Nationals-Giants Preview

The Associated Press

Striving to hold their respective division leads, the San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals can both use any wins they can get.

The Giants might get a boost Monday with All-Star third baseman Pablo Sandoval set to come off the disabled list before the opener of a three-game set against the visiting Nationals.

San Francisco (63-52) heads into this series holding a one-game lead over Los Angeles in the NL West, while Washington (71-44) has a bigger cushion of 4 1/2 games over Atlanta atop the East.

The Giants maintained their slim advantage over the weekend with consecutive wins thanks to strong performances at the plate. After recording 13 hits in a 9-3 win over Colorado on Saturday, the Giants had 14 while rallying for a 9-6 victory in the series finale.

Hunter Pence hit a go-ahead three-run homer - his first long ball in 12 games with San Francisco - in Sunday's eighth inning, and Melky Cabrera also drove in three runs. Pence had gone 7 for 47 (.149) in his first 11 games for the Giants.

"He's been working hard and it was nice to see him come through," catcher Buster Posey said.

San Francisco is hoping Sandoval can provide some heroics after his return from a strained left hamstring. He also missed more than a month earlier this season after breaking a bone in his left wrist.

Manager Bruce Bochy is looking forward to having Sandoval back in the fold.

"It's nice to have the versatility where you can move guys around," Bochy told the Giants' official website. "I think that'll play a major role down the stretch here. If somebody gets a little nicked up or is not seeing the ball well, it's nice to have this depth."

Sandoval and the Giants will have a difficult matchup against the Nationals, who swept a three-game home series versus San Francisco from July 3-5. The Giants will face Washington's wins leader Gio Gonzalez (14-6, 3.32 ERA) on Monday.

Gonzalez is coming off a complete-game win at Houston on Wednesday in which he gave up three runs and struck out seven.

That victory was part of an eight-game Nationals winning streak that ended with a 7-4 loss at Arizona on Sunday.

"We are going to lose just like everyone else loses," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "We won the series and go to San Francisco and try to win that series, then enjoy a day off finally after a month of playing baseball. If we finish this road trip up strong, it will be a great road trip."

The Nationals, who have lost nine of 12 in San Francisco, will face Ryan Vogelsong (10-5, 2.27), who has given up more than three runs only once in his last 18 starts.

He managed to win that outing - a 16-4 rout of Colorado on Aug. 3 - and returned to top form Wednesday by allowing three hits over seven innings of a 15-0 drubbing of St. Louis.

While Vogelsong will make his first start against the Nationals, Gonzalez is set to renew a former rivalry. The left-hander faced the Giants annually in interleague play for Oakland before signing with Washington in January.

Gonzalez is 1-2 with a 3.42 ERA in four career starts against San Francisco.