WASHINGTON -- It was supposed to be a sweet 16 for right-hander Stephen Strasburg. He would have been the first pitcher in the Major Leagues to reach 16 victories this season. But he ended up losing his second game of the season as the Giants defeated the Nationals, 7-1, at Nationals Park on Saturday night.
It turned out to be Strasburg's worst outing of the season, as he lasted 4 2/3 innings while allowing four runs on eight hits. He got off to a good start, retiring nine of the first 10 hitters he faced. But Strasburg found himself in trouble by the fourth inning. Eduardo Nunez, who went 4-for-5, led off with a triple and then scored on a single by Buster Posey. Later in the inning, Strasburg couldn't find the strike zone. The Giants had the bases loaded when Joe Panik drew a walk, scoring Posey.
"I thought I was scuffling the whole game, yanking some pitches," Strasburg said. "Yeah, I retired nine out of the first 10, but I didn't feel like I was executing. It kind of caught up to me. The Giants grinded. They had some balls go their way. Sometimes it's going to happen. I just have to do a better job of executing pitches."
The Giants added two more runs the following inning. After getting on base with another triple, Nunez scored on a double by Brandon Belt, who later scored on a sacrifice fly by Brandon Crawford.
"It was too much Nunez. This was his day," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "I don't know what happened; [the Giants] must have eaten some line drives for lunch. There were line drives hit everywhere off whoever we put in there. It was their day today."
The Giants scored three more runs before the game came to an end. Belt capped the scoring with a leadoff homer in the ninth off Jonathan Papelbon.
"This was a huge game," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "The last thing we wanted to do was lose another one here. Going against one of the best pitchers in the game, the guys battled well."
The Giants remained two games ahead of the Dodgers in the National League West, while the Nats held their seven-game lead over the Marlins in the NL East.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Repeat effort:Matt Cain (4-6) didn't no-hit the Nationals, as he did for five innings last Sunday at AT&T Park before an inflated pitch count forced him from the game. But he did add five more shutout innings against the Nationals to his ledger, stranding three runners in scoring position and striking out the dangerous Bryce Harper three times.
Cain, who has won three consecutive starts, acknowledged the difficulty of facing the same team twice in a row.
"But we've done that in the playoffs and every once in a while during the season," he said. "You have to try to adjust if you see those guys making adjustments as well."
Missed opportunities: The Nationals had the bases loaded with one out in the fourth inning, but didn't score. Ben Revere hit into a fielder's choice, while Strasburg grounded out to end the threat. The Nationals ended up going 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. That hit came in the eighth inning when Danny Espinosa singled to right-center field, scoring Wilson Ramos.
"Cain was throwing strikes, near strikes and quite a few balls at the same time," Baker said. "He had a pretty good slider tonight. He had a better slider than he did in San Francisco. I thought we were going to get to him, quite honestly. We didn't."
Complete offense: Nunez's four hits were just part of the story for the Giants at the plate. They went 5-for-14 with runners in scoring position after hitting .141 (10-for-71) in those situations in the previous eight games. Crawford and Posey added sacrifice flies, contributing further to the Giants' effective situational hitting.
"That's something we haven't seen in the last couple of weeks," Belt said.
"When we get this thing on track, it's going to be purty." -- Belt, on the Giants' offense
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
The Giants challenged a first-inning ruling that resulted in Washington's Trea Turner being called safe on a steal of second base. After a video review, the call on the field was overturned.
WHAT'S NEXT Giants: San Francisco will send out its ace, Madison Bumgarner, in an effort to win the series in Sunday's 10:35 a.m. PT finale. Bumgarner is coming off his worst outing of the year, allowing season-worsts of eight runs (four earned) and 10 hits last Tuesday at Philadelphia in a 13-8 loss.
Nationals: This Sunday will be Tanner Roark's second meeting with the Giants in a little more than a week; he limited them to one run in seven innings on July 28. Roark is 4-0 with a 3.32 ERA in five career appearances (two starts) vs. San Francisco. Game time is 1:35 p.m. ET.