The Giants and Nationals both made the playoffs in 2012, with San Francisco going all the way for its second World Series title in three years. The 2013 campaign hasn't treated either club so kindly.
The Giants fell to 13 games under .500 with Sunday's loss to the Orioles, while the Nationals' win over the Phillies brought them only to within three games of the break-even point.
"Every season's different, the year your players have, the way the ball bounces," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "There's a fine line. We were one of those teams where you're playing well, you're going to win those games. You know you're going to win those games, or at least think you are."
The teams will meet in the first of a three-game series on Tuesday in Washington, where the Nationals completed a three-game sweep of Philadelphia over the weekend. It was only their third sweep of the season at home, where they are 34-28.
The Nats have had little luck sustaining momentum. Their longest winning streak is five games, and they haven't won more than three straight since early July. They need to do so now, considering they trail the Reds by eight games for the second National League Wild Card berth.
"You're never as good as you look when you win and you're never as bad as you look when you lose, and we've been looking pretty bad here lately," Nats manager Davey Johnson said after Sunday's 6-0 victory. "So we just need to keep it going."
Washington came off a crushing sweep at the hands of the rival Braves and returned the favor against the Phillies. They won a 9-2 blowout in the opener, came from behind to win the second, then got Stephen Strasburg's first career complete game and shutout in the finale.
"The way we beat them was good pitching and good hitting, and we haven't been able to get the combination together," Johnson said. "But I think everybody in the lineup swinging the bats, that's the key."
Washington's Gio Gonzalez will hope that trend continues Tuesday. The left-hander has received a mere one run of support in three of his last four starts.
Gonzalez endured his worst outing of the year on July 31, surrendering 11 runs in 3 1/3 innings at Detroit. But he bounced back last Tuesday against the Braves, holding them to two runs on six hits over seven innings. His ERA would be below three if not for that one blowout.
Fellow southpaw Madison Bumgarner will go for the Giants. The 24-year-old has posted 10 consecutive starts of at least seven innings and no more than three earned runs, posting a 1.77 ERA and .171 opponents' average during that span.
His team has not been so effective, but Bochy wants to make sure they aren't too absorbed in what the standings say.
"We can't get caught in the record, where we're at," Bochy said. "Let's just keep our focus. The moment. That pitch or that play or the inning, the game. Don't even look at the series. To me, when you start looking at the scoreboard, you kind of lost some focus and you've been distracted. … Don't look at the mountain we have to climb because that can be overwhelming."
Giants: Bumgarner faces frustration
Bumgarner pitched well again in his last start, Wednesday against the Brewers. He had a two-hit shutout going through seven innings before some defensive miscues helped pave the way for four Milwaukee runs. Bumgarner said afterward that he believed the Giants have "sometimes" lost their concentration during games.
Bochy would have preferred if Bumgarner had kept such concerns within the clubhouse, but he also understood the source of his young lefty's comments.
"You're going to have guys in the heat of the moment show their frustration," Bochy said. "Madison is a very competitive guy who hates to lose. He definitely was upset. ... You want these to have an edge to them, and he does."
Nationals: Werth setting the tone
Jayson Werth was the NL's Player of the Month for July. He had three hits on Saturday and reached the 1,000 mark for his career on a go-ahead home run. He came back on Sunday and went 3-for-4, raising his average to .418 since July 1, to lead the Majors by a wide margin.
Werth has been known as a patient hitter, but Johnson said he has been more assertive at the plate of late, something he'd like to see more from the Nats.
"I sense that overall as a team we're a little more aggressive top to bottom, and that's always been the key I think here," Johnson said. "The guy that I think is the most aggressive any time during the count now and who prides himself on taking a lot of pitches is Jayson Werth. He's taken first pitches and smoked them. He's been kind of a shining example of how we need to hit. He's been very impressive."
• Werth left Sunday's game after six innings. Johnson said he tweaked his right knee on a slide into home in the fifth and had a "pretty good bruise," but should be available on Tuesday.
• The Giants took two of three games from the Nats in May in San Francisco. Washington swept a three-game home series from the Giants last year, outscoring them 24-12, and has won five straight against San Francisco at Nationals Park, going back to 2011.
• Bumgarner and Gonzalez squared off on May 22 at AT&T Park, neither receiving a decision in the Nats' 2-1 victory. Bumgarner gave up one run over seven innings, while Gonzalez gave up one run over 7 1/3.