By ALAN FERGUSON
(AP) -- Over the past couple of weeks, Tim Lincecum has given the kind of performances the San Francisco Giants were expecting from him this season.
His recent outings against the Washington Nationals, however, have not been so superb.
If facing the team with the best record in the majors wasn't enough, Lincecum will also have to square off with Nationals star Stephen Strasburg during Wednesday's series finale at AT&T Park.
Lincecum (6-12, 5.35 ERA) has endured the worst season of his career but his last three starts have shown that the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner could finish on a positive note. The right-hander is 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA over those games and the lone defeat was a 3-0 loss to Colorado on Friday.
Lincecum, who is 3-2 with a 2.72 ERA in six second-half starts, allowed three runs over seven innings in that game. He's gone at least six innings and allowed three or fewer runs over three consecutive starts for the first time this season.
"He wasn't quite as sharp as he has been since the All-Star break, but he settled down and pitched great," manager Bruce Bochy said. "I was pleased with the way he kept us in the game. ... You look at the result, it's pretty good. You take that quality start, seven innings."
Lincecum hasn't had many quality performances over his last four games against the Nationals, going 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA. He gave up a career-high eight runs over 3 1-3 innings in a 9-3 defeat in Washington on July 3.
The Giants (64-53) will try to help him out this time after an improved performance against the Nationals. San Francisco was routed 14-2 in the series opener but rebounded with a 6-1 win Tuesday.
Brandon Belt matched a career high with three RBIs and kept his team tied atop the NL West with Los Angeles. Pablo Sandoval, who made his first start since coming off the disabled list, also drove in a run as did Angel Pagan and Brandon Crawford.
"It's a great lineup and we have a lot of potential," outfielder Hunter Pence said. "The big thing is the way Belt and Crawford have been swinging the bat. They have been a huge part."
Strasburg (13-5, 2.90) will try to help his team end the series on a positive note by winning his third consecutive start. The Nationals (72-45), who are 4 1/2 games ahead of Atlanta in the NL East, could use another strong outing from their right-hander, who might have to miss some games as his team attempts to limit his innings following a recovery from Tommy John surgery.
Strasburg could make that decision a tough one as he's allowed one run and four hits over 12 innings this month. The latest of those two outings was a 9-1 victory in Arizona on Friday.
"I want to be a big part of this team, so it's huge. Job's not done," Strasburg told the team's website. "I don't think any of us are satisfied. I think we still have our best baseball ahead of us."
The right-hander won his only start against San Francisco on July 9, 2010, giving up a solo homer and two other hits over six innings while striking out eight.
Updated August 15, 2012