Remember when the San Francisco Giants swept the Dodgers in LA last month? They had a 15-0 shutout, outscored them 29-8 over a three game series, raised the team’s OPS to .752, and pushed their season record up to 39-32. In just a little more than a month since, the lineup has not lived up to this promise.
The team’s just 15-11, has been outscored 108-97, and has just a .640 OPS. They’ve shaved off 20 points of slugging percentage on the season thanks to their .215/.295/.345 line. They’ve handed out plate appearances to 17 players over the past month and, folks, it hasn’t looked all that great.
Right now, the offense literally is four kids in a trench coat making one guy. Conforto has heated up since coming out of the All-Star break (.333/.429/.375 in 28 plate appearances) and Wilmer Flores is the only reason the Giants won two games in Cincinnati, but that’s really about it for the time being.
There are obviously several injuries causing this situation (Thairo Estrada, now LaMonte Wade Jr., maybe Brandon Crawford, maybe Mitch Haniger) and Bailey, Matos, and Schmitt are rookies with mostly less than a third of a major league season under their belts, but J.D. Davis and Joc Pederson have melted away like cotton candy being washed by a raccoon. There’s not a lot of balance — high strikeouts, some power vs. high walk rates, little power.
Enter, the Washington Nationals. Losers in 26 of their last 40 games, the team that really wore the Giants like a flesh suit in San Francisco back in May has leveled off about where you’d expect a team that lost Bryce Harper and traded away Juan Soto in the last five years.
After that San Francisco series, the Nationals had a team ERA of 4.44, a 1.43 WHIP, and 16-21 record. Since then: 22-37, 5.39 ERA, 1.56 WHIP. Since June 1st, they’ve allowed literally the most hits in baseball (416) and have the highest WHIP (1.60). That’s great news for a team that’s struggled to get hits.
The complication is that they’ll also be facing two of the starters who handled them pretty easily back in May. Josiah Gray was the team’s lone All-Star representative, and in May he held the Giants to just two runs in 7 innings. Jake Irvin’s lone scoreless start of his major league career came against the Giants, just his second major league start ever. The Nationals’ lineup features a bunch of guys who handled the Giants’ pitching just fine, too: Jeimer Candelario, Lane Thomas, and even Corey Dickerson has had his moments.
But! The Nationals are just 15-32 at home this season and have been outscored 253-175. Since May 1st, when the Giants started having the best bullpen in baseball, the Nationals started having the second-worst. Their -0.9 fWAR is just a hair better than the Mets’ -1.1. No team has allowed more home runs on flyballs than the Nationals in their bullpen. No bullpen strikes out fewer batters per 9 than the Nationals’ bullpen. Their 4.34 walks per 9 is 5th-worst in baseball, behind the Royals, A’s, Angels, and Reds.
By every measure, the Giants should trounce the Nationals this weekend. Unfortunately, as I’ve said many times in these previews, that’s just not how baseball works!
Who: San Francisco Giants vs. Washington Nationals
Where: Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.
When: Friday (4:05pm PT), Saturday (4:05pm PT), Sunday (10:35am PT)
National broadcasts: None.
Friday: Alex Wood vs. Jake Irvin
Saturday: Logan Webb vs. Josiah Gray
Sunday: TBD vs. MacKenzie Gore
Where they stand
Record: 38-58, 5th in NL East
Run differential: -105, 14th in NL
Postseason standing: 14 games back of Wild Card, 24.5 games out of the division
Momentum: 2-game losing streak; 4-6 in their last 10 games
Record: 54-43, 3rd in NL West
Run differential: +37, 4th in the NL
Postseason standing: +1.5 in Wild Card, 2 games out of the division
Momentum: 2-game losing streak; 7-3 in their last 10 games
Nationals to watch
Josiah Gray: Not the most deserving of his All-Star selection if we’re just looking at best available Nationals, but the 25-year old has had a solid season. His 1.1 fWAR is second on the team to Sunday’s starter, MacKenzie Gore (1.4), but his 3.59 ERA is betrayed by a 4.86 FIP — and now, come to think of it, that 3.59 ERA is probably what got him on the team more than anything else.
He has the third-worst BB/9 of any starter in MLB (4.10), behind just Blake Snell (4.92!) and Jack Flaherty (4.65); and, he pairs that with an equally unimpressive 8.03 K/9, the 21st- worst in MLB. If you pull up the same numbers I do, you’ll note that he’s just four spots below Alex Cobb (8.19 K/9), but the difference is that he’s basically a 4:1 K:BB vs. Gray’s 2:1, and Cobb’s groundball rate is 57% to Gray’s 42%.
In 7 home starts this season, he has a 5.20 ERA and a 1.71 WHIP. In theory, the Giants should be able to light him up... unless their lineup really is going that poorly right now.
Jeimer Candelario: Acknowledging that a lot of baseball fans still despise things like wins above replacement, still going to point that he’s been the most valuable player on the team all season long. His 2.7 fWAR leads the team by a decent margin over the next-best guy, Lane Thomas (2.0), and compared to all third basemen in baseball, his numbers make him the best third baseman in the National League right now. FanGraphs gives him a +4.4 Defensive Runs Above Average, Statcast has him 94th percentile Outs Above Average, and he has a healthy 8% walk rate against a 20.7% strikeout rate.
He can crush four-seam fastballs, too, so it’s a good thing the Giants’ staff doesn’t normally feature that pitch, but late in the game he’s been stellar. Per Baseball Reference: .380/.508/1.168 in 63 High Leverage plate appearances. The Giants held him to a 1-for-12. They’ll need to do that again.
Lane Thomas: In my series preview back in May, I chalked up Thomas as an Austin Slater clone. Boy, did he shove that opinion of mine in a locker. He was 6-for-15 in the series. Ultimately, though, this dumb blogger was more right than wrong. On the year he’s hitting .290/.337/.482 (.819 OPS) with a distinct lefty-righty split (1.041 OPS vs LHP; .718 OPS vs RHP). Still — watch out.
MacKenzie Gore: The Giants missed him in the May series, but he’s been their best starting pitcher all year long. His 1.4 fWAR is a bit better than Lucas Giolito’s, but he has the 9th-best K/9 in MLB (10.69), tied with Hunter Brown of the Astros. A lefty who average 95 with his fastball will be very tough to hit. He also has a changeup which he doesn’t throw very often, but is effective (40% whiff rate). The Giants are still pretty good against a four-seam fastball, but Gore’s curveball (40.5% whiff rate) and slider (39.9%) are strong enough to make sequencing and guessing a nightmare for any hitter.
Giants to watch
Logan Webb: Can he string together another solid-to-great start on the road? He gave up one run in 7 innings in the Giants’ only win in the May series. They’ll need him to be the stopper for this 2-game losing streak.
Austin Slater: Gore might not be the best matchup for him, but he’s going to need to come through because there won’t be many opportunities in this series for him to get some at bats. The Nationals’ bullpen has just two lefties in it, both rookies, and they might not be in there for leverage situations.
David Villar: This might be the last weekend he’s on the team.
Giants @ Nationals - how will it go?
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We finally get to the bottom of who paid for Justice Kavanaugh’s Washington Nationals season ticket debt of $60,000-$200,000