Start Time: 9:00 p.m. ET
TV: FOX Sports 1
Series: Giants lead 2-1
Having lost the first two games of this best-of-five series, the Nationals have no room for error. But with a Game 3 victory over Madison Bumgarner in the San Francisco ace's only start in the series, Washington now has a clear path to a comeback, even if the odds are still stacked against it.
That path begins with the Game 4 pitching matchup. Having used Yusmeiro Petit for what amounted to a quality start in extra innings in Game 2, the Giants are left with 37-year-old Ryan Vogelsong as their Game 4 starter. Vogelsong has a sparkling postsesason record, having gone 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA in four starts in 2012, and despite his losing record and 88 ERA+ this season, he actually rebounded nicely from his awful, injury-riddled 2013 season to post peripherals very much in line with his 2012 regular season.
Nonetheless, he did not finish the season well, going 0-4 with a 5.53 ERA in September. He also gave up nine runs in 11 1/3 innings in two starts against the Nationals during the regular season, and the hitters on the Nationals' Division Series roster have hit a combined .317/.385/.524 against him in his career, led by Ian Desmond's 4-for-10 with a double, triple, and a home run.
Gio Gonzalez, meanwhile, went 4-1 with a 2.36 ERA in his last seven regular-season starts, all of them quality, and the last a dominant outing against the Mets in which he allowed just one hit in seven innings, striking out 12. The Giants haven't had a chance to hit against Gonzalez all year, and when they faced him last year, they managed just one run in 11 1/3 innings. What's more, the lefthanded Gonzalez drew this start over righty Tanner Roark because of how well he matches up against the Giants' lefty-heavy lineup. Gonzalez didn't have a particularly dramatic platoon split this season, but he has allowed just one home run to a lefty in 159 plate appearances this season.
The lineup Bruce Bochy has posted in the Giants' first four games this posteason has included five left-handed batters, starting with Gregor Blanco and Joe Panik in the top two spots, and finishing with Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, and Travis Ishikawa batting sixth through eighth. Wild-Card Game hero Crawford has had some extremely small-sample success against Gonzalez (2-for-6 with a home run), but Panik and Ishikawa have never faced him, and the rest of the hitters on the Giants' roster have hit just .164/.179/.200 against Gonzalez as a group. This is where the Giants will feel the absence of righty-slugging leftfielder Michael Morse most acutely. Bochy's right-handed alternatives to Ishikawa in this game are rookies Juan Perez, who hit .170/.224/.270 in 109 plate appearances during the regular season and is 0-for-5 thus far this postseason, and Gary Brown, who has had all of eight major league plate appearances in the regular and postseasons combined.
Runs have been at a premium in this series, with the Giants scoring six and the Nationals scoring seven through the first three games. Belt and Buster Posey have led the Giants' charge, both going 5-for-14 (.357), but Belt's 18th-inning home run in Game 2 remains the only extra-base hit by either player and the Giants' only home run in this entire series, thus far. Still, the Giants are out-hitting the Nationals, who have hit just .172/.226/.258 through three games and broke open Game 3 not with a big hit but with Bumgarner's throwing error on a sacrifice bunt, which allowed two runs to score. Anthony Rendon has gone 7-for-15 (.467), but without an extra-base hit. Meanwhile, Bryce Harper has hit two towering home runs, but has just three hits in the series as a whole.
That's a credit to the quality of pitching and fielding on both clubs. If there are soft spots on either staff, however, they are Vogelsong and the man who could be pressed into long relief duty should Vogelsong falter Tuesday night, Tim Lincecum, who has posted a 6.10 ERA and struck out just four men in 10 1/3 innings since being bounced to the bullpen in late August. That bodes well for the Nationals' chances of sending this series back to Washington for a winner-take-all Game 5.
History tells us that teams that fell behind 0-2 in a best-of-five series are no less likely to win Game 4 or Game 5 than the teams that started out 2-0. The key difference, of course, is that the teams that started 2-0 have two chances to win one game. A win in Game 4, however, would put the Nationals on equal footing with the Giants and arguably give them the edge heading back home, with their choice of aces (Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann would both be on full rest) to start Game 5.
Speaking of which, Nationals manager Matt Williams said before Game 3 that he would stick with his rotation and start Strasburg if this series goes to a fifth game, but with Zimmermann also available to start that game, Strasburg was available out of the bullpen in an emergency. Expect the same to be true tonight in Game 4.