Our pitching wears down other teams, pitch by pitch, start by start, series by series. But that is not a perfect formula, so there will be hiccups, they are human beings. Also, as in life, sometimes the other team is just better than you are. Still, I love our chances in any series. And in baseball, that is really all you can realistically hope for (unless you are the Yankees, generating 2-4 times the revenues of anyone else, giving them a huge advantage in making the playoffs).
So I am relatively chillaxed compared to other Giants fans even though we are two games back and coming into Atlanta to face the mighty Braves and their super-hot hitter, Uggla, plus superb rotation. The Giants have been a pretty good team this season, particularly in 1-run games, and the offense is showing signs that it might be coming out of their collective funk that they have been in since the big trade for Beltran slowed it down greatly. Like a boiling pot, first one batter heats up, then another, then back to the first, then another and another. And the pitching, after a big hiccup in early August appears to have corrected themselves. And hopefully they can continue, because, as Elvis once sung, "It's now or never", as there is not that much season left.
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Game 1: Bumgarner vs. Hudson
Madison Bumgarner: Bumgarner threw seven shutout innings Tuesday, giving up four hits and a walk while striking out 10 and picking up his seventh win of the season. It was the second time in his young career Bumgarner has reached double-digit strikeouts in a game.
Tim Hudson: Hudson is 3-0 with a 1.69 ERA over his last three starts and has given up just four runs in 21 1/3 innings over that span. In his only start this season against the Giants, he allowed two runs over 8 2/3 innings.A great matchup to start the series. One would think that this series would be just one of great matchups after another, but this and game 3 are probably going to be the only ones of playoff caliber quality in terms of matchups.
Bumgarner has never pitched in Atlanta during the regular season but was blasted by them in SF. Of course, he shut them down in Atlanta in the playoffs, but neither Chipper, Uggla, or Bourn was there. Heyward, Freeman, and Chipper are the only ones to have hit well him well in the one start, of course that one bad start in SF, so everything is skewed by that. Obviously, if the playoff numbers were included, it would get skewed the other way. He's also playing against his childhood local team, which I believe he also was a fan of, but I'm not absolutely certain.
Hudson has a 3.43 ERA in 14 career starts. He was beat up pretty well by SF early in his Atlanta career, but in the last three seasons, he has roughly a 2.20 ERA in four starts, so he has been pretty dominant against the Giants lately. Carlos Beltran, Jeff Keppinger, and Aaron Rowand have good OPS in over 10 ABs. He has dominated Pablo Sandoval, Cody Ross, and Aubrey Huff, horribly. Others like Orlando Cabrera and Mike Fontenot have done well in basically one start against him. Also, Mark DeRosa has been OK against him in 2-3 starts, but I assume that was before all his wrist problems. Lefties have tended to hit better against him, but as can be seen above, both Pablo and Huff have not done well.
I think this is an evenly matched start, with the lean to Hudson for playing at home. But Madison is up to the challenge of playoff pressure baseball, and if he can out-duel Hudson, I would feel a lot better about our chances in this year's playoffs, should we make it (and I still think we will), with Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner as our first three starters. Then Ryan Vogelsong as our 4th would keep us competitive as well, particularly now that I see that Atlanta's rotation is going through rough times now.
The key to our success last season was having at least one more better starter than the other team each series. And Bumgarner is the key to that this season, given Dirty's problems. And with Madison, you hope that he is all that he showed in the playoffs and season, but sometimes a person rides that magic carpet ride for one glorious season and then all the accolades and other perks go to their heads and they change what made them successful before. Or they were just too young and dumb to know the import of winning the pivotal start in the World Series, of being the youngest in like 90 years to throw a shutout, and the enormity of that performance affects them afterward. It is not like there haven't been bumps in the road, he did start the season very off, but he's been pretty much the guy we expected since then, and him putting in a good performance in this start will be a great sign - or really affirmation - of things to come.
Here is a nice quote from Hudson on MLB.com: "I haven't really felt as good as the numbers show sometimes. But you've got to go out there and battle and try to find ways to win." That is the key to the Giants taking the NL West Division Title and doing well in the playoffs.
Last note, Hudson most of his career has tired out in September, having a much higher ERA during his career then, particularly in recent seasons (though still very good, I would note), as he was pretty good early on in his career. However, he raises his performance up a notch in July and August. His career numbers actually was not trending that well in August, it was getting worse each year over many years but then last season, he brought things to a whole new level (sub 2 ERA) and has continued to do so this season. This should be a dog fight and one of the big challenges for Bumgarner this season, taking on the vet mano-a-mano.
Game 2: Sanchez vs. Delgado
Jonathan Sanchez: Sanchez exited after just 4 1/3 innings when he gave up five runs (four earned) in his last start against the Pirates. All four batters he walked ended up scoring. The southpaw has not made it out of the fifth inning in his past four starts.
Randall Delgado: This start originally belonged to Tommy Hanson, but he landed on the disabled list, retroactive to Aug. 7, with right shoulder tendinitis. This will be Delgado's second big league start, and he'll be pitching on normal rest, up from Triple-A.Normally I would call this in the Giants bag but Sanchez was bad his last start and the Giants sometimes are stymied when facing a new pitcher. In addition, in two starts in Atlanta, Dirty has been hit pretty badly, giving up 4 homers, though otherwise dominating with 12 K/4 BB in 10.0 IP, only 9 hits. That's a lot of bad luck with the long ball, though he gave up 2 homers in both starts, so it was not a one game aberration. Still, the hitters have not had a lot of AB's against him, nor a lot of success, as half of the guys who hit the homers are gone, only Ross and Chipper have a homer against him among current Braves. Jones and Prado are the only ones who has hit him well.
Too hard to call this one, if Sanchez has a normal game, the Giants should win, but the way he has pitched since returning, who knows whether the last start was just an aberration, a bad game, or that he's still not all the way back from whatever was affecting him before, or even that he suffered the same injury he hid previously.
Meanwhile, Delgado is a top prospect, period, not just top for Braves, getting ranked in the Top 40-50 overall, and he has done very well in AA and AAA this season. His numbers were not that great to me in AA, so while I would put him in Cain's class as a prospect, I wouldn't say that he was necessarily ready for the majors when they brought him up, he's probably still a year away, but that's baseball, sometimes you need the young guys before they are ready, and they struggle while they are up here. Until they figure it out, then watch out! And that last start could have just been his nerves getting the best of him, maybe the real him will pitch in this start.
So this one is too hard to tell right now, given the paucity of useful data right now, and so many different ways either starter could logically go. The way I see it, it would impress me greatly if Bochy pulled Dirty out early if he is struggling, and go for the bullpen win. Which depends greatly on whether Brian Wilson and Sergio Romo's physical problems are all healed up or not by this game, and how badly the bullpen was used in game 1.
Meanwhile, the Braves left Delgado in to get his lumps in his first start, 4 IP, 7 hits with 4 runs and 3 ER. But that was against the Rangers, not one of the Braves Wild Card contenders, which the Giants are currently. But given their loss of Hanson to the DL, I wonder how overused their bullpen is right now, will they really want to get into a bullpen game, particularly since they won't commit to Derek Lowe as the 4th game starter? All things to ponder as this game progresses into the middle innings.
Game 3: Cain vs. Jurrgens
Matt Cain: In his last start against the Marlins, Cain allowed three consecutive one-out hits in the first inning that led to two runs. That proved to be the difference. It was the 20th time in Cain's career he lost while giving up two earned runs or fewer.
Jair Jurrgens: Jurrjens has posted a 6.26 ERA in the four starts he made since entering the All-Star break with the National League's best ERA. After a stint on the disabled list to calm his ailing right knee, he will be making his first start since Aug. 1.Cainer, in two starts in Atlanta, 3.00 ERA 9 K/3 BB in 12.0 IP. Unfortunately, the Braves added two Cain-Killers in Dan Uggla and Michael Bourn, .800 and .973 OPS, respectively. Plus Chipper has a .917 OPS. Of course, none of that over 20 PA, so those could look a lot worse with some oh-fers in this start.
Jurrgens has been even better against the Giants, roughly 2.20 ERA in 3 starts in Atlanta against them, he has shut them down pretty well at home: 21 K/ 4 BB in 20.2 IP. So few starts, hardly anyone has many ABs, only Cody Ross and Pablo Sandoval has done OK against him. In his career, LHB has hit a lot better against him than RHB, so expect a lefty leaning lineup (which at this point basically mean that Belt will get the LF start, most probably, unless Beltran is finally back).
Pretty evenly matched, but Cain has two more nemesis in the lineup, plus they are playing in Atlanta, so I would lean towards Atlanta winning this one, unless Sandoval, Huff, Belt, and Schierholtz together have a good game.
Game 4: Lincecum vs. TBA
Tim Lincecum: Lincecum pitched seven shutout innings of two-hit ball in a win against the Marlins. Over his past seven starts, he has allowed one run or fewer in six. He fanned 10 for his 31st double-digit strikeout game. Lincecum has the NL's lowest road ERA.
TBA:Not sure why the pitcher would be unannounced by the Braves. Derek Lowe should be the scheduled starter, it is his turn in the rotation. Unless Hanson is pitching - and he was just DLed so he won't - I would have to say that the Giants and Lincecum should win against whomever the Braves put up against the Franchise Freak Kid.
Minor is a lefty (and the Giants have been doing well this season against LHP), and he has done OK, with 37 K/18 BB (2.06 K/BB), only 7.5 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9, both sub-par for good metrics, but as long as the ratio is over 2, he's doing well.
He only has 16 careers starts, starting the season as the Braves #4 prospect. He was rated #37 prospect overall by BA before the season (Delgado was rated #35).
He has never faced the Giants before.
RHB hits pretty well against him, .297/.346/.452/.799 but LHB KILLS him, .348/.405/.500/.905, which explains his career 5.38 ERA. He has pitched better at home than on the road: 4.76 ERA vs. 6.08 ERA.
Both Beltran and Keppinger have hit him well.
I guess I should cover how Lincecum has handled the Braves. Oops, McCann just came off the DL, just in time, as he has .950 OPS against Timmy in 28 PA. Alex Gonzalez has .923 OPS in 13 PA, Eric Hinske .856 OPS in 10 PA, and Julio Lugo 1.333 OPS in 3 PA (2 singles).
He has shut down Bourn, Chipper, and Uggla, and mostly contained Heyward, but gave up a lot of walks, though, contributing to a great .429 OBP, but ordinary .729 OPS.
He has had mixed results in Atlanta during the regular season, 4.13 ERA, one good start in 2008, poor starts in 2007 and 2009, and an OK start in 2010, plus
But he has dominated them mostly, 30 K/10 BB in 24.0 IP and 4 starts there, a bit too many walks but only 21 hits, so it evens out a bit.
Still, that OK start last season was in August when he then went on a monthlong funk. 2009 was a fluke BABIP game, which he otherwise dominated, and 2007 was a part of his first August funk he had, which also lasted much of that month. Of course, he dominated them last fall in SF in the playoffs, smacked them good. He seems to be pretty strong right now, and focused, so I have to think that he will put together a very good start.
Minor has been called up 4 times this season, much like Belt, and he has only had 2 DOM starts out of 8. Since his last call-up, he has two starts, both PQS 3 starts where he struck out a lot but gave up a lot of hits, so his BABIP has been bad. But then again, it has been pretty bad all season long, just because the mean is .300 does not mean that Minor is good enough right now to achieve that, some pitchers can never figure that out.
So it should be a win for Lincecum and the Giants, but if Minor can get it together like he did his third time up, against Houston or Toronto, then the game could be tight. And given how much our offense has struggled, that could be the case.
The more I think about it, the more I think it requires the guts of a gambler to not let the Giants style of play not drive you crazy. It is knowing that the odds favor you but when things are not going well, you don't fly off the handle and want to change your strategy in the middle of the process, as most fans appear to want the team to do. As the team showed in September and October last season, when the pitching is on, we can mow through any team even while our offense struggles, which it did greatly in September and October.
There is still a lot of baseball to be played, so I would only worry if the Giants were swept here and we fall 4-5 games back. I don't think that will happen, not with Lincecum facing either Lowe or a rookie pitcher and the D-backs facing the Phillies. 1-3 is a possibility, but I think a series split is equally possible. Also, if Dirty can deliver, a 3-1 series win is not out of the question either, though unlikely.
I have been surprised by the D-backs surge to take the division lead, and the approaching end does give me some butterflies. But the D-backs are playing way above their heads right now. They are five games above their Pythagorean, suggesting that there is some helium in their standing right now. And much of that is from their play in August, they are 9-4 despite a 65 RS/62 RA ratio. They should really have been 7-6 or 6-7 this month, which would have put the teams about even right now. If they adjust back to norms, that should bring us together again atop the NL West.
At minimum, this breaks a streak of playing pretty bad teams, which allowed them to win a lot of games and catch up with the Giants (15-7 after facing Brewers, playing mostly losers except for the Giants). With them facing the Phillies and Braves in two consecutive series on the road now, then facing teams that have battled them this season to .500 records (Nats and 'Dres), the Giants probably does not have to do a lot in order to take back the division lead, the D-backs forward momentum should end. The D-backs were lucky to be 2-0 against the Braves, only outscoring them 6-4. The Giants just need some hitters to return to career norms or continue career norms to take back first place, since the starting pitching appears to be holding up well this season compared with last season, breaking out of their collective funk fast this time, when they hit that bad patch in early August.
Looking at the D-backs stats in August, they have not been hitting or pitching any better or worse than they have most of the season. They have just been winning a lot more than one would expect given their performance. That normally evens out over time, but that could happen within a season, as it did with San Diego last season, or it could do that over two seasons. And maybe their manager is like Bochy, good at winning 1-run games, as they are at +9 now (22-13). Still, I would bet that they fall back a bit unless someone steps up and keep things going.
As has been reported in the media (Baggarly), the Giants and D-backs, after these upcoming games, will be only facing sub-.500 teams for the rest of the season except for each other. The D-backs were lucky, seasonally, getting 8 games against the Nats while only facing the Braves 5 games (the Giants have 7 against the Braves). More importantly, while the D-backs have gotten to beat up on the Astros already, 6-1, the Giants still have 7 games to play against the Astros, 4 of them at home (D-backs just went 3-1 at home against the Astros).
And before we even reach that part of the schedule, the D-backs get 6 games on the road against the Phillies and Braves, while the Giants just have 4 on the road with Atlanta, then 3 on the road with Astros, who are 19-40 at home. Then we have 9 at home against SD, Houston, then Cubs before facing D-backs at home. This stretch will be key for the Giants, not just because it is near the end but because they have not actually done that well against below .500 teams like these, relative to say, Arizona, and that has hurt us in the standings. Taking care of them and going, say, 8-4 against these teams, while Arizona basically plays .500 and go 7-6 against Atlanta, Washington, SD, and Colorado, should put the Giants back at or very near the top.
In addition, the Giants have a slight advantage in home/road going forward too. They have 21 at home versus 20 on the road, while Arizona has 19 at home versus 22 on the road. Slim 2 game difference, but that should help the Giants by one game in the standings as well, if all goes as hoped. Particularly since the D-backs are 32-27 on the road when they are not particularly that good a team, any regression there will hurt them greatly in the standings since the Giants are so close. In fact, that is the only difference between the two teams. Same for their difference regarding Houston as well. Any adjustments in either should enable the Giants to regain the division lead.
But shoulda, coulda, woulda, the Giants need to just do it. The odds, as I noted above, favor them, but as we all know, if the team doesn't execute, then the odds don't matter.
Hopefully Belt is ready to perform in the majors now, that would be a huge lift to the team if he could. He says (Baggarly blog) that he is now taking a different approach to batting now, so that could make a huge difference, this was something that got in Ishikawa's way up here (Ishikawa took a month and a half to get over it, then hit a nice mid-to-high 700 OPS for the rest of the season, which with his defense was valuable), thinking too much at the plate, hopefully this 2-homer game is a sign that he's finally over the fact that he's in the majors:
... Belt basically said he’s tired of looking at video and trying to guess what pitch he’ll see. He’s going up there to see the ball and trust his talent to react.Frankly, he was useless to us the way he was hitting before, and the Giants couldn't afford to wait to see how long it would take him to get over it. Some do it within a month, others take a full season or more. People hate to hear it but proven MLB performance counts a lot for expectations about what you can reasonably hope for from a veteran.
He is taking the same approach to whether he’ll be in the lineup on a given day.
“I’m just tired of worrying about what all the scenarios are,” Belt said. “I’m worried more about going out and performing well. … If it’s good enough, hopefully he’ll play me again and I can stay up here.”
The key to Bochy, I think, is that unlike some managers where you get in the doghouse and never get the opportunity to get out, Bochy almost always brings in guys off the bench and give them chances when the starter is scuffling badly. If both scuffle badly, you go with the veteran, but if the bench guy shines, he gets the job. Hence how Torres, Burrell, and Ross won starting jobs last season, heck, Posey too. People seem to forget that Bochy just did that last season, and he loves winning as much as any of us, so he wouldn't hold back Belt if he thought that he could help him win, because Bochy would bench his grandmother so fast her head would spin, if he thought it would help him win any particular game.
Given that Belt was starting in RF down in AAA before his call-up, I think the Giants will continue to start Huff at 1B as long as he is hitting as well has he has been the past few weeks (900+ OPS), while giving Belt starts in the outfield (LF and RF) since none of the OFs have really been hitting that well in recent weeks. Though Nate and Cody appears to be starting to heat up again. That would juice up the offense greatly if we could get production from the outfielders, most teams really on their corners to be mainstays in the offense, and we have not been getting much for a long while, Torres in particular has really hurt the offense since he's leading off and doing that poorly.
But until they start hitting regularly, the offense will continue to sputter. I would not be surprised if the Giants pick up another waiver wire player, like they did with Cody Ross last season. It could even be a starting pitcher, the way it is going with Sanchez, Dirty has to pick it up soon.