The Pittsburgh Pirates' recent surge combined with their staggering success at home has made them the surprise leaders in the NL Central.
The San Francisco Giants' struggles have cost them their division lead.
The Pirates will try to capitalize on the slumping Giants and continue their dominance at PNC Park in the opener of this three-game series Friday night.
Pittsburgh (46-36) has won eight of nine, erasing a three-game deficit in the division to overtake Cincinnati for first place heading into the final series before the All-Star break.
The Pirates' 27-13 record is the best in baseball. They've won 16 of 19 at PNC after beating Houston 2-0 on Thursday to complete a four-game sweep.
Despite being held to five hits in the finale, Pittsburgh is batting .325 with 16 homers and averaging 7.6 runs during its 8-1 run.
The Pirates will give the ball to Erik Bedard (4-9, 4.57 ERA), who's 0-3 with a 7.65 ERA in his last four starts. The lone quality outing in that bunch came at home, where the left-hander is 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA in his past three starts.
His troubles on the road continued Sunday, when he surrendered five runs and eight hits - two homers - in 4 2-3 innings of a 5-4 loss at St. Louis.
Bedard's lone start against the Giants came with Baltimore on June 12, 2004.
San Francisco has relinquished its lead in the NL West to Los Angeles after losing five of six. The Giants were on the verge of salvaging their finale at Washington on Thursday, but closer Santiago Casilla gave up two runs in the ninth of a 6-5 loss.
They'll now call on Barry Zito (6-6, 3.84), who has lost three of four road starts with an 8.84 ERA. The left-hander has dropped the last two as the visitor while getting hammered for 16 runs and 14 hits with seven walks in 6 1-3 innings.
Zito battled through his latest outing at home Saturday, walking six but holding Cincinnati to one run and five hits in six innings of a 2-1 loss.
Zito is 1-3 with a 3.25 ERA in six starts against the Pirates, including a pair of losses in Pittsburgh. He was solid in the most recent meeting at home April 14, yielding three runs in seven innings.
The defense rested in the ninth inning.
As in, the Giants' defenders stopped making plays.
Closer Santiago Casilla fumbled Steve Lombardozzi's bunt, enabling Lombardozzi to reach safely and leaving runners at first and third. After Bryce Harper's game-tying single, Casilla intentionally walked Ryan Zimmerman to load the bases and set up a force at the plate with no outs.
From there, things went in the Giants' favor, but they didn't take full advantage.
Second baseman Ryan Theriot fielded Michael Morse's grounder and got the out at the plate.
At that point, Adam LaRoche hit a double-play grounder to Theriot at second.
Theriot threw to shortstop Brandon Crawford, who would have completed the double play with an easy throw to first.
But he skipped it to first baseman Brandon Belt, who failed to come up with it.
Nationals won 6-5, finishing a three-game sweep.
The defense wasn't good, and neither was the relief pitching. Casilla has blown consecutive save situations, and management might consider an alternative if he continues to struggle.
One option isn't Heath Hembree, who was impressive at spring training and has been closing at Triple-A Fresno -- until he sustained an elbow injury. He was to have an MRI, and his status remains uncertain.
2B Freddy Sanchez underwent back surgery to remove part of a disk, and he's lost for the season. He wasn't really expected to be able to play this season anyway, and the latest operation made sure of it. Sanchez sustained a back injury while rehabbing from shoulder surgery. He hasn't played since June 10, 2011 and might never play for the Giants again. His contract is up after the season.
RHP Matt Cain lasted 6 2/3 innings and gave up three runs on six hits. Two of the runs and two of the hits came in back-to-back at-bats in the seventh, when Cain surrendered homers to Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa. Still, he handed a lead to the bullpen, which has blown two ninth-inning leads for him in two games since his perfect game.
1B Aubrey Huff experienced a setback while rehabbing from a right knee injury. He was supposed to be the DH for Class A San Jose on Thursday but couldn't go. Huff was hurt leaping the tiny fence in front of the Giants' dugout after RHP Matt Cain finished his perfect game on June 13. By that time, he was pretty much out of the loop anyway, batting just .155 in 32 games.
RF Justin Christian collected three hits and scored three times as the leadoff hitter. Christian made his second start of the season and his first in the field. His first was as a DH. He was called up from Triple-A Fresno on June 15. He was 1-for-8 before Thursday.
RHP Melky Cabrera was 2-for-3 against LHP Ross Detwiler, improving his average against lefties to .425 (40-for-92). One of his hits was an RBI double, and his only out was an RBI groundout.
By The Numbers:
8—Losses in the Giants' last 11 road games, including three in a row in Washington.
Quote To Note:
"We're certainly thankful for all he did when he could play. … It's been a long road this year, really all winter. I know he's disappointed, but he played a critical role in 2010. He helped us win a World Series,"
—Manager Bruce Bochy on Freddy Sanchez, who underwent another surgery, this one on his back, and won't play for the Giants this season. Maybe never again.