Before this season began, the pitching matchup fans will be treated to Tuesday night when the Washington Nationals visit the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park would have been billed as a duel between two of baseball's best.
And it still could very well be by the time the season is over.
But for now, the Stephen Strasburg vs. Matt Cain tilt will be one pitting two right-handers who could, should and probably will be better than they've been early this season.
Strasburg should have plenty of confidence after his last start, a gem in the first game he's pitched as a big leaguer in his hometown of San Diego. Strasburg came into that effort on a personal five-game losing streak, but he snapped out of it in style, logging a career-high eight innings in a victory. He improved to 2-5 and lowered his season ERA to 2.83.
"It was only going to be a matter of time," Strasburg said. "I just want to go out there and do a better job of having a better mound presence out there, relax and go out there and do my thing."
Cain, a perennial Cy Young Award contender who threw a perfect game last year in the Giants' second World Series championship season, has suffered through his own share of rough patches so far this year, but he, too, has looked better of late.
Cain was the victorious pitcher in the Giants' 8-6 win over the Rockies last Thursday, and it marked his third win in a row, but he was not particularly effective, yielding three home runs and spotting Colorado a 6-0 lead that San Francisco would eventually surmount.
Cain has now allowed three homers in a game three times and leads the Majors in long balls surrendered with 13. Then again, he bore down, retiring 13 of the last 15 batters he faced. He'll try to build on that momentum when he takes the ball Tuesday.
"I really had nothing else to lose," Cain said.
Nationals: One streak ends
First baseman Adam LaRoche went hitless in the Nationals' shutout loss to the Giants on Monday, snapping a 16-game hitting streak, his career long and the longest by a Nationals player since Ryan Zimmerman hit in 16 straight from Aug. 26-Sept. 12, 2012.
• However, catcher Kurt Suzuki still has a streak going, having hit in 10 straight games, matching a career-best hit streak (July 1-12, 2009). Suzuki was given the night off Monday. During his current streak, which began May 3, Suzuki has batted .303 (10-for-33) with a double, two RBIs, two walks and two runs scored.
Giants: Another streak continues
Marco Scutaro went 2-for-5 on Monday and brings into Tuesday's game a season-high 18-game hitting streak, the longest active hit streak in the Majors and the longest hitting streak in the Majors this season. Scutaro is batting .480 (36-for-75) during the streak. His career-best hit streak is 20 games, accomplished last season.
• Giants starters have thrown 19 quality starts (six or more innings, three earned runs or less) in 45 games (43.2 percent), tied for the third fewest among National League teams. The Giants haven't received a quality outing in their last seven games.
• Strasburg has had success against the Giants, going 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in two career starts. Current San Francisco players are a combined 7-for-41 (.171) against him with only two home runs (one by Hunter Pence, one by Andres Torres). Strasburg has 13 strikeouts against the hitters on this San Francisco team and won his only start at AT&T Park, giving up two runs in six innings and striking out seven.
• The Giants made one error in Monday's game, and San Francisco defenders now have 18 miscues in their past 13 games after having 17 total in their first 32 games of this season.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.