By Sam Bush
The Nats went well into the night before taking a walk-off, 9-8 loss to the host San Diego Padres — in a game Washington led 8-0.
Sam Clay gave up Trent Grisham’s game-ending single, five innings after Nationals star Max Scherzer served up a grand slam to Padres rookie relief pitcher Daniel Camarena.
The Giants (54-32) begin the series dueling the Los Angeles Dodgers (54-34) and Milwaukee Brewers (53-36) for the distinction of being the National League’s winningest team. A sweep of the Nationals would assure San Francisco of having the best record in the NL at the All-Star break.
The Nationals (42-44), meanwhile, need a sweep to wrap up the half with a winning record. If they pull it off, they could vault over the Philadelphia Phillies (42-43) and Atlanta Braves (42-44) into second place in the NL East.
The Giants will take the field with an advantage in both momentum and energy. They had Thursday off following a 5-2 home win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday.
Pitching dominated when the Giants and Nationals met in the nation’s capital last month. Three of the four games ended in shutouts, with the two Washington wins coming by 2-0 and 5-0 counts. The Giants’ victories were 1-0 and 2-1.
Neither of the scheduled starters — San Francisco’s Logan Webb (4-3, 3.86 ERA) and Washington’s Paolo Espino (2-2, 2.48) — started in that series. However, Espino did come on in the first inning of the 1-0 loss in relief of injured Max Scherzer and allowed the only run of the game in his 3 1/3 innings.
The 34-year-old struck out five, walked none and allowed just three hits, including a Buster Posey home run.
It’s possible Espino won’t see Posey this time around. The All-Star starter missed the entire series against St. Louis earlier this week due to a bruised left thumb.
Giants manager Gabe Kapler noted at the end of the series that he plans to be conservative with his standout catcher.
“That soreness is giving me some trepidation about putting him in the lineup and also makes it more difficult to determine how available he is to pinch-hit,” Kapler said. “We have to get through this tough time without Buster.”
Espino has faced the Giants just one other time in his career, and he will take the mound with a 0-1 record and a 4.91 ERA against them.
He threw 56 pitches in the June 11 loss to the Giants and has since gone as high as 70 as manager Davey Martinez attempts to stretch him out.
“We were watching his pitch count, but I assumed he was going to be good for 80-85 pitches,” Martinez said of Espino’s start against the Dodgers on Saturday. “He was looking good.”
Espino yielded three runs in 4 1/3 innings during a no-decision against Los Angeles.
Webb is expected to be activated off the injured list to make his start. He aggravated a strained right shoulder in a May 29 outing against the Dodgers and has been sidelined since.
The 24-year-old was last seen pitching the best ball of his career, having limited the Texas Rangers, Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles to a total of two earned runs and 10 hits in 17 innings in his past three starts.
Webb was the winning pitcher in all three games, during which he struck out 21 and walked three.
He has never faced the Nationals in his career.