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After a dominant performance in the National League Wild Card game, the San Francisco Giants earn a date with the number one seed in the National League, the Washington Nationals.
The Giants earn their third playoff berth since the start of the decade and won World Series titles in 2010 and 2012. This will be the Nationals’ first playoff appearance since 2012. That year, the team decided to shut down a certain starting pitcher by the name of Stephen Strasburg as the team was looking like a World Series favorite.
Strasburg was coming back from Tommy John surgery and the front office decided to put an innings limit on the young phenom. The Nationals would go on to lose to the St. Louis Cardinals in the Division Series and General Manager Mike Rizzo was blamed for the team’s shortcomings. In hindsight, the innings’ limit paid off as Strasburg has pitched close to 400 innings in the past two seasons. Now Strasburg and the team look poised to make a deep run in the 2014 MLB Playoffs.
Surprisingly, the Nationals, in terms of Base Running (BsR) value, are the best in the league. Anthony Rendon, numerically speaking, is the best base runner on the team, but Denard Span led the club in stolen bases with 31. But the Nats have more than one way to beat you. They can hit for power, they can get on base, know how to take walks, and limit their strikeouts. The Giants do an adequate job in limiting their strikeouts, but they also ranked near the bottom in Walk Rate (BB%).
OFFENSIVE BATTED BALLS
Both teams ranked high in Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP–per fangraphs.com“measures how often a ball in play goes for a hit”). It’s perplexing to see the Giants, a fly ball team, rank in the top 10 in BABIP, which helped them with their batting average, finishing 10th overall in that stat as well.
On the other hand, the Nationals are more of a ground ball team, which explains their high BABIP, but the few fly balls that they hit go for home runs and do a good job at not hurting themselves with pop ups.
OFFENSIVE PLATE DISCIPLINE
As mentioned in our Wild Card Preview, the Giants are a free-swinging ball club. They had two players finish above 50 percent in Swing Percentage. One of them was Michael Morse. Pablo Sandoval finished first in that category among all qualifying hitters. Conversely, the Nationals have one of the most patient lineups in all of baseball. Both teams rank low in Contact Rate.
The Giants ranked among the top 10 in the stats used on the table. Unfortunately for them, the Nationals finished first in four out of the six stats being used here. To put that in perspective, Madison Bumgarner is one of the best pitchers in the game. He came up huge for the Giants in the Wild Card game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Bumgarner finished the season with a Field Independent Pitching (FIP-Advanced ERA, basically measures a pitcher’s ability based on strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed) of 3.05, which led his team. On the Washington Nationals, that mark would have been the fourth best on the team.
Outside of Strasburg, the Nationals have a great collection of starting pitchers, with Jordan Zimmermann having thrown a no-hitter recently, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, and Doug Fister rounding out the rotation.
ROTATION BATTED BALLS
Both teams did a good job of maintaining a low BABIP, especially the Giants, despite posting a high Line Drive Rate (LD%). The Nats are a Ground Ball team and do a good job forcing pop ups and limiting home runs.
SP PLATE DISCIPLINE
The Giants do a great job at inducing swings. But once again, the Nationals still rank ahead in Swing Percentage. Both teams do a good job limiting Contact Rate, but the Giants posted a slightly better mark in that department.
The Nationals have a better Strikeout Rate (K%), but finished the year ranked 17th in that category. Both teams do an excellent job in controlling their walks. Though the Giants finished with the best WHIP in the league, the Nationals finished with the best FIP in the Majors this year.
BULLPEN BATTED BALLS
The Giants finished with the lowest BABIP as they induce ground balls at a high rate and do a great job forcing pop ups. Meanwhile, the Nationals finished with a high BABIP despite being a fly ball team. This might be due to the fact that they were prone to giving up a good number of line drives. Though they don’t force as many pop ups as the Giants relievers, the Nats do a much better job limiting home runs.
RP PLATE DISCIPLINE
Just like their brethren in the rotation, the Giants do an excellent job inducing swings from opposing hitters. However, as was the case with the rotation, Washington finished first in Swinging Percentage. As far as Contact Rate goes, both teams ranked in the top 15, with the Giants posting a higher contact rate.
Are the Giants good enough to control the Nationals run game? No, the Giants, based on advanced defensive metrics, are not. They’re not very good at preventing runs, and their outfield arms were mediocre this season. Who has the better range? It’s a wash as both teams have very limited range, though Hunter Pence is probably the Giants’ most impressive fielder. On the other side, Rendon has lived up to the hype of being a versatile defender. Both teams are among the best at executing double-plays.
- The Giants experience, with two rings on their collective fingers, also carry momentum from a dominant performance in their Wild Card game.
- Remains to be seen how rookie manager Matt Williams does this postseason.
- The Nationals are a raw team, in terms of playoff experience.
It seems as if October is a San Francisco treat and the Giants are full of veterans that have been there, done that. However, one cannot ignore the talent and skill-level possessed by the Washington Nationals. That is why they should be able to take care of the veteran Giants and advance to the National League Championship Series.
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