December 9, 2022

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Wood extends dominant stretch to earn series win

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WASHINGTON — The nation’s capital has not been kind to the Giants in recent years, though they took a step toward reversing those fortunes on Saturday afternoon. 

With a 5-2 win over the Nationals, the Giants secured only their second series victory at Nationals Park since 2010, improving to 2-8-1 over their last 11 series here. 

The victory clinched a winning road trip for the Giants, who are 6-3 over their first nine games of their grueling 11-game swing through Cleveland, New York, Washington and Milwaukee. San Francisco will have a chance to complete a three-game sweep of the Nationals behind young ace Logan Webb in Sunday’s series finale. 

Here are three takeaways as the Giants improved to 10-5 on the season.

1. Wood continues to deliver
The Giants are a bit shorthanded in their rotation following the injuries to Anthony DeSclafani (right ankle inflammation) and Alex Cobb (right adductor strain), but they continued to receive much-needed consistency from left-hander Alex Wood, who gave up two runs on four hits over five innings. Wood, who walked one and struck out five while throwing 77 pitches, now has a 2.51 ERA over his first three starts of the year.

“I’m throwing the ball really well right now,” Wood said. “I feel like I’m throwing the ball maybe as good as I have in my career. I’m commanding both sides of the plate, up and down, in and out. I’ve been striking my changeup a lot. I feel really good. I’m just trying to keep it rolling.”

Wood took a shutout into the fifth inning, but he surrendered a two-out solo shot to Riley Adams, followed by a double to Victor Robles, who scored on Lane Thomas’ RBI single to cut the Giants’ lead to 5-2. Still, Wood capped his outing by striking out Nationals star Juan Soto for the second time on a slider at the bottom of the zone.

The Giants have won 21 of Wood’s 29 starts (.724 winning percentage) since he joined the club in January 2021. That’s the fourth-best record among pitchers who have made a minimum of 25 starts in the Majors over that span, trailing only the Dodgers’ Julio Urías (28-7), Webb (23-6) and the Mets’ Max Scherzer (25-8).

2. Contributions from up and down the lineup
Five different Giants — Brandon Crawford, Luis González, Curt Casali, Darin Ruf and Joc Pederson — drove in one run apiece to lead a balanced offensive attack against old friend Aaron Sanchez, who was called up from Triple-A Rochester to make a spot start for the Nationals on Saturday.

Crawford put San Francisco on the board with an RBI single in the first inning, while González collected his first career RBI with a sacrifice fly that sparked a four-run rally in the fifth. After a slow start at the plate, the 35-year-old Crawford has begun to heat up, going 9-for-29 (.310) with seven RBIs over his last seven games to lift his batting average to .245 on the season.

“I think for Craw, you kind of just wait and you know that there’s going to be big games in there,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “His numbers are going to begin to climb. He was an MVP-caliber player last year, and we know that that talent is going to emerge.”

Two of the Giants’ 10 hits were shift-busting bunt singles from left-handed-hitters — Mike Yastrzemski and González — which Kapler has encouraged to force opposing teams to change their defenses and open up more holes for hitters.

“It’s a nice weapon to have and to continue to utilize,” Kapler said.

3. Bullpen extends dominant start to the year
Giants relievers were unsung heroes for the club last year, leading the Majors with a 2.99 ERA despite their lack of household names. With virtually no turnover among the group, the bullpen is picking up right where it left off from 2021.

Leone gave up back-to-back singles with two outs in the sixth, but he escaped the jam with the help of center fielder Austin Slater, who made his second diving catch in as many days to rob Alcides Escobar and preserve the Giants’ three-run lead. Doval worked around a one-out single to César Hernández to post a scoreless ninth and pick up his third save of the season.

“I think it’s been an impressive group,” Kapler said. “Very team-first group. We haven’t established traditional roles — not because we’re opposed to traditional roles. It just hasn’t made the most sense. Our pitchers have been open and they’ve been reflective and they’ve been communicative in the bullpen. I feel like we have a pretty good understanding of what they need to be successful on any given day. We’re just going to keep communicating with them and letting their true talent emerge on the mound. It’s been good so far.”

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