MLB.com Columnist

Bill Ladson

Three keys for Nationals in NLDS vs. Giants

Three keys for Nationals in NLDS vs. Giants

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals will face the Giants in the National League Division Series starting Friday at 3:07 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1. During the regular season, the Nats took five out of seven games from the Giants, but that doesn't mean Washington will have an easy time once the postseason starts. Here are three keys for the Nationals to defeat the Giants in the NLDS.

1. The offense must be consistent
The Nationals finished fifth in the NL in batting average (.253). Center fielder Denard Span and third baseman Anthony Rendon are the top-of-the-order guys who make the offense go. Both players had great years at the plate. When they score, it usually means a Nats 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

But keep in mind that the Nationals will face a better Giants rotation than the one they faced earlier this summer. For starters, Jake Peavy was not with San Francisco when the two clubs met in June, and he didn't pitch in the three-game series in August. He is expected to start Game 1 of the NLDS. Peavy has been outstanding since joining the Giants, going 6-4 with a 2.17 ERA in 12 starts. Add Tim Hudson and Madison Bumgarner to the rotation, and they could give the Nats a tough time.

2. Pitching, pitching, pitching
The Nationals finished the year with the best ERA (3.03) in the Major Leagues and they have the best rotation in baseball, led by Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez. All four pitchers ended the season on a high note, with Zimmermann leading the way with a no-hitter. The fifth starter, Tanner Roark, will work out of the bullpen. Roark had a strong season as the fifth starter, but he also has experience as a long reliever. Roark could make the bullpen even better, because long relievers like Craig Stammen and Ross Detwiler did not end the season on a high note. In a close game, the back end of the bullpen should be fine, with Tyler Clippard pitching the eighth inning and Drew Storen getting the last three outs of the game.

3. Keep Crawford and Pence off the bases
Brandon Crawford hit .246 for the season, but during September, he was red hot, hitting .365 with two home runs and 16 RBIs. His hot hitting carried over into the NL Wild Card Game, with his grand slam helping the Giants defeat the Pirates, 8-0.

Hunter Pence is one of San Francisco's top RBI guys and hit well against Washington this year, going 9-for-27 (.333) with a homer and four RBIs. It will be interesting to see how he does against Strasburg and Zimmermann, who are expected to be the Game 1 and Game 2 starters, respectively. Pence is 3-for-13 (.231) against Strasburg, but 8-for-20 (.400) against Zimmermann.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.