Nationals vs. Giants: Keys for Each Team to Win NLDS Game 1

Kenny DeJohn@@kennydejohnAnalyst IIIOctober 3, 2014

Nationals vs. Giants: Keys for Each Team to Win NLDS Game 1

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Pitching, pitching and more pitching will headline the 2014 National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants.

    Stephen Strasburg will toe the rubber for the Nationals in Game 1. Jake Peavy will be on the hill for the Giants. This series, presumably, will be low-scoring from the start.

    The road to the NLDS was different for both clubs.

    Washington entered the postseason with the NL's best record, 96-66, thus giving them home-field advantage. They missed out on the postseason in 2013 after making great strides in 2012.

    San Francisco's route was a bit different. World champs in 2010 and 2012, the Giants were forced to play the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Wild Card play-in game on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh. Madison Bumgarner was spectacular, tossing a shutout with 10 strikeouts.

    Both teams have depth, and both teams have valuable arms. That makes this series one to watch. For now, let's just focus on Game 1.

    *Note: Game 1 is scheduled for Friday, October 3 at 3:07 p.m. ET.

Nationals: Work Peavy's Pitch Count

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    Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    Jake Peavy was stellar after coming to the Giants in a trade with the Boston Red Sox earlier this year, going 6-4 with a 2.17 ERA and 1.042 WHIP over 78.2 innings pitched.

    The right-hander is vulnerable, despite what his numbers may say. On the year, Peavy has been pretty consistent in the first four innings, posting ERAs of 2.81, 3.38, 3.38 and 2.25, respectively.

    But after that, Peavy drops off significantly. His ERA for the fifth inning is 5.17. He reverts back to 3.21 in the sixth, but that balloons to 7.62 in the seventh.

    The struggles have some to do with hitters seeing him for a second and third time, but a lot of it also has to do with pitch count. As his pitch count goes up, Peavy really begins to struggle.

    The Nationals are a strong hitting club. If they can get his pitch count up by taking pitches or putting multiple runners on per inning, they'll be able to break through early and give Strasburg a lead.

    Taking Game 1 is crucial to winning a playoff series, as it can be deflating for the losing team.

Giants: Get Pablo Sandoval Rolling

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    In 24 September games, Pablo Sandoval hit just .218 with one homer and 12 strikeouts. The Giants need "Panda" to get hot—and quick.

    Getting off to a good start in Game 1 could lead to the start of a hot streak, though it might be difficult for Sandoval to get going against Stephen Strasburg. He's just 3-for-12 in his career against the right-hander, striking out five times and walking once. He has no RBI and no extra-base hits.

    The Giants won't necessarily have a direct hand in getting Sandoval going. That said, a change in the lineup might help.

    Sandoval hit in the cleanup spot against the Pirates on Wednesday night. Third was Buster Posey. Fifth was Hunter Pence.

    The strategy for doing so makes sense. Pence is a big-time RBI guy, and the third spot in the lineup is often reserved for the best overall hitter on the team.

    But placing Sandoval third, followed by Posey and Pence, makes a ton of sense. The last thing pitchers want to do is face Posey and Pence, in succession, with runners on base. This will force pitchers to go right after Sandoval with a steady diet of fastballs.

    Sandoval is a professional hitter, so that should certainly help get him going again.

Nationals: Contain Brandon Crawford

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    Brandon Crawford hit the first-ever grand slam by a shortstop in the postseason against the Pirates.

    Crawford isn't usually a threat with the lumber, but he was scorching-hot in September. He hit .365 with two homers and 16 RBI during the month, then obviously continued that stretch into October.

    Stephen Strasburg hasn't had much success against Crawford, albeit over nine at-bats. Crawford has three hits and four RBI in his career against the hard-thrower.

    The shortstop is also 3-for-3 against Craig Stammen, 1-for-2 against Rafael Soriano and 2-for-4 against Tyler Clippard. Against the most prominent members of the Nats bullpen, Crawford has seen success.

    To defeat the Giants, the Nationals need to get out the bats that they should. Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval are the well-known bats. Everyone else needs to be taken care of.

    Pitching Crawford away and keeping him off-balance with off-speed pitches will be the key.

Giants: Pitch Smart to Deep Lineup

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    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    Jake Peavy has seen varying levels of success against Nationals hitters during his career. Just take a look at this handy-dandy table featuring some of the more prominent presences in the lineup:

    PlayerNotable Stats

    Asdrubal Cabrera

    26 AB, 7 H, 2 2B, 1 HR, 2 RB, 7 SO
    Ian Desmond6 AB, 2 H, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 SO
    Bryce Harper3 AB, 2 H, 1 SO
    Adam LaRoche14 AB, 5 H, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 3 BB, 6 SO
    Denard Span20 AB, 7 H, 5 2B, 2 SO
    Jayson Werth16 AB, 3 H, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 8 SO
    Ryan Zimmerman16 AB, 3 H, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 9 SO

    Adam LaRoche will lead the charge against Peavy, as three of his five hits against him have gone over the fence. He also has a team-high seven RBI against him.

    Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman are expected to be big players for the series, but Game 1 might not be when they make their presences felt. They are both 3-for-16 with more than a handful of strikeouts against Peavy.

    To be successful in Game 1, Peavy must pitch smart to this lineup. He has done well against Werth and Zimmerman, but several other hitters have been successful.

    Not getting behind in counts and attacking hitters when ahead is the best way for him to roll through this lineup.

Nationals: Remain Strong in the Bullpen

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    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    The Nats bullpen had a big hiccup during the year, as Rafael Soriano faltered and had to be replaced by Drew Storen. Soriano is still a valuable arm in the pen, but Storen is the de facto closer as of now.

    If you recall, Storen was one of the big reasons why the Nationals lost in the 2012 playoffs to the St. Louis Cardinals. He was unable to shut down the Cards, and Pete Kozma was the hero as he drove in the go-ahead run.

    Because it's so important to win the first game of a playoff series (for momentum purposes), the Nats bullpen must remain strong. Stephen Strasburg is not going to give the team all nine innings. He has just one career complete game in 109 starts.

    Storen is the most valuable member of that bullpen right now because of his role, but Tyler Clippard, Matt Thornton and others will be utilized heavily throughout this series.

    For Game 1 to go Washington's way, the bullpen—which ranked fourth in baseball with a 3.00 ERA—must be dominant.

Giants: Limit Strikeouts

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    Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    Stephen Strasburg led the National League with 242 strikeouts. The Giants had a very good BABIP, finishing 10th in the league with a .304 mark.

    The key for them is putting the ball in play against Strasburg. He strikes a lot of guys out, but he had a 3.14 ERA and allowed a career-high 198 hits over 215 innings.

    If Strasburg gets in a rhythm, the Giants will struggle to get baserunners and plate runs. That said, if they make contact, good things will happen.

    Strasburg isn't unhittable. The Giants will get some runners on here and there. The key is making productive outs and advancing runners up a base. Strikeouts can kill an offense, hence why Strasburg is such a dangerous weapon for the Nationals.

    If the Giants can hit the ball to the right side with a runner on second or hit the ball in the air with a runner on third and less than two outs, they'll be able to manufacture some runs.

    Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @KennyDeJohn_BR

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