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Bay Area battle awaits Nats

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Bay Area battle awaits Nats

PHOENIX -- A 10-game road trip is a challenge for any club, owners of the best record in baseball or not. And when the final leg of that trip comes against the toughest opponent of the stretch, the challenge becomes all the more daunting.

So the Nationals, fresh off a four-game sweep in Houston and then a two-out-of-three series victory in Arizona, now prepare for one of their tougher tasks this season: a three-game set in San Francisco against the NL West-leading Giants.

It's a task the Nats realize they need to take head-on as they prepare for the stretch run and the first pennant race by a D.C. ballclub in 67 years.

"To go and play teams like this, it's the kind of teams we're going to have to beat to get to where we need to go," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "It's going to be a tough, three-game series, but we look forward to it."

The Nationals have already established their ability to topple the Giants, having swept a three-game series in the District last month. This, however, is a much different opponent at AT&T Park than it is away from the Bay.

San Francisco owns a 34-24 record at home, the seventh-best mark in the majors. More importantly, the cool Northern California air and spacious outfield gaps make this one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in baseball.

Just look at the staggering difference in the Giants' home vs. road splits. At home, their pitching staff has produced a sparkling 2.76 ERA; on the road, that number skyrockets to 4.45.

At the same time, the Giants' lineup becomes far less imposing at AT&T than it is away from the friendly confines. They've hit a grand total of only 19 home runs in 58 home games this season.

So with the likes of Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Vogelsong, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum scheduled to pitch over the next three days, slugfests don't appear too plausible.

"They've got some very good pitching. We've got some really good pitching," Zimmerman said. "So I doubt they're going to be high-scoring games. Hopefully we'll score a lot of runs. I don't know if they will."

San Francisco may be among National Leaguers' favorite road cities each season, but the locals aren't exactly a welcoming bunch. Despite the laid-back reputation of California sports fans, Giants backers are no pushovers. And AT&T Park remains a hostile environment for visiting clubs.

"It's definitely a rowdy place," said catcher Kurt Suzuki, who played his share of interleague games in San Francisco while with the rival Athletics. "The Giants do play well at home. When I was in Oakland, we played them this past year. It gets rowdy out there, and the team plays well."

The Nationals might want to get used to the idea of playing important games in unwelcome settings. These are the type of road games they can expect to be playing in September and beyond.

In fact, they very well could find themselves back in San Francisco at some point in October, making this week's series a valuable learning experience for those players who have yet to participate in a pennant race.

"I think it's valuable anytime we can go on the road and get into atmospheres like the one in San Francisco," Zimmerman said. "We've all played in it before, so it's not a huge deal or a thing we need to be exposed to, because if you've been in the big leagues, you've played in front of crowds. But on the road in kind of a hostile environment is always good for any of us to experience and get ready for."

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Nationals fall to Padres as four starters sit on the bench

Nationals fall to Padres as four starters sit on the bench

WASHINGTON -- Ryan Schimpf hit a two-run homer and the San Diego Padres broke out the bats, beating the Washington Nationals 5-3 Sunday to avoid a three-game sweep.

The Padres had only one run and six hits with 31 strikeouts in back-to-back losses in games started by Washington's Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg to begin the series. San Diego bounced back by matching its season high with 14 hits, with 12 coming off starter Joe Ross (2-1).

NL home run leader Bryce Harper was among four starters out of the lineup for Washington. The game was delayed 1 hour, 20 minutes by rain.

RELATED: HARPER AMONG 4 NATS' STARTERS OUT VS. PADRES SUNDAY

Four relievers, including Kirby Yates (1-0), pitched 4 2-3 hitless innings following starter Jhoulys Chacin's latest bumpy road appearance. Brandon Maurer worked the ninth for his sixth save.

Chase d'Arnaud had a two-run single and double for the Padres. Franchy Cordero singled in the third for his first major league hit and later doubled.

Daniel Murphy, Jayson Werth and Matt Wieters also did not start for the Nationals. All three entered as pinch hitters, but were retired. Washington opens a nine-game, 10-day road trip Monday afternoon in San Francisco.

Adam Lind drove in two runs. His RBI double in the fifth off Chacin pulled Washington closer at 5-3.

Chacin surrendered three runs on eight hits in 4 2-3 innings. He also had two singles and an RBI.

Ross, who allowed five in four innings plus three batters in the fifth, certainly had two tough acts to follow. Strasburg struck out a career-high 15 in Saturday's 3-0 win after Scherzer fanned 13 in Friday's 5-1 series-opening victory.

San Diego doubled the amount it scored in consecutive losses after just four batters. Following a two-out walk to Wil Myers, Schimpf hit his 13th homer of the season and second in the series.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Padres: RHP Carter Capps (Tommy John surgery) remains on track to face hitters this week, manager Andy Green said.

Nationals: Murphy missed the previous two games due to illness, Chris Speier said Saturday. Speier, serving as acting manager with Dusty Baker away this weekend to attend his son Darren's high school graduation in California, did not meet with the media before Sunday's game.

UP NEXT

Padres: RHP Jarred Cosart (0-1, 4.50 ERA) faces the Cubs at home on Monday.

Nationals: RHP Tanner Roark (4-2, 4.32) opens a three-game road series against Giants LHP Matt Moore (2-5, 5.28)

More Nationals: NATIONALS PLAYERS VISIT LOCAL LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL TEAMS

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Harper Among 4 Nats' Starters Out Vs. Padres Sunday

Harper Among 4 Nats' Starters Out Vs. Padres Sunday

National League home run leader Bryce Harper is among four starters out of the lineup for the Washington Nationals in their series finale against the San Diego Padres on Sunday.

Daniel Murphy, Jayson Werth and Matt Wieters also did not start for the Nationals, who open a nine-game, 10-day road trip Monday afternoon in San Francisco.

Murphy missed the previous two games due to illness, Chris Speier said Saturday. Speier, serving as acting manager with Dusty Baker away this weekend to attend his son Darren's high school graduation in California, did not meet with the media before Sunday's game.

RELATED: Nationals' Joe Ross to Start Against Team That Drafted Him

Harper is batting .337 with 15 home runs and 41 RBIs.

Washington won the first two matchups in the three-game series.

Joe Ross (2-0, 5.32) faces fellow right-hander Jhoulys Chacin (4-4, 5.74) on Sunday.