Manager: Bruce Bochy (11th season)
Last 10 games: 6-4
Who to watch: C Buster Posey (.321 with 51 RBIs), CF Denard Span (24 doubles, 4 triples), 2B Joe Panik (20 doubles, 4 triples), LF Gorkys Hernández (9 stolen bases) RHP Hunter Strickland (2.09 ERA, 13 holds), RHP Mark Melancon (11 saves)
Season series vs. Nationals: 0-3
Inside the Giants:
A perfect storm of imperfections has the Giants seemingly chained to the cellar in the National League West, 36 games behind the ridiculously good Dodgers. The Giants have had to cope with injuries, but no more than anyone else has, certainly not the Nationals. The Giants offense is at or near the bottom in runs scored, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and home runs. Two of the marquee starters from the (even-numbered) glory years are still on the staff (though not scheduled to pitch this weekend). But Matt Cain is 3-9 with a 5.22 ERA, and Madison Bumgarner (1-5, 2.88 ERA) spent two months on the disabled list after wiping out on his dirt bike. Giants pitching ranks 12th in the league in runs allowed, 13th in earned runs and dead last in hits allowed. The Giants do, however, have a ray of hope to cling to as they start a six-game road swing tonight: They just finished taking two of three from the defending champion Cubs.
The Giants still have their rock behind the plate. Buster Posey (.321/.410/.482) is still posting the sort of numbers we’ve come to expect from the 2010 Rookie of the Year, 2012 Most Valuable Player and five-time All-Star. If his current batting average holds up, it will be his best since his MVP season. With Eduardo Núñez traded to the Red Sox, the Giants’ biggest basestealing threat is gone, but Gorkys Hernández (.256/.325/.324) Joe Panik (.264/.322/.383) and former National Denard Span (.269/.319/.420) will all run on you. And with four each, Panik and Span rank in the league’s top 10 in triples.
Chris Stratton (0-2, 6.63) has spent the bulk of 2017 with the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate in Sacramento, and makes just his third start for the parent club in tonight’s series opener. He took a loss July 6 at Detroit, giving up five earned runs over 6 2/3 innings. He pitched to a no-decision last Saturday against the Diamondbacks, allowing two earned over five. Stratton’s bulky ERA would be a more manageable 4.68 if not for a disastrous April 29 appearance in which he threw 21 pitches to get just one out while allowing five runs on four hits and a walk. Saturday’s starter, Jeff Samardzija (7-11, 4.75 ERA), comes at hitters with 95 mph sinkers and four-seamers. With such deadly weapons, he has struck out out seven for each one he’s walked, and is tied with Clayton Kershaw for second in K/BB ratio in the majors, behind only Red Sox ace Chris Sale. Samardzija, though, racked up a lot of those Ks while enduring an 0-5 stretch to start the season, including a seven-inning effort at Citi Field against the Mets on May 9 in which he fanned nine and walked none, but gave up six runs on 10 hits. Conversely, the veteran comes into this start with wins in his previous three, for which his ratio was a much more pedestrian 2.28. Lefty Matt Moore (3-12, 5.88 ERA) pitches the Sunday matinee. Since June 25, Moore has lost five without recording a win. He’s given up a home run in each of his last six starts. On Monday at home against the Cubs, Moore struck out seven over six innings but gave up five runs on eight hits.
In his first campaign with the Giants after saving 30 for the Pirates and then 17 more for the Nats after a deadline trade last year, closer Mark Melancon (1-2, 4.35 ERA) tonight comes off his second term on the disabled list for an elbow strain. Melancon coaxes many ground balls with a four-seam fastball, a knuckle curve and a strong cutter. He’s blown four saves so far this year. Since handing in a clunker against the Padres on July 21, Hunter Strickland (2-2, 2.09 ERA) has been whittling away at his ERA, allowing just one run on four hits in eight appearances. So the big right-hander bears watching in this series, and not just because of the potential for Round 2 of the brawl that broke out between Strickland and Bryce Harper on Memorial Day.