for this game

Nats hand the ball to Strasburg in Game 1 vs. Giants

Oct 3, 2014 - 2:22 PM ( - The Washington Nationals are back in the postseason for the second time in three years. This time, though, the Nats hope to stay a little longer.

They'll get that chance starting Friday when they welcome the San Francisco Giants to Nationals Park in Game One of the best-of-five National League Division Series.

Washington gave the District of Columbia its first taste of postseason baseball since 1933 in 2012, as the Nationals returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1981 when the franchise was known as the Montreal Expos.

Despite having the best record in the league that year, the Nats bowed out in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS.

Now, a year after missing the playoffs, Washington enters this postseason under similar circumstances, as it was an NL-best 96-66 and cruised to an NL East title, 17 games in front of both the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets.

The Nats also enter the playoffs as hot as anyone, as they won nine of their final 11, 13 of their final 16 games and were 19-8 over the final month of the season.

"I've maintained the whole season that I like where we are," outfielder Jayson Werth said. "We are a second-half team. We are built for this time of the year. We continue to show it year in and year out that we are going to make a run at the end. We played well up to this point. We got this first step out of the way."

A big reason behind their success is a starting staff that pitched to the best ERA (3.04) in baseball.

Right-hander Stephen Strasburg wasn't a part of the Nats' postseason run two years ago due to a controversial innings limit, but he'll be there Friday as Washington's Game One starter.

Strasburg won his final three starts without allowing a run and ended the year 14-11 with a 3.14 ERA. He also tied for the NL lead in strikeouts with 242.

"Stephen in particular has gotten stronger as this month has gone on," Nats manager Matt Williams said. "His fastball velocity has ticked up each month during the course of the season, and we all forget about the fact that he had some surgery last offseason (to remove bone chips from his right elbow) and it took him some time to get back to where he really wanted to be. And I think he's proven that over the last four to six weeks that he feels good. His location has been good. He's healthy and strong, and he's looking forward to this opportunity."

Strasburg went 9-3 with a 2.56 ERA in 18 home starts. One of worst showings, though, came at home versus the Giants on Aug. 24 when he was tagged for five runs in just four innings.

"I think it wasn't an easy decision by any means, but I think that's a testament to the guys we have in the rotation," Strasburg said. "I think every single one of them is extremely talented."

San Francisco, meanwhile, advanced to the Division Series with a matter of fact wild card win in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, as Madison Bumgarner pitched a four-hit shutout, Brandon Crawford hit the fourth playoff grand slam in team history and the Giants rolled, 8-0.

The Giants have won seven straight playoff elimination games, including five on the road.

"I think that experience really came into play today," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. "The guys threw out some good at bats. They looked very quiet up there. You want to create those chances and get guys on base, and they were relentless doing that until we got, of course, a big hit from Crawford."

Bumgarner (1-0) kept them out of trouble in this one, scattering four hits and a walk while striking out 10.

Bumgarner, making his seventh postseason start at the age of 25, was perfect in four of his nine innings. The four hits he gave up were all singles, including two to Josh Harrison. He threw 109 pitches, including 79 strikes.

"He had it all working tonight," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "Absolutely a very professional and well-pitched game by him tonight."

Now, the downside to playing in the wild card means that Bumgarner won't be available until Game 3 when the series shifts to San Francisco.

So, the Giants will hand the ball to veteran right-hander Jake Peavy, who was fantastic for them after being acquired from Boston and pitched to a 2.17 ERA in 12 starts.

However, he has struggled mightily in his postseason career, going 0-3 with a 9.27 ERA in five starts.

The Nats had their way with the Giants in 2014, taking five out of seven games.