Hopefully, these games in late May are only a taste of things to come, serving as a mere appetizer for a potential main course in late October.
As you salivate at the thought, enjoy these four signs that we are headed for the Washington Nationals facing the San Francisco Giants in the 2013 NLCS.
Note: All statistics updated through May 19 courtesy of MLB.com unless noted otherwise.
Quality pitching is a hallmark of success in both the regular season and the postseason, and the Washington Nationals have plenty of it.
Most importantly, the Nationals' starting rotation is even better suited for a deep playoff run than it was last year. That has less to do with Stephen Strasburg than you might think.
Strasburg has been good for the Nats this season despite what his record may tell you. He is 2-5, but his record has been influenced heavily by the 27 runs scored against him, even though he has surrendered only 18 earned runs. His 2.83 ERA is very respectable and he has walked only 18 while striking out 55 in 57.1 innings.
Gio Gonzalez, on the other hand, has not been as good for the Nationals. Gonzalez is 3-2 with a pedestrian 4.01 ERA in nine starts with 24 walks and 52 strikeouts. However, Gonzalez has recently shown a return to the form that made him a runner-up for the 2012 NL Cy Young Award.
In his last three starts, the southpaw is 1-0 in 19.2 innings pitched, striking out 16 and walking six while surrendering only 13 hits and four earned runs.
The new ace of the Nationals rotation is Jordan Zimmermann. The big right-hander, who turns 27 when he makes his next start on May 23, is 7-2 with a 1.62 ERA over 66.2 innings.
Zimmermann has 45 strikeouts versus only nine walks and has thrown three complete games with one shutout in his nine starts. Not only has Zimmermann been the best starting pitcher in the Nationals' rotation this season, he may be the best starting pitcher in the National League.
NL playoff teams will be in for a rude awakening when they first face Stephen Strasburg and then Gio Gonzalez in a five-game or seven-game playoff series, only to realize they still haven't seen the Nationals' best pitcher yet.
Yes, quality pitching is an integral part of success in major league baseball. But if you don't have it, you can always out hit your opponent. And that's what the San Francisco Giants have been doing.
The Giants normally reliable pitching staff has failed them this season, as they currently boast the 12th-best staff ERA in the National League at 4.21. This is a slip from 2012, when the Giants were fifth-best in the NL with a 3.68 staff ERA.
San Francisco's offense has picked up the slack.
Posey is hitting .294 with six home runs and 27 RBI in 136 at-bats with a .522 slugging percentage. The reigning NL MVP and batting champion has drawn 22 walks while striking out 21 times.
Sandoval is batting .302 with seven home runs and 32 RBI in 172 at-bats while collecting only 18 strikeouts. The switch-hitting Sandoval has 80 total bases and 23 runs scored.
Scutaro, however, has been the most impressive. Picked up by the Giants in a deadline deal last season, the 37-year-old journeyman infielder is eighth in the NL with a .331 batting average in 163 at-bats. Scutaro has 10 doubles, two triples, and as many walks as strikeouts with an even dozen for a .375 on-base percentage.
It looks like the Giants' bats will have to carry the team this season and perhaps all the way back to the playoffs.
The Giants and Nationals are both in good shape in the MLB Standings.
San Francisco is 24-20 and trails the Arizona Diamondbacks by one game for first place in the NL West.
Washington is 23-21 and in second place in the NL East, trailing the Braves by 2.5 games.
As far as the NL Wild Card standings are concerned, the Giants trail both the Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates by 2.0 games, while the Nats trail the wild-card front-runners by 3.0 games. If the postseason began today, the Giants and the Nats would fail to qualify.
Still, it is May 20, and neither team should worry despite the Giants and Nationals having identical 4-6 records in their last 10 games. With improved play will come improved positions in the standings. Eventually, both teams expect to make the playoffs.
If the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants are to meet in the 2013 NLCS, one of them will almost certainly have to face the St. Louis Cardinal in the divisional round.
In either case, the matchup would be a familiar one. Both the Nats and the Giants faced the Cardinals in the 2012 playoffs with decidedly different results.
In Game 5 of the NLDS, the Nationals allowed a six-run lead to vanish into thin air and were then forced to watch as the Cardinals celebrated a second straight trip to the NLCS in their home stadium. This postseason, the Nats will be out for revenge.
The Giants, on the other hand, would be the object of vindictive intentions were they to meet the Cardinals in the 2013 postseason. Last season, the Giants stormed back from a 3-1 series deficit in the NLCS to beat the Cardinals in seven games, preventing the Redbirds from repeating as World Series champions. In the 2013 playoffs, the Giants will be ready for the Cardinals' best shot.
A rematch of one of these two series from a season ago seems inevitable. While the Nats and Giants are in contention, the Cardinals are in the driver's seat. St. Louis owns the best record in the National League at 28-15 and is tied with the Texas Rangers for the best record in baseball.
Whoever draws St. Louis cannot afford to look past them in preparation for a scintillating NLCS. However, once the Cardinals are dispatched, the Nats and Giants can raise the curtain on what is sure to be riveting baseball theater.