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2014 National League Division Series Preview
Washington Nationals vs. San Francisco Giants

by Richard Van Zandt,
October 2, 2014

When the Washington Nationals made the playoffs in 2012, they faced the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series without young ace Stephen Strasburg, who had been shut down after reaching his innings limit. The Cards would go on to win that best of five series, three games to two, leaving many to ponder whether the 15-6 Strasburg might have meant the difference between a first round exit, and a possible World Series Championship. The Cardinals would go on to lose the National League Championship Series, four games to three, to the eventual World Series Champion San Francisco Giants.

On Friday, when the Nationals take on the Giants in Game 1 of the 2014 NLDS, they’ll have Strasburg, who went 14-11 with a 3.14 ERA and a National League high 242 strikeouts, hoping to reverse history on their way to the World Series. The Giants will counter with Strasburg’s childhood idol, Jake Peavy. After helping lead the Red Sox to a World Series Championship in 2013, Peavy was acquired by San Francisco in exchange for a pair of prospects just prior to the July 31 deadline and compiled a stellar 2.17 ERA in 12 starts. He’s hoping win his second ring in as many years and help lead the Giants to their third World Series title in the past five seasons.

Here’s a positional breakdown of the two teams.


San Francisco – Buster Posey – .311/.364/.490, 143 OPS+, 22 HR, 89 RBI, 30% CS, -4 DRS

Washington – Wilson Ramos – .267/.299/.399, 91 OPS+, 11 HR 47 RBI, 38% CS, 0 DRS

After a strong 2013 campaign, Ramos took a step backwards on both sides of the ball in ’14, though he caught a career high 38% of base runners attempting to steal. Posey, meanwhile, is the heart and soul of this San Francisco team, and a likely top five finisher in the MVP balloting.

Advantage: Posey

First Base:

San Francisco – Brandon Belt – .243/.306/.449, 114 OPS+, 12 HR, 27 RBI, 3 DRS, 6.2 UZR/150

Washington – Adam LaRoche – .259/.362/.455, 124 OPS+, 26 HR, 92 RBI, 0 DRS, -5.2 UZR/150

Belt struggled through an injury-marred season, but regained his stroke in the season’s final week and drove in three runs in the Giants’ Wild Card victory over Pittsburgh. LaRoche, in likely his last season with Washington, posted strong offensive numbers, leading the Nats in home runs and RBI, but has regressed with the glove the past couple of seasons.

Advantage: LaRoche

Second Base:

San Francisco – Joe Panik – .305/.343/.368, 104 OPS+, 1 HR, 18 RBI, -1 DRS, 0.6 UZR/150

Washington – Asdrubal Cabrera – .241/.307/.387, 96 OPS+, 14 HR, 61 RBI, -10 DRS, -5.3 UZR/150

Acquired from Cleveland at the deadline, Cabrera helped solidify the second base position for the Nationals, but the unflappable San Francisco rookie has been fantastic at the keystone for the Giants, even collecting three hits in his post-season debut against the Pirates.

Advantage: Panik

Third Base:

San Francisco – Pablo Sandoval – .279/.324/.415, 111 OPS+, 16 HR, 73 RBI, 4 DRS, 3.3 UZR/150

Washington – Anthony Rendon – .287/.351/.473, 125 OPS+, 21 HR, 83 RBI, 12 DRS, 4.6 UZR/150

Heading into free agency and a big payday, Sandoval stayed in shape all season long and displayed often golden leather at the hot corner, but his offensive numbers were not quite what San Francisco had hoped for from the Round Mound of Pound. Rendon’s emergence, on the other hand, will likely precipitate LaRoche’s exit from Washington, forcing Ryan Zimmerman and his balky shoulder across the diamond.

Advantage: Rendon


San Francisco – Brandon Crawford – .246/.324/.389, 104 OPS+, 10 HR, 69 RBI, 8 DRS, 0.1 UZR/150

Washington – Ian Desmond – .255/.313/.430, 103 OPS+, 24 HR, 91 RBI, 2 DRS, 0.1 UZR/150

Desmond’s offensive numbers slipped a little in 2014, but he still managed 24 home runs and a career high 91 runs batted in. Defensive runs saved rated his ’14 season as his best ever, but UZR saw it in a different light. The Bay Area born Crawford came into the playoffs hot and supplied Madison Bumgarner with all the runs he would need, becoming the first shortstop to hit a grand slam in post-season history in the win over Pittsburgh.

Advantage: Desmond

Left Field:

San Francisco – Travis Ishikawa – .252/.311/.393, 100 OPS+, 3 HR, 18 RBI, 1 DRS, 0.0 UZR/150

Washington – Bryce Harper – .273/.344/.423, 111 OPS+, 13 HR, 32 RBI, -1 DRS, 3.8 UZR/150

After struggling with injuries through the first four months of the season, Harper responded to suggestions that he should be sent to the minors by batting .298/.356/.491 in his last 48 games, with 10 of his 13 home runs coming after August 6. Ishikawa finds himself in the spotlight due to injuries to centerfielder Angel Pagan and former Washington National Michael Morse. Though all four of his career starts in left field have come in the Giants past five games (including the Wild Card matchup with Pittsburgh), he’s likely to get most of the playing time during the NLDS, especially if Morse isn’t recovered from an oblique injury.

Advantage: Harper


San Francisco – Gregor Blanco – .260/.333/.374, 103 OPS+, 5 HR, 38 RBI, -7 DRS, -4.3 UZR/150

Washington – Denard Span – .302/.355/.416, 113 OPS+, 5 HR, 37 RBI, -3 DRS, -4.5 UZR/150

Span tied with Ben Revere of the Phillies for the National League lead in hits with 184 and swiped a career-best 31 bases. He sets the table for a dangerous Nats lineup that ranked third in the senior circuit in runs scored, crossing home plate 94 times himself. Blanco’s advanced metrics don’t accurately reflect how good he can be with the leather, and he has shown a distinct knack for making big plays in the field under the brightest lights.

Advantage: Span

Right Field:

San Francisco – Hunter Pence – .277/.332/.445, 121 OPS+, 20 HR, 74 RBI, -2 DRS, 2.2 UZR/150

Washington – Jayson Werth – .292/.394/.455, 134 OPS+, 16 HR, 82 HR, -4 DRS, -2.0 UZR/150

Pence had a fantastic season for the Giants, though a late season slump brought down his overall numbers. He is the spiritual leader of the team, bringing more to the table then just numbers. He leads by example and plays the game the right way, going all out, all the time. Expect at least one big hit from Captain Underpants during the series. Werth had a typically solid season for the Nats and remains a dangerous threat in the middle of the Washington lineup.

Advantage: Even


San Francisco – Peavy, Hudson, Bumgarner, Vogelsong/Petit

Washington – Strasburg, Zimmermann, Fister, Gonzalez/Roark

Jordan Zimmermann, who tossed a no-hitter on the final day of the season, follows Strasburg to the mound in Game 2, with Doug Fister, fleeced from Detroit this past off-season, going in Game 3. Gio Gonzalez, a 21-game winner in 2012, will likely get the ball in game four. Veteran Tim Hudson (18-5, 2.37 career vs Washington) will go against Zimmermann in game two, while ace Madison Bumgarner, riding a 16-inning post-season scoreless streak overall and 18 consecutive scoreless post-season frames on the road, will match up against Fister. San Francisco will counter with either Ryan Vogelsong or Yusmeiro Petit in game four. The Washington rotation had the best collective ERA in the league in ’14, at 3.03.

Advantage: Washington


San Francisco – Casilla (Cl), Romo, Lopez, Affeldt, Machi, Strickland, Lincecum

Washington – Storen (Cl), Soriano, Clippard, Thornton, Blevins, Barrett, Stammen, Detwiler

Drew Storen has been lights out for Washington since taking over for Rafael Soriano in the closers in early September, while Matt Thornton has yet to allow a run since coming over from the Yankees on a waiver claim. Soriano and Tyler Clippard give the Nats a lot of late inning depth out of the pen. The Giants counter with an experienced pen led by closer Santiago Casilla, who stepped in mid-year after Sergio Romo struggled in the role. Romo has since bounced back, and along with lefties Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt, and right-handers Jean Machi and Hunter Strickland, give manager Bruce Bochy a lot of late inning options. Overall, the Nationals (3.00) and Giants (3.01) finished second and third in the NL in team bullpen ERA.

Advantage: Even


San Francisco – Arias, Susac, Duffy, Duvall, Morse, Perez

Washington – Zimmerman, Frandsen, Lobaton, Espinosa, Hairston, Moore

Although he battled injuries all season and suffered through one of his worst big league seasons, Ryan Zimmerman is a huge threat to have coming off your bench in the post-season. And don’t overlook Scott Hairston, who has been a Giant killer his entire career (14 HR in 222 AB). The Giants will hope Morse has recovered enough from his strained oblique to provide some punch off an otherwise inexperienced bench.

Advantage: Washington



San Francisco – Bruce Bochy

Washington – Matt Williams

Bochy is the winningest manager in the history of the National League West, with 1,618 wins, and has three National League pennants and two World Series championships under his belt. He’s a likely future Hall of Famer. Williams, a former Giants third baseman and fan favorite, is in his first season as a big league manager. Someday Williams might be in the same league as Boch, but for now…

Advantage: San Francisco

The Final Word

The Nationals finished the season with the National League’s best record and are the better team on paper. The Giants are battle tested and proven, having won the World Series in 2010 and 2012, not to mention seven straight elimination games in post-season play. Expect an epic five game battle, but expect experience to win out in the end.


San Francisco Giants over Washington Nationals, three games to two.

Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Richard resides in San Francisco, California and can be reached at

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