Opposite dugout: Up-and-down Giants heating up after latest slump

giants-logo.pngManager: Bruce Bochy, eighth year
Record: 67-59
Last 10 games: 5-5
Who to watch: LF Michael Morse (.283/.339/.482, 29 doubles, 16 HR, 57 RBIs); RF Hunter Pence (.283/.335/.465, 26 doubles, 9 triples, 17 HR, 54 RBIs, 85 R); RHP Tim Hudson (8-9, 3.03 ERA, 1.18 WHIP); RHP Ryan Vogelsong (7-9, 3.73 ERA, 1.25 WHIP)
Season series vs. Nats: 1-3, 12 runs scored, 18 runs allowed

Pitching probables
Aug. 22: Tim Hudson vs. Doug Fister, 7 p.m., MASN HD
Aug. 23: Tim Lincecum vs. Jordan Zimmermann, 4 p.m., MASN2 HD
Aug. 24: Ryan Vogelsong vs. Stephen Strasburg, 1:30 p.m., MASN2 HD

Series breakdown
Has any team experienced more highs and lows this season than the Giants?

As San Francisco comes to Washington for a three-game series against the National League East frontrunners, the Giants are in second place in the NL West while sitting in the second Wild Card spot.

But it's been quite a ride to get there.

When the Nationals and Giants last met in June, San Francisco was the best team in baseball. The Giants had just become the first team to win 40 games and led the NL West by 9 1/2 games at 42-21. Then the Nats won the first three games of a four-game series, starting the Giants' biggest spiral. San Francisco went 5-18 from June 9 to July 4 to slip 1 1/2 games behind the Dodgers in the division.

The Giants recovered to regain first place, and led by two games on July 23 at 57-44. But they slid three games back after losing six in a row from July 24-29, and then lost another five in a row form Aug. 7-12 to slip six games back.

The Giants have heated up since, closing to within 3 1/2 games of the Dodgers and moving a game ahead of the Braves in the race for the second Wild Card by winning four of their last five.

But which team will the Nats be facing?

If the Giants' current play continues, the scorching Nats will be taking on a club that is both scoring plenty while keeping opponents off the board.

San Francisco has scored at least five runs in each of the four wins during its last five games, scoring 25 runs overall in that time. The Giants have permitted three runs or fewer in each of the last four games (10 total).

With all the ups and downs, the Giants are statistically similar to where they were the last time they faced the Nats. San Francisco owns one of the best pitching staffs in the NL and a solid offense.

The Giants rank fifth in the NL with a 3.39 ERA, ninth with a 3.76 rotation ERA and third in the majors with a 2.61 bullpen ERA.

The Nats have a somewhat favorable pitching draw in the series, as they'll miss left-hander Madison Bumgarner (14-9, 3.17 ERA) and right-hander Jake Peavy (3.58 ERA in five starts with Giants).

The series does begin with a fantastic pitching match-up, as veteran right-hander Tim Hudson takes on Doug Fister. Hudson is 8-9, but ranks 12th in the NL with a 3.03 ERA and 14th with a 1.18 WHIP.

Hudson is coming off a rough outing where he allowed five runs in four innings to push his ERA above 3.00 for the first time this season. But he had pitched to a 2.59 ERA over his previous five starts.

Right-hander Tim Lincecum goes up against Jordan Zimmermann in the second game of the series. The 30-year-old is having an uneven season reminiscent of that of the team. He's 10-8, but has a 4.48 ERA. He threw a no-hitter on June 25, but he also has five starts where he allowed at least five runs.

Lincecum is coming off a solid start where he surrendered two runs in five innings against the Phillies. But he was 0-2 with a 10.59 ERA (20 runs in 17 innings) and a .368 opponents' batting average over his previous four starts.

Right-hander Ryan Vogelsong has been pitching quite well leading up to his scheduled start against Stephen Strasburg on Sunday. Vogelsong has allowed two runs or fewer in each of his last four starts, going 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA (six runs in 26 innings).

The bullpen has been a strength for the Giants with four relievers posting ERAs of 2.03 or better in at least 42 appearances. Right-hander Jean Machi leads the way at 6-1 with a 1.50 ERA in 57 appearances. Right-hander Santiago Casilla isn't far behind, pitching to a 1.59 ERA and converting 11 of 14 save opportunities since replacing Sergio Romo as closer in July. Left-hander Jeremy Affeldt is 3-1 with a 1.94 ERA in 50 appearances.

The Giants aren't rated as highly with the bats, but have done a fine job. San Francisco is eighth in the NL with 495 runs and tied for seventh with 104 homers while ranking ninth with a .247 average and a .686 OPS.

Outfielder Hunter Pence is having a strong season, joining a group that is tied for second in the majors with nine triples. Pence also leads the Giants with 17 homers, ranks second with 26 doubles and an .800 OPS, and fourth with 54 RBIs.

Former Nats slugger Michael Morse still leads the team with 29 doubles and an .820 OPS while adding 16 homers and 57 RBIs. His season has taken a downturn, however. He started hot with 11 homers and 37 RBIs in his first 54 games. But he has just five homers and 20 RBIs in his last 67 contests.

Catcher Buster Posey has contributed 21 doubles, 14 homers and a team-best 59 RBIs. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval has 24 doubles, 14 homers and 58 RBIs.

Now, the Giants go up against the hottest team in baseball, a Nats club that has won 10 in a row to move seven games ahead of the Braves in the NL East. With that kind of padding, one could argue the Giants have more at stake with ground to make up in the division and a slim lead in the Wild Card race. So not only does Washington have a playoff contender coming up next, but one that is more desperate for wins.

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