Three keys for Giants in NLDS against Nats

SF has history of clicking in October; won two of seven meetings this season

Three keys for Giants in NLDS against Nats

PITTSBURGH -- It seems a daunting task, the Giants -- winners of Wednesday night's National League Wild Card Game over the Pirates -- up against the NL's top-seeded Nationals in the Division Series round. The Nats took five of their seven meetings this year, including three of four at AT&T Park.

But some key numbers stack up in the favor of the Giants, who tend to play well this time of year.

Here are three keys that could lead the Giants to victory:

  Date Time Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3   SF 3, WAS 2 video
Gm 2 Oct. 4   SF 2, WAS 1 (18 inn.) video
Gm 3 Oct. 6   WAS 4, SF 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 7   SF 3, WAS 2 video

1. Hit for average, but add patience to the mix
Despite the record against the Nationals, the Giants batted .300 with five home runs in those seven games. But San Francisco also struck out 44 times and walked 10 times, finishing with a .324 on-base percentage.

The Giants will need performances like Brandon Belt's in the NL Wild Card Game. He went 2-for-3 with three RBIs, two walks and scored a run. With the count at 2-2 in his fourth-inning at-bat, Belt held off two Edinson Volquez pitches to draw a walk and load the bases, setting up Brandon Crawford's grand slam.

Speaking of Crawford, he entered the playoffs on the strength of a .365 performance (27-for-74) in September, with five doubles, two home runs and 16 RBIs. He finished the season with a .246 batting average overall, but he enters the NLDS as the first shortstop in history to hit a postseason grand slam. And Crawford batted .346 with a double, two triples and four RBIs against the Nats in the seven regular-season contests.

"They have a great team, a great lineup, a great pitching staff," Crawford said after San Francisco's 8-0 victory. "But we're confident going against anybody. We felt good tonight, although I don't think a whole lot of people gave us a great chance. We like situations like that, kind of an underdog."

2. Muzzle Nationals' offense somehow
With the Giants hitting .300 against the Nationals this year but only winning two of the seven games, that must've meant the Nats' offense was clicking.

Washington scored 41 runs, almost six a game, knocked six home runs and posted an .800 OPS (on-base plus slugging).

San Francisco's three projected starters offer hope.

Game 1 starter Jake Peavy joined the Giants in a July 26 trade from the Red Sox and went 6-4 with a 2.17 ERA in 12 starts.

Game 2 starter Tim Hudson struggled in September, but he can point to recent success against the Nationals. On June 12 at AT&T Park, he held the Nats to one run and six hits in seven innings of a 7-1 victory. Hudson struck out five against two walks.

And San Francisco will turn Game 3 over to lefty ace Madison Bumgarner, who turned in a four-hit, 10-strikeout shutout of Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

3. Get 'Panda' hot
Third baseman Pablo Sandoval looked tired at the end of the regular season, and the numbers reflected it. He hit .218 with 12 strikeouts and just one homer in 24 September games.

But Sandoval knows how to hit in October. He went 2-for-4 with a walk in the NL Wild Card Game to lift his career postseason batting average to .333 (29-for-87). Sandoval has six doubles, six home runs -- second most in Giants postseason history behind Barry Bonds' eight -- and 15 RBIs in 23 games. The resume also includes a World Series MVP Award in 2012.

Like many of the Giants, Sandoval knows how to play in October, which in recent years has been their biggest advantage against any postseason opponent.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.