Giants' Division Series opponent will be formidable

Giants' Division Series opponent will be formidable

Giants' Division Series opponent will be formidable
SAN FRANCISCO -- Though the Giants don't know whom they'll face in the Division Series, the newly crowned National League West champions can be certain of this: They'll have no reason to feel complacent.

If the NL's postseason were to open Sunday, the Giants would confront the Cincinnati Reds in one Division Series. The other would pit Washington against the winner of the one-game Wild Card showdown. But the Reds very easily could pass the Nationals to finish with the league's best record, in which case San Francisco and Washington would clash.

If regular-season performance is any barometer, both potential opponents would present the Giants with a considerable challenge.

The Nationals were 5-1 against Giants. That included a Nationals three-game sweep at Washington from July 3-5, when the summer heat and humidity beat down the Giants as much as Bryce Harper or Ryan Zimmerman.

During that series, Harper (6-for-14, four runs, three doubles) flashed the form that has made him one of baseball's most captivating rookies. But the most potent hitter against the Giants this year was infielder Danny Espinosa, who hit .560 (14-for-25) with two doubles, three homers and seven RBIs.

San Francisco must prove that it can win at Nationals Park, where Games 3-5 of the series would be played. The Giants are 1-6 in the shadow of the Capitol Building since the start of the 2011 season.

The Giants finished 3-4 against the Reds and, akin to Washington, had trouble with them on the road. San Francisco has lost seven of its last eight games at Cincinnati dating back to 2010. It took a ninth-inning, three-run homer by Angel Pagan to seal that lone victory, a 6-5 decision on April 26 this year.

The most formidable Red the Giants would face is right-hander Mat Latos, a San Francisco nemesis dating back to his 2009-11 stint with the Padres. Latos' ordinary-looking 4-3 career record against the Giants masks gaudier statistics he has accumulated at their expense, including a 2.19 ERA, a .201 opponents' batting average and a 0.892 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched).

In 11 career starts against the Giants, Latos has worked seven or more innings six times and at least six innings on 10 occasions. He has allowed them more than three earned runs just once and has limited them to one or zero runs in six outings. He was dominant in his pair of complete games against the Giants, throwing a one-hit shutout on May 13, 2010, and a two-hitter on June 30 of this year. Both were at AT&T Park.

Sunday's key games to watch (all times PT)

Brewers (Gallardo, 16-8) at Nationals (Wang, 2-3), 10:05 a.m. Preview >

Dodgers (Harang, 9-10) at Reds (Bailey, 12-9), 5:05 p.m. Preview >

If the postseason started today ...

This is how the teams would match up: Postseason Bracket »

Postseason 101

Magic numbers
To calculate a team's magic number, take the number of games it has remaining and add one. Then subtract the difference in the number of losses between that team and its closest pursuer.

Tiebreaker scenarios
A tiebreaker game will be played to determine a division winner, even if the tied clubs are assured of participating in the postseason. If a division championship tiebreaker is necessary, the head-to-head record between the clubs will determine home-field advantage. If the head-to-head record is tied, then the division record will be the next tiebreaker.

If two clubs are tied for the two Wild Card berths, home-field advantage will be determined by the head-to-head record between the clubs. If the head-to-head record is tied, then the division record will be the next tiebreaker.

Tiebreaker rules »

2012 postseason schedule
Wild Card playoff games: Oct. 5
Division Series: Oct. 6-12
AL Championship Series: Oct. 13-21
NL Championship Series: Oct. 14-22
World Series: Oct. 24-Nov. 1

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.