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Stephen Strasburg faces Tim Lincecum this afternoon at AT&T Park.
As it turns out, this isn't quite as marquee a showdown as you would have expected, because Lincecum (6-12, 5.35 ERA) hasn't been his Cy Young self most of the year. Don't sell "The Freak" short, though, especially inside AT&T Park, where he still boasts a 3.66 ERA and 1.297 WHIP this season.
As for Strasburg, this outing will provide plenty more fodder both for those who support and those who deride the Nationals' plan to shut him down before season's end. If the right-hander dominates, it will only enrage the naysayers to question Mike Rizzo's sanity even more than they already have. If he struggles, the supporters will insist this is further evidence Rizzo know exactly what he's doing.
Two points: 1) It's truly unfortunate this debate has consumed so many people and in the process taken attention away from both Strasburg's actual performance and the Nationals' best-in-baseball season, and 2) It doesn't matter one lick what anyone thinks or says about this matter, because Rizzo made up his mind almost one year ago and he's not about to change it now.
So how about we just enjoy today's event in San Francisco for what it is: A potentially fantastic ballgame between two of the best teams in baseball, each of which is sending a fantastic young pitcher to the mound in search of a series victory?
I'm not there, unfortunately, but given the early start time and the significance of the game, I'll have some thoughts to share along the way, so please be sure to check back...
WASHINGTON NATIONALS at SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Where: AT&T Park
Gametime: 3:45 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv, MLB Network (outside D.C. market)
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 186
Weather: Sunny, 65 degrees, Wind 9 mph out to RF
2B Steve Lombardozzi
CF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche
LF Michael Morse
RF Jayson Werth
SS Danny Espinosa
C Kurt Suzuki
RHP Stephen Strasburg
CF Angel Pagan
2B Ryan Theriot
LF Melky Cabrera3B Pablo Sandoval
C Buster Posey
3B Pablo SandovalRF Hunter Pence
RF Hunter Pence1B Brandon Belt
1B Brandon BeltLF Gregor Blanco
SS Brandon Crawford
RHP Tim Lincecum
HP Mike Estabrook
1B Larry Vanover (cc)
2B Dan Bellino
3B Jerry Layne
3:10 p.m. -- Well, the Giants had to make a lineup change. And not your conventional lineup change. Gregor Blanco has replaced Melky Cabrera in left field after MLB announced this afternoon Cabrera has been suspended 50 games for testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone. Cabrera, an All-Star whose performance in the Midsummer Classic helped the NL secure home-field advantage in the World Series, has acknowledged he took a banned substance and has apologized for doing it. Wow.
4:32 p.m. -- It's been an eventful start to this game, with the Nationals scoring twice in the top of the first and the Giants responding with two runs in the bottom of the second. The Nats really made Lincecum work in that first inning, loading the bases for Jayson Werth, who promptly dropped a two-run single to left. I can't help but think back to last season, when presented with the same opportunity Werth so often drew a walk or was caught looking at strike three. He's been a much more aggressive hitter this season, and it really showed there. On the flip side, Strasburg cruised through his first inning but then labored through his second. His biggest problem: Issuing back-to-back walks to set the stage for the rally, which was capped by Brandon Crawford's two-run single. So it's 2-2 heading to the third inning of what already has turned into an entertaining ballgame.
4:47 p.m. -- Jim Riggleman used to say Danny Espinosa, pound for pound, was probably the strongest player on the Nats roster, maybe one of the strongest in the majors. I think we just saw an example of that. Espinosa absolutely obliterated a pitch from Lincecum, launching it over the wall in deep right-center, the deepest part of the huge outfield at AT&T Park. Nats up 4-2 in the third.
5:15 p.m. -- The Nats have knocked Lincecum out after four shaky innings, and for that they deserve credit. At the same time, am I the only one who feels like they might have squandered an opportunity to really take it to Timmy and put this game out of reach? They lead 4-2, but you wonder if by day's end they're going to wish they led by considerably more.
5:35 p.m. -- It's 5-2 now thanks to Werth's third RBI of the afternoon. Again, it's been quite impressive how he's become a run producer since returning from the DL. It's proven really valuable for the Nats. Meanwhile, Felix Hernandez has not allowed any Tampa Bay Rays batters to reach safely in seven innings. MLB Network is cutting in for live coverage when he takes the mound again if you're interested in watching.
5:56 p.m. -- Felix Hernandez on the mound now for the top of the ninth, the Mariners clinging to a 1-0 lead as he tries to complete the perfect game.
6:07 p.m. -- Wow, congrats to King Felix on pitching the first perfect game in Mariners history and the THIRD perfect game in MLB this season. Remarkable. What a day across the majors. Melky Cabrera gets a 50-game suspension. Felix Hernandez throws a perfect game. But more importantly, HOW MANY INNINGS DOES STEPHEN STRASBURG HAVE LEFT BEFORE THE NATS SHUT HIM DOWN?????!!!!!
6:13 p.m. -- Back in San Francisco, Strasburg's day is indeed done after six strong innings. He allowed two runs on four hits and four walks while striking out seven. He threw 100 pitches. Ryan Mattheus in to pitch the bottom of the seventh, with the Nats leading 6-2.
6:41 p.m. -- Things started to get out of hand in the bottom of the eighth, with the Giants putting runners on second and third against Sean Burnett. Gregor Blanco then was called safe on a close play at first base in which he slid feet-first through the bag just as LaRoche was catching the throw from Lombardozzi. It's hard to tell whether Blanco actually touched the base (and possibly whether LaRoche got his foot on the base, too) but he was called safe and that allowed a run to score. No worries, though, because Burnett came up big to strike out Brandon Crawford and end the eighth with the Nats still leading 6-3.
6:50 p.m. -- OK, onto the bottom of the ninth. Tyler Clippard on in search of the save, the Nats up by three.
7:04 p.m. -- It got a little interesting, with LaRoche losing what would have been a game-ending pop-up in the sun. But the Nats still pull off a 6-4 victory. They go 8-2 on the road trip and return home 28 games over .500.