NLDS Game 2: Can Nationals' ace Zimmermann thwart Hudson, Giants?
Giants at Nationals
Start Time: 5:30 p.m. ET
Starting pitchers: Tim Hudson (9-13, 3.57 ERA) vs. Jordan Zimmermann (14-5, 2.66 ERA)
Friday’s Game 1 win was huge for the Giants for a variety of reasons. To begin with, it guarantees them a split at Nationals Park, effectively handing them home-field advantage in what will be, at worst, a best-of-three series when the NLDS moves to San Francisco on Monday. What’s more, with Madison Bumgarner scheduled to start Game 3, they will now have their ace lined up to either break a 1-1 tie in the series or to go for the clinch at home. Perhaps most significantly, a Game 1 win was crucial for the Giants because they have no idea what to expect from their Game 2 starter, 39-year-old Tim Hudson.
Signed to a two-year contract in November, Hudson was outstanding in his first 13 starts for the Giants, going 7-2 with a 1.81 ERA, but in 18 starts since then, he has gone 2-11 with a 5.13 ERA, including 0-4 with a 8.72 ERA in five starts in September — just one of them quality — while dealing with soreness in his left hip. That couldn’t be much more different than the manner in which Jordan Zimmermann closed out his season, going 8-0 with a 1.81 ERA in his final 11 starts, all of them quality starts and Nationals wins, and throwing a no-hitter on the final day of the regular season in which he allowed just one baserunner (a fifth-inning walk) and struck out ten.
There are many, myself included, who believe that the 28-year-old Zimmermann, not Game 1 starter Stephen Strasburg, is the Nationals’ ace. Over the last three seasons, Zimmermann has posted a 2.96 ERA (131 ERA+) with 4.43 strikeouts for every walk and a minimum of 195 innings pitched per season. Strasburg, by comparison, hasn’t posted an ERA below 3.00 or an ERA+ above 126 in those three seasons and this was the only of those three years in which he surpassed a 4.10 K/BB or 183 innings. Strasburg had his best season this year, but Zimmermann remained ahead of him, increasing his typically below-average strikeout rate to 8.2 K/9, leading the league with just 1.3 walks per nine innings and posting career-bests in both of those categories as well as in K/BB ratio (6.28), ERA (2.66), ERA+ (141), WHIP (1.07) and Fielding Independent Pitching (2.68).
In his one start against San Francisco this year, which also came at home, Zimmermann held the Giants to two runs over eight innings, striking out eight and walking none. The two runs came on a two-run home run by Hunter Pence in the top of the first. He then retired nine straight before another Giant reached base and didn't allow another run. Zimmermann will have to be careful with Pence, who is 8-for-20 (.400) with two walks and two home runs against him in his career. Pablo Sandoval (6-for-13), Gregor Blanco (3-for-7) and Travis Ishikawa (3-for-6) have also had small-sample success against him, but Pence is the only Giant to have homered off Zimmermann.
As a team, the Giants have swung the bats well thus far this postseason, albeit with little power, hitting .311/.378/.392 in the Wild-Card Game and Friday’s Game 1 combined. Leading the charge has been rookie second baseman Joe Panik (5-for-10 with a triple), Brandon Belt (4-for-7 with two walks) and Wild-Card Game hero Brandon Crawford, who followed up his grand slam in that game by going 3-for-4 with a double in Game 1 of this series. Panik and Crawford are the only Giants to have collected an extra-base hit thus far in the early postseason.
Zimmermann will be looking for redemption in this game as he tanked his first, and to this point only, postseason start. That also came in a Division Series Game 2, the 2012 NLDS against the Cardinals. Zimmermann allowed five runs in just three innings in that game, allowing St. Louis to tie a series they ultimately won via an unlikely comeback late in Game 5. This year, it’s the Nationals who are not only hoping to tie things up, but desperately need to with Bumgarner lurking in Game 3.