The story of the series before it starts:
The Giants brought along Dr. Anthony Saglimbeni to administer IV fluids to players.
It's so hot where the Giants are, the team brought a doctor to rehydrate players intravenously. They were at Costco with a carton of Vitamin Water, and then they were like, crap, no, better go with the doctor. We've all been there.
Hot. And Tim Lincecum hates pitching in the heat. At least, that's the meme. I want to say that someone debunked that theory, either here or at Bay City Ball, but I can't find it. When I Googled it, all I got was this:
your lungs are located in your foot. that's why when you run, you can sometimes feel out of breath. This answer is from someone who knows Tim Lincecum. A person who steals second base and also third, would indeed be out of breath.
But I'll try to ignore the heat when writing this because I have no idea how to quantify it. The conventional wisdom is that Nationals players are used to the heat, and that Giants players are used to fog and locally grown organic parsnips. I guess that makes sense, but it's probably a better idea just to focus on the players.
Who are good. Both teams are filled with good players. They tell us it's a battle of first-place teams, they do. But the biggest news isn't that it's hot in Washington D.C., but that the Giants will miss both Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg. I can't remember a series where the Giants missed both of the team's best starting pitchers. If we linger on it too long, though, the baseball gods will drop an eight-inning Chien-Ming Wang spot start or an Edwin Jackson no-hitter on us. Moving on.
The Nationals used to be awful. We're talking a couple of years ago. The starting lineup for the Nats on September 24, 2008:
Emilio Bonifacio - 2B
Alberto Gonzalez - SS
Lastings Milledge - CF
Elijah Dukes - RF
Kory Casto - 1B
Pete Orr - 3B
Wil Nieves - C
Roger Bernadina - LF
Tim Redding - P
That's cherry-picking because Ryan Zimmerman was resting that day, but it's still impressive. Can the Giants counter? What was their lineup on the same day?
Randy Winn - LF
Eugenio Velez - 2B
Pablo Sandoval - 3B
Bengie Molina - C
Nate Schierholtz - RF
Aaron Rowand - CF
John Bowker - 1B
Omar Vizquel - SS
Jonathan Sanchez - P
Also impressive. But I think the Nationals take it handily. Pablo Sandoval is the starting third baseman for the National League All-Star team according to a press release I saw, so you know he's still great. And that Milledge-Dukes-Casto troika is a difficult flaming bag to top. That used to be the Nationals future. They lost 102 games that year. They lost 103 games the season after that.
They improved to 93 losses the year the Giants won the World Series*. Their best pitcher that year was Livan Hernandez, and it wasn't even close. Their second-best pitcher might have been Luis Atilano. This is the first time you've heard of Luis Atilano. But there was a beacon of hope for their starting rotation that year! Stephen Strasburg came up and did amazing things! Until he blew his elbow out. The Nationals used to be so hopeless.
So it's weird to see them in first place. I get how it happened. Those 100-loss seasons directly led to Bryce Harper and Strasburg, two of the easiest first-overall pick decisions in draft history -- this feels like a good place to drop this link -- and the Nationals have done well with player development and free agency since then. But it's still weird to see them in first place. The Pirates, Royals, and Orioles got all the yuks, but the Nationals were just as awful, just as cursed, for just about as long. It's been 32 years since they made their only playoff appearance, and even then that was only because of a proto-wild-card thing that happened because of the strike in 1981. They don't get that curse-respect, though, because they're wearing Groucho glasses and hiding in a totally different country now.
Now, though? It's hard to find a team that's set up more enviably for the future. Harper will be around for the next decade and Strasburg is one of the most exciting pitchers to watch over the last 20 years, but it's deeper than that. Gio Gonzalez signed a nifty extension before he ascended into a different orbit. Their infield defense is young, locked up, and amazing, and I'm guessing that Danny Espinosa and Ryan Zimmerman will start hitting again. Feels like I should mention Harper six more times in this paragraph to drive the point home.
It's weird that they're good. But they're good. And when Jayson Werth comes back, they'll get better. They should be good for a while, so they should drop at least two of these games because they don't want to appear grabby and selfish.
Hitter to watch
Rick Ankiel was almost a thing, a buzzword that became a shorthand way to reference the Giants' playoff futility. Instead, he's just a guy who swings really, really hard at every pitch. Good luck with that, Rick.
But the real hitter to watch is obviously Bryce Harper, who is doing things that teenagers rarely do. There have been 19-year-olds who've held their own before, but only Tony Conigliaro and Mel Ott hit as well has Harper has. Now we get to take the Mike Trout/Bryce Harper Pepsi Challenge. I was sick of Trout and his talent after about an inning, and I mean that in the best possible way. Here's hoping Harper is a little more subtle.
Pitcher to watch
Jordan Zimmermann is afflicted with a superflous 'n', Edwin Jackson was born in Germany, and Ross Detwiler was drafted four picks before Madison Bumgarner. That's about all I know about them, which is good, because I sure know a lot more about Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg. Don't get cute, baseball gods.
Bryce Harper will hit a triple against Barry Zito, who does not start in this series.