A test awaits by the Bay

SAN FRANCISCO - Good morning from sunny San Francisco. What a terrible road trip this has been in terms of travel. Three days in San Diego, now four in San Fran.

Just awful.

The Nationals took care of business over the weekend, winning another series, their third straight, and bumping up into a first-place tie with the Braves and Marlins atop the National League East.

Here by the Bay, the Nationals will get their latest test - four games against the Giants, who have the best record in baseball and hold a 9 1/2 game lead in the NL West.

The Giants are 21 games over .500. They're 22-9 at home. They have a run differential of plus-65 through 63 games.

They're playing pretty darn good baseball right now.

Is this mid-June series going to make or break the Nats' season? Of course not. But having won seven of their last nine, the Nats feel like they're finally hitting their stride themselves. And this is the ultimate measuring-stick series at this point in the season.

"I think it's big," Kevin Frandsen said. "Not a pressure-big. Like a, 'Hey, let's go out and play some ball.' They're a team playing great baseball as well. It's going to be a fun atmosphere. ... It's a really good team. We have our work cut out for us."

The approach, players say, is the same that it is going into every series. They won't get caught up in the quality of the opponent or anything of that nature. They'll go into AT&T Park with the same mindset as they do every other day.

"Win the series," Danny Espinosa said. "Don't do too much. Just stay within ourselves, keep doing what we're doing and go in there and win a series."

We'll get some quality pitching matchups while we're here, and hopefully you all back on the East Coast will be able to stay up for some (or all) of 'em.

Stephen Strasburg (5-4, 3.10 ERA) goes for the Nats tonight against righty Ryan Vogelsong (4-2, 3.39). Tomorrow, it'll be Doug Fister (4-1, 3.19) taking on left-hander Madison Bumgarner (8-3, 2.86). Wednesday, it's Tanner Roark (4-4, 2.91) against Matt Cain (1-3, 3.52), and in the series finale on Thursday, Blake Treinen (0-2, 1.78) will go against veteran righty Tim Hudson (6-2, 1.97).

Some strong ERAs right there.

For manager Matt Williams, this series has a little added meaning. Williams was drafted by the Giants. He broke into the big leagues in San Francisco. He spent 10 years with the organization.

Now he returns as a big league skipper. This will be a business trip for Williams, not a time where he will be focusing on being back in his former city. But Williams admits it will hold some added meaning.

"It's home," Williams said. "It's where I learned how to play. I had great teachers there, and lots of support there, too. So it's always a pleasure for me to go back there. People are very nice there to me.

"I hope we beat them, though."

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