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SF@WSH: Sandoval crushes a two-run shot for 3-0 lead

WASHINGTON -- The Giants had better hope that this series is not a postseason preview, as some observers have suggested.

The Washington Nationals manhandled San Francisco for the second game in a row on Wednesday, prevailing 9-4 as Madison Bumgarner yielded a season-high three home runs.

The National League East leaders have dominated the Giants, amassing 12 extra-base hits to San Francisco's five while outscoring them, 18-7. Regardless of the outcome in Thursday's series finale, the Giants, who began Wednesday leading the West by a half-game over the Dodgers, will lose this series despite not facing Washington's two best starters, All-Stars Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez.

"They're clicking offensively," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of the Nationals. "We knew that coming in."

Bumgarner (10-5) may have been due for a subpar outing. The left-hander cruised through June, posting a 5-0 record with a 2.42 ERA and concluding his month with a one-hit shutout of Cincinnati last Thursday. But he surrendered Washington's first seven runs, another personal season high. He lasted one batter into the sixth inning, ending a stretch of 15 starts in which he worked at least six innings.

The Giants, who have lost four of their last five games, showed promise while amassing three first-inning runs. Bumgarner entered the game with a career 27-2 record when the Giants score at least that many for him. But except for Pablo Sandoval, who went 3-for-4 with a homer, San Francisco's offense shut down for the rest of the day as Bumgarner's five-decision winning streak dissolved.

"Guys have days like this all the time," Bumgarner said. "It just depends on how good you can minimize the damage -- and I didn't minimize it today."

"It's going to happen," Bochy said. "I don't care if it's [Matt Cain] or 'Bum.' They're going to have their [bad] moments."

Those moments befell Bumgarner on two-strike counts. After the Giants scored their three first-inning runs, Washington pulled even in the third inning -- as Ian Desmond's two-run single on 2-2 pitch capped the rally. Jhonatan Solano went deep on a 2-2 delivery in the fourth, breaking the tie, before Ryan Zimmerman (2-2 count) and Michael Morse (0-2 count) homered back-to-back in a three-run fifth.

"You have to give those guys a lot of credit," Bumgarner said of the Nationals. "They put a lot of good swings on balls. It seemed like I made pretty decent pitches to get to two strikes and then left the ball up or over the plate for something to hit. I had a hard time finishing guys."

Bumgarner insisted that he wasn't bothered by the game's unusual 11:08 a.m. ET starting time to accommodate July 4 revelry and the overpowering heat, measured at 84 degrees and rising when the first pitch was thrown.

"I was adjusted and felt good," Bumgarner said. The North Carolina native added, "I like the weather like this, too. So I don't think anything like that had anything to do with it. I was just a little off."

But while Bumgarner's lapse could be considered an aberration, it served as a reminder of a glaring vulnerability of San Francisco's pitchers: road performance.

Given AT&T Park's pitcher-friendly dimensions, the Giants' renowned staff can be expected to thrive at home. But the disparity between their home and road results is noticeable. They entered Wednesday ranked 11th in the NL with a 4.57 road ERA, which grew to 4.70 after Washington's shellacking.

By contrast, the Nationals own a league-best 3.25 road ERA, which bodes well for their chances if they reach the postseason. The next three lowest road ERAs belong to teams that happen to be postseason contenders: Cincinnati (3.37 entering Wednesday), Arizona (3.41) and Atlanta (3.67).

Three Giants starters rank among the NL's top 10 in home ERA: Ryan Vogelsong (second, 1.43), Bumgarner (sixth, 1.88) and Cain (ninth, 2.01). Their road ERAs look vastly different, from Cain (3.18) to Vogelsong (3.54) and Bumgarner (4.43).

Bochy downplayed the difference: "You always have a better sense of comfort at home. That goes without saying."

Sandoval's surge was, by far, the most redeeming development of this game for the Giants, though the rest of the team collected just four hits. Leadoff batter Gregor Blanco, batting .183 in his last 20 games, and Angel Pagan, who owns a .189 average in his last 22 games, have struggled. But Sandoval offered encouragement.

"When Gregor starts getting on base a little bit more and Pagan starts hitting, the offense is going to be good," he said.

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