The Braves open their west coast swing Thursday in San Francisco. The Giants are in the thick of the pennant race with their old foe and arch enemy the Dodgers. This is obviously a must win road trip for the Braves and beating the Giants would also give us breathing room in the Wildcard. As we see so little of the Giants I ask Stuart Jones from Around The Foghorn to provide us his view of the up coming series.
Giants coming into the series:
As of Tuesday’s games, the Giants have won 4 of their last 5 and are 12-8 in the month of August. Odd to say the Giants have only been shutout once this month because that was to the Rockies of all teams on August 10th in a 3-0 loss. The Giants bullpen hasn’t been flawless of late with injuries popping up here and there; it has not helped the stability of the unit. However, the guys put in the higher leverage situations have all been there before making things a little easier on everybody’s blood pressure. The Giants have had a problem scoring at home, so we’ll see if that trend continues as Atlanta comes to town.
While Braves fans may be sad to not see their old friend Melky Cabrera in the lineup, fellow OF Angel Pagan has picked up the slack, hitting at a .357/.357/.500 clip in his last 7 going into Tuesday’s games.
New Giants Marco Scutaro (.391/.375/.565 last 7) and Hunter Pence (.381/.423/.524) have also been contributing a bit, which really was why they were acquired. If you happen to see journeyman Joaquin Arias batting 6th against a LHP, it’s because he’s also been swinging better of late (.429/.429/.643), though in a smaller sample size than the other guys mentioned.
Since Melky’s gone down, the Giants have had to rely on another former Brave in Gregor Blanco to pick up the slack. Unfortunately he has been mostly a let down, despite a .267/.313/.267 line in his last 7, Giants fans have seen his OPS go down nearly a tenth of a point per month. Buster Posey has cooled since his on fire streak, sporting a .227/.333/.409 line, but if you saw him in Wednesday’s game, you know he can still hurt you in a punch to the gut type of way. I wouldn’t be surprised if Posey got a day off on Saturday as it is a day game after a night game. (Updating Stuart’s information, tonight we learned that Buster Posey is day to day with a hamstring issue. Severity is unknown but, as no one saw it happen during a game it’s probably not a severe thing more of a precautionary move. More information as I get it.)
Thursday: Barry Zito — Barry Zito hasn’t lasted longer than 5.1 IP in his last two starts against the Padres and the Rockies, so you know he’s not fooling anybody if he can’t last against those teams. Zito is still under contract through 2013 with an option for 2014 that actually could be activated if he hits certain benchmarks. August has been tough on Zito as he’s seen a 7.52 ERA attached to him in 4 starts this month.
Friday: Ryan Vogelsong — Before going on a streak of seeing Vogelsong pitch at least 6.0 IP in every start in 2012, he hasn’t combined for that number in his last two starts, prompting both a little bit of head-scratching, and a little bit of worry. While the strikeout stuff is still there, he’s looking for a break, and with his 2.29 ERA at home, he looks to get a few more bounces to go his way.
Saturday: Madison Bumgarner — One of the most exciting LHP in the game to watch is this guy, but opponents like watching him more when he’s not going against them. A 1.87 ERA at home, and a crazy .100/.163/.136 line against him in what are deemed “high leverage” situations, “MadBum” has not allowed more than 5 hits in a start since July, and has recorded at least 6 K’s in 11 of his last 12 starts.
Sunday: Tim Lincecum — Talk about a head-scratcher, nobody knows what’s going on with this kid, but his last start against the Dodgers showed he can still amp up the fastball to 93-94; up from his current average velocity of around 90. You really never know what you’re going to get from Timmy, but a 3.92 ERA at home and a 7.50 ERA away, including allowing only 4 of his 15 HR this year at AT&T would give you the impression he prefers the friendly confines of his home ballpark.
The Giants can have a hard time rising to the occasion of beating a team at or above their level. With the Braves being on a bit of a slide lately, maybe the Gigantes can sneak out a series win and get 3 out of 4 from the Braves. However, my confidence in them isn’t that high, especially with essentially three question marks in Zito, Vogelsong, and Lincecum against a set of bats that can really hurt you. I trust this series to be a split, and if you want game-by-game, let’s say Braves-Giants-Giants-Braves. Interesting to note that since July, the Giants are 0-4 on Thursdays
My Two Cents Worth
The Braves lineup is essentially the first five hitters and hope that Brian McCann, Dan Uggla, Paul Janish or the pitcher de jour accidentally runs into something. Oddly, of those four slots the most likely to do it are Janish and – if Tim Hudson or Kris Medlen are on the mound – the pitcher. The good news for the series pitcher wise is that we miss Matt Cain. As badly as our hitters have struggled against top shelf pitching most of our pitching has been predictable and dependable – okay except for Tommy Hanson.
Thursday’s match-up of Hanson and Zito could well be titled the clash of the almost but not quite. Zito fought his way back to being an okay number five but his days of routinely fooling hitters is past. We know about Hanson, for Tommy the best news in that PacBell . . . AT&T Park is a big pitcher friendly arena that will – I hope – limit his gopher ball total. He won his one start there but that was the good Tommy early last year. Our lefty lineup – why isn’t Reed Johnson playing more Fredi? – has trouble with soft tossing lefties like Zito; Freddie Freeman’s 1-5, Michael Bourn and Jason Heyward are a combined 0-12. The good news for Zito is that Fredi Gonzales plans to start Brian McCann and not David Ross. I’m sure that will work out well. . . . Anyway. . . This has the feeling of one of those games that’s either an early blowout or a never ending 1-1 affair. In the end the bullpens will settle this and I like our best. Braves Win.
Friday sees Ben Sheets back on the bump for us. Like Hanson Sheets should enjoy the size of the ballpark but he has never pitched well there – 0-2 with a 4.24 ERA and 1.706 WHIP. His last two starts showed that the new has worn off a bit but he still gives us six and keeps us in the game. If he can keep Posey. Pence and Pablo Sandoval in the ball park we have a chance against a struggling Vogelsong. Braves win.
Saturday sees a pair of lefties go after each other as Mike Minor squares off against Bumgarner. Minor’s been tough and efficient in his last outings but the Braves cannot seem to score for him. Bumgarner is quietly one of the best lefties in the game and our lineup hates those guys. Giants win.
Sunday sees us back on ESPN dang it and features Tim Hudson against the Freak. Huddy has pitched fine . . . okay after the first inning he’s been fine. The Freak is as unpredictable as the weather. The Braves do not play well on ESPN Sunday night baseball for some reason and only Martin Prado, Chipper Jones, Bourn, Heyward and McCann hit the Freak well. On the plus side only Posey, Pagan and Pence have had any luck against the Braves Hudson. This game is another coin toss. I expect Lincecum to find his inner rock star against us – we have that effect on struggling pitchers it seems -and give the edge to Bruce Bochy over Fredi Gonzales and a Braves team that’s playing its 16th straight game on the road an don the west coast. Giants win.
That’s a Wrap
For those who haven’t figured it out yet the NL East title belongs to the Nationals who are simply the better balanced and managed team. The Wildcard is ours to take or lose and this road trip will have a big impact on our ability to take it. The Giants and Dodgers are fighting to the death over the West Title with the loser being the Wildcard contender. We need to win or at worst split the Giants series to push them farther back into the pack.
A special tanks to Stuart Jones for his insights and information on the series. Please check out his post over at Around the Foghorn for a deeper look at the Giants.