MLB San Francisco GiantsWashington Nationals

San Francisco Giants Face Season-Defining Challenge Against Washington Nationals

Tim Hudson Giants

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco Giants face their biggest challenge of the season this weekend against the Washington Nationals in the nation’s capital. A series win against the surging Nats, who have won 10 straight games (five via walk off) could potentially catapult the Giants into the 2014 MLB playoffs, and perhaps make yet another unpredictable run at a World Series title.

Don’t count on it.

The Giants are a flawed baseball team in many respects, but mainly because of their inability to consistently string together quality at-bats that generate base runners. At this juncture of the season, it’s hard to believe the orange and black were once one of the best run-producing teams in the league. They’re now clearly one of the most inefficient offensive clubs in all of baseball, ranking 21st in batting average (.247) and 24th in on-base percentage (.305) while averaging a stagnant 3.93 runs per game.

The Giants’ 2014 season took a tumultuous turn the last time they clashed with the Nats. At the time, San Francisco had reeled off five straight wins to post the best record in baseball (42-21). Since then, the Giants are just 25-38.

Washington crushed the Giants in that four-game set on the heels of dominant starting pitching. They’ll look to do the same this weekend, starting with Doug Fister, who hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last three starts. Fister has allowed just five total runs over his previous four starts (2-1) and earned a win over the Giants while scattering eight hits over seven innings on June 10.

As usual, runs will be at a premium for the Giants in D.C., forcing added pressure on starters Tim Hudson, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong to pitch extremely well. Hudson has struggled as of late, losing six of his last seven decisions. He got shelled in his most recent outing, allowing five earned runs on eight hits and three walks in just four innings.

Lincecum will face a difficult individual challenge while opposing Jordan Zimmerman on Saturday. The two-time Cy Young Award winner has a reputation for struggling in humid conditions. The weather isn’t projected to be outrageously hot over the weekend, but humidity is expected to eclipse 80 percent at times, which will test the durability of the Giants’ former ace.

The Giants will have absolutely zero chance to win any of their next three games if they receive poor performances from their starting pitchers.

The Giants’ objective needs to be to score early while playing sound, fundamental baseball. If they can do that, they’ll have a chance to edge the Nats and possibly get back to consistently playing at a high level. It won’t be easy, though. The orange and black own a pitiful 5-22 record in their last 27 games against teams with winning records.

That doesn’t bode well in a series that could determine whether the Giants are good enough to remain in contention down the stretch.

John Shea is an MLB writer for Follow him on Twitter @real_johnshea. Like him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.