the biggest test is yet to come.
San Francisco prepares to take on the Washington Nationals in a battle of two division leaders. Washington is led by a trio of dominant pitchers and a well-rounded offense, and it leads the league with 71 wins (and just 44 losses).
Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann make up the Nationals' dominant pitching trio, and all three will start against the Giants. Zimmermann has the third-best ERA in baseball, Strasburg's ERA is below 3.00, and Gonzalez is among the league leaders in wins (with 14).
Luckily for the Giants, three of their best pitchers will take the hill. Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong will pitch, and all have had successful careers. Vogelsong has the second-best ERA in baseball, Bumgarner leads the team with 12 wins, and Lincecum has won two Cy Young awards.
Even though the pitching will be spectacular, expect to see some offense as well. San Francisco scored nine runs in back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday, and they are now near the top half of the league in runs scored.
Washington's offense has also done well, and its been sparked by great plays by Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse. The Nationals have a very well-rounded offense, and there are no easy outs in their lineup.
The Nats have done a great job since Jayson Werth's return. Adam LaRoche, Werth, Morse and Zimmerman have all been great on offense, and Kurt Suzuki, Steve Lombardozzi, Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper have also done well. San Francisco's pitchers will have a tough task on their hands when they face Washington's offense.
However, Washington's aces will have a tough time as well. San Francisco has Melky Cabrera and Buster Posey, who have both been on fire lately. Both are hitting at least .400 against left-handed pitchers, which is bad for Gonzalez, who will start on Monday.
Pablo Sandoval, who is hitting .299 this year and .317 against lefties, will be available to play on Monday and will start Tuesday and Wednesday (according to a tweet posted by John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle). He will add a spark to an offense that's already been doing a great job.
Oh, and did I mention Hunter Pence, the second-newest member of the Giants? He hasn't done well in San Francisco, but he did hit a game-winning home run on Sunday. Pence has knocked in 11 runs since playing his first game in SF on August 1.
There are a lot of different ways that this series can go down. The bats could explode, and both teams could continue to score a lot of runs. Or, the pitching could take over, and we could see gems and low-scoring games in a ballpark that swallows up hitters.
No matter what happens, the fans are sure to get a good show. San Francisco and Washington are two of the best teams in baseball, and it will be very fun to watch the games. I could simply that say the games will be great and conclude the article, but no article like this would be complete without predictions.
So, what do I think will happen? I think Posey and Cabrera will pound Gonzalez and lead the Giants to a blowout win in Game 1, thanks to a solid effort from Vogelsong (who's been amazing at home) and an offensive explosion.
In the second game, there will be some great pitching. Bumgarner and Zimmermann have both been very consistent, and Bumgarner has been dominant at home. Expect both to pitch well into the later innings, and look for a tight, low-scoring game.
It will be close, but I'd expect San Francisco to take advantage of Washington's bullpen struggles and win. In Game 3, you'll see some more great pitching. I expect Lincecum to deliver another solid performance, but I think Strasburg will out-pitch him in a low-scoring game to help the red-hot Nats avoid a sweep.
So there you have it. Kick back, eat some popcorn, have a soda and watch the Giants and Nationals battle. I can't guarantee who will win, but I can guarantee that you'll see some exciting action.