5 Reasons the SF Giants Are Rooting for the Nationals in NLDS Game 5
The St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals are playing a decisive Game 5 in their divisional series on Friday with the winner advancing to play the Giants. The Nats forced the fifth game after Jayson Werth hit a walk-off homer in Game 4.
But which team would San Francisco rather face? If you ask any of the players, coaches or executives, they'll take the high road and say it doesn't matter, "they're just happy to be there and are ready to face whomever they have to."
However, if the microphones and notebooks weren't around, the Giants would admit that they prefer to face the Nationals. The Nats are a much more favorable matchup in a best-of-seven series than the Cardinals would be.
Here are five reasons why the NL West champs likely hope the path to the World Series goes through Washington, D.C.
Nats Bats Are Feeble
The Nationals have tied the Cardinals in the NLDS in spite of their offense. In four games, the Nats have scored nine runs.
That averages out to 2.25 runs per game. Even if Washington was getting good starting pitching—which it didn't until Ross Detwiler's effort in Game 4—that's not enough to win a series, let alone beat a team with a powerful lineup like St. Louis has.
The Nats scored fewer runs than the Cardinals this season while also finishing with a lower team batting average and OPS. They finished among the top five in the NL in all three categories, yet that offense hasn't appeared for the Nationals during these playoffs.
For a Giants pitching staff that held the Reds to eight runs over the final three games of their NLDS, facing a struggling lineup like the Nats likely sounds just fine.
Washington's Invisible Stars
This is basically a follow-up to the previous slide. The Nationals offense is struggling as a whole, but that's because its big bats haven't produced.
Bryce Harper may not have been counted on to be the Nats' postseason star, but he was certainly expected to hit better than 1-for-18 (.056) with six strikeouts. Manager Davey Johnson is apparently determined to keep Harper in the No. 2 spot but should strongly consider moving him down.
Michael Morse is 3-for-15 (.200), looking nothing like the hitter who led Washington with 31 home runs and 95 RBI last season.
Adam LaRoche has batted 2-for-13 (.154), though he did hit a home run in Game 4. LaRoche was the Nats' best hitter during the regular season, so if he's heating up a bit, that would help tremendously.
Jayson Werth was the Game 4 hero after hitting a walk-off homer. But he's still hitting 4-for-16 (.250) in the NLDS. He has one more game in which to improve those numbers.
Giants' Road-Field Advantage
Playing on the road seems to be working out just fine for the Giants.
They lost the first two games against the Reds at AT&T Park, but then won the next three in Cincinnati. With that, San Francisco became the first team to win three consecutive games on the road after losing its first two home games in an NLDS.
Now that the playoffs will be going back to a more traditional 2-3-2 format, perhaps the Giants' road mojo will wear off. But everything is going so well for them right now, beginning the NLCS on the road could work to their advantage. This team has its road routine down.
If the Nationals advance to the NLCS, they will have won two of three games at Nationals Park, so playing at their home park appears to be a benefit. But the Nats have looked anything but unbeatable at home, while the Giants have shown they're not intimidated by any road environment.
Where Did the Nationals Pitching Go?
Even without Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals appeared to have a strong starting rotation going into the postseason. Yet they haven't enjoyed any sort of advantage from their pitching thus far.
In Game 1 versus the Cardinals, Gio Gonzalez walked seven batters in five innings. Jordan Zimmermann was pounded for five runs and seven hits over three innings in Game 2. For Game 3, Edwin Jackson allowed four runs and eight hits in five innings.
With struggles from the starting pitching, the bullpen has had to pick up the slack and take on a larger burden. That hasn't worked out so well.
After throwing four scoreless innings in Game 1, Nationals relievers were roughed up for six runs over five innings the following game. The bullpen gave up another four runs in four innings during Game 3.
Fourth starter Ross Detwiler was the guy that finally came through for the Nats in this series, pitching six innings and holding the Cards to one run and three hits. Perhaps inspired by that effort, three Nats relievers—including a helping hand from Zimmermann—pitched three scoreless innings.
Gonzalez could come back with a gem in Game 5, but his first effort scuffed off whatever ace shine he may have had entering the playoffs.
What looked like a strength now appears to be something an increasingly powerful Giants lineup can handle.
Nats Let Opposing Sluggers Shine
During their NLDS, Nationals pitchers have allowed the Cardinals' big bats to produce.
In the first four games of this series, Carlos Beltran has hit 5-for-18 (.333) with two home runs and four RBI. Allen Craig and David Freese are both 6-for-15 (.400).
The Nats have also held Matt Holliday to a .188 (3-for-17) average while Yadier Molina has batted .143 (2-for-14) in the series. So Washington's pitchers have been able to handcuff a couple of the Cards' best hitters.
But the Giants' top batters got better as their series with the Reds progressed.
Buster Posey hit 4-for-19 (.211) in five games but did strike perhaps the biggest blow of the series with a fifth-inning grand slam Thursday off Mat Latos. That essentially knocked out the Reds.
Pablo Sandoval batted 5-for-8 with a home run and three RBI in the last two games of the NLDS, finishing with a .333 average (7-for-21) overall.
Should those two look forward to facing the Nats pitching? Might Hunter Pence be able to break out from his 4-for-20 (.200) performance in five games versus Cincinnati?
One reason San Francisco beat the Reds is because role players like Angel Pagan, Gregor Blanco and Joaquin Arias came through with big hits. Those might be the guys the Nationals have to worry about clamping down, rather than the star players.
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