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Giants capitalize on Nats' mistakes, reach third NLCS in five years

The Giants beat the Nationals 3-2 in Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Tuesday night in San Francisco to eliminate Washington and move on to the National League Championship Series against the Cardinals, who eliminated the Dodgers earlier in the evening. It was a fitting conclusion to a low-scoring series in which the two teams scored just nine runs each, averaging a combined 4 1/2 runs per game. Accordingly, the Giants outscored the Nationals on Tuesday not with big hits, but, much like Washington did in Game 3, by taking advantage of their opponent’s uncharacteristically sloppy play. Here are the three things I will take away from this series.

1. Death by a thousand paper cuts

Here’s how the Giants scored their two runs in the bottom of the second. After a one-out single by Brandon Crawford, leftfielder Juan Perez hit a groundball back to Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez that might have been an inning-ending double play if fielded cleanly. Instead, the ball spun off Gonzalez’s glove and out toward right field to put men on first and second.

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Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong followed by attempting to sacrifice the two runners up to second and third, but Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon appeared confused about who should field Vogelsong’s bunt and, as a result, no one did, allowing Vogelsong to reach with what was ruled an infield single that loaded the bases with still just one out. Gonzalez then walked fellow lefty Gregor Blanco on four pitches to force in the first Giants run, after which the second scored on a groundout to second by Joe Panik.

After the Nationals tied up the game on an RBI double and splash-down home run by Bryce Harper in the fifth and seventh innings, respectively, the Giants scored the go-ahead run on a bases-loaded wild pitch by Washington reliever Aaron Barrett, who had previously walked Hunter Pence to push that go-ahead run to third base.

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To recap, the Giants eliminated the Nationals by scoring three runs on a walk, a groundout and a wild pitch, with an error, and infield single and two other walks setting up those runs.

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2. The Catch

The Giants again loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the fifth, but this time the Nationals wriggled out of the jam, with Tanner Roark, who had started the inning after Gonzalez was pinch-hit for in the top of the fifth, getting Pablo Sandoval to pop out and lefty Jerry Blevins coming in to strike out Brandon Belt. That felt like a turning point for the Nationals, who had cut the Giants lead in half with a run in the top of the fifth on a single by Ian Desmond and an RBI double by Harper. With the heart of the order due up, the top of the sixth seemed like the Nationals' moment, particularly when Jayson Werth crushed a Vogelsong fastball to the wall in right field. Then Hunter Pence did this (GIF via @cjzero):

The Nationals did not score in the inning.

3. Survivors

The Giants have now won all seven of their postseason series under Bruce Bochy dating back to the 2010 posteason. Add in this year’s Wild-Card Game, and the Giants have survived all eight postseason rounds they have participated under Bochy. Put another way, the last time the Giants were eliminated in the posteason was when J.T. Snow crashed into the Marlins’ Ivan Rodriguez for the final out of the 2003 Division Series.