Game 1: Hanson vs. Zito
Tommy Hanson: In his first start since returning from the 15-day DL on Friday, Hanson made his first quality start since the All-Star break. Hanson said his command was much better after the time off allowed his strained back to heal.
Barry Zito: The Giants are 13-11 in Zito's starts, though he personally has won just once in his last six outings. He has struggled in the first inning, posting a 6.75 ERA in that frame. He's 8-3 when he pitches a scoreless first inning.From the MLB report: Lately, Zito has struggled. In his last four starts, he has a 7.52 ERA and has twice pitched fewer than five innings. However, he dominated the Braves when the two teams met in Atlanta last month, throwing seven shutout innings in the Giants' 9-0 victory.
Hanson was suppose to be one of their future aces, with great to good seasons in the past three years, 2.89 ERA, 3.33 in 2010, then 3.60. But he has had a bad season overall this season, with a 4.27 ERA and it shows with his drop in K/BB ratio from 3.09 the past two seasons to only 2.13 this season. However, as noted above, he got healthy with his DL and had a good start.
He has only faced the Giants once before in AT&T and he shut them down: 7.0 IP, with 3 hits and 1 walk, for 1 R/ER along with 7 K's. Still, Giants have a number of players who were with other teams and they rank high in PA faced: Pence (17 PA), only .544 OPS; Sandoval (12 PA) only .250 OPS; Pagan (11 PA) only .522 OPS; Posey (8 PA) only .393 OPS; Theriot (6 PA) only .333 OPS. Otherwise, no hitter has faced him before. The Giants most likely will have a tough game scoring against him.
Braves are only 22-25 against LHP this season, so Zito has that in his favor. He has done well against Atlanta in Atlanta: 1.64 ERA in 5 starts. Alas, we are playing in SF in this series, and there he has never faced the Braves. And his only home game against Atlanta was back in 2003 (3 ER in 7 IP, but only 2 PQS). Still, that gives him a 2.03 ERA career and 0.96 ERA as a Giant against Atlanta.
That would suggest that he would do well. However, the Braves have a number of hitters who have done OK against him. Johnson (.310/.375/.379/.754 in 32 PA), Uggla (.273/.304/.500/.804 in 23 PA), Jones (.167/.167/.500/.667 in 12 PA, 2B and HR), Prado (.286/.444/.286/.730 in 9 PA), Freeman (.500/.667/1.000/1.667 in 3 PA).
Zito has not done well in the last 28 days, with a 7.36 ERA in 5 starts. But he has pitched better at home than on the road (4.35 ERA vs. 4.50) but only slightly. Still, with 3 DIS starts out of 4 starts in August, he's not exactly at the peak of his game right now. I have to think that Bochy will keep Zito in there until things implode, at which point he will bring in Hacker to bridge to the rest of the bullpen.
Have to think the Braves pull out a win in this start. Hanson is going to be tough to score against. However, since Zito seems to have Atlanta's number (despite all the hitters who have hit OK against him above), one would think that he would at least keep it close, particularly since the Braves have troubles against LHP.
Game 2: Sheets vs. Vogelsong
Ben Sheets: After allowing just two home runs in 38 innings this year, Sheets gave up a career-high four in six innings Saturday. After a brilliant return to the Major Leagues in July, Sheets has struggled in back-to-back starts, both losses.
Ryan Vogelsong: Vogelsong has compiled a 5-4 record with a 2.29 ERA at AT&T Park this year. His ERA has risen from a NL-best 2.27 during his current two-start mini-slump. Of the 17 hits he allowed in his last two outings, 15 were singles.Sheets has not done well in 3 prior starts against the Giants, with a 4.24 ERA and 5.8 K/9 in those starts. However, these starts were in 2002, 2008, and 2010, when he was younger and healthier and before he took 2011 off because of arm ailments, plus his 2010 season was cut short due to health issues (Beane sure spent his $10M well on Sheets; NOT!).
Looking at his starts this season, he has had 5 DOM starts in 7 (a great 71% DOM) with no DIS starts, despite his last start's 4 HR. Hard to tell with just a couple of games, but Sheets appeared to have lost out to the BABIP gods in his last two starts, as a lot of hits fell in for his Mets start and he only gave up 4 hits in 6.0 IP in his last start, with the bad luck that all four were homers. Still, that last start only counted as a 2 PQS, so it was not like he was all that sharp and unhittable either. I would bet on a tough game against him, especially since he's a RHP, which the Giants have roughly a .500 record against.
For what's it worth, he has faced a number of Giants in his career, with only Sandoval (.400/.500/1.000/1.500, 1 HR in 5 AB plus single and walk), Blanco (.200/.429/.400/.829) and Scutaro (.333/.429/.333/.762) having any success. Only Pence (19 PA with .610 OPS) and Theriot (16 PA with .375) have multiple games experience.
Vogie has shut down the Braves in Atlanta earlier this season (6.0 IP 1 R/ER, with 7 K's only 2 BB). He also shut them down in a relief appearance in 2011 (3.1 IP, 0 R, with 2 K's, no walks). That would suggest that Vogelsong has their number, with a 0.96 ERA in 2 appearances, 9.1 IP with 9 K's vs. 2 BB. Still, not a lot of evidence either. Most hitters only have one game results, best were Heyward (.833 OPS in 4 AB), Bourn (.333/.333/.333/.667 in 3 PA), Francisco (2.500 OPS in 2 PA, HR). Janish (.393 OPS in 8 PA), Uggla (.000 OPS in 5 PA), Freeman (.500 OPS in 4 PA), McCann (.250 OPS in 4 PA), Prado (.500 OPS in 4 PA).
Should be another pitcher's duel, both pitchers should be tough to hit against. Give the Giants a slight lean for Vogelsong's recent dominance the past two seasons and home advantage. However, lean back because Vogelsong has had two rough starts (relatively for him), and thus it becomes our bullpen against their bullpen. We could easily be 0-2 after these two games, but hopefully one of the starters can hold the fort on scoring for the Giants. And we could be 2-0, after all, the Braves lost the series to LA just before LA got swept by the Giants. By that equation, we should be better than the Braves.
Game 3: Minor vs. Bumgarner
Mike Minor: (old one from prior Nats start) Minor has lost back-to-back starts despite continuing his strong second-half form. He has allowed 10 runs in 37 2/3 innings in the second half, striking out 29 and walking six batters. The 24-year old has lowered his ERA by more than a run. ogc update: Gave up only 1 ER in 7.0 IP to LAD.Minor is a LHP and the Giants have been dominating LHP, with a great record against them. Minor has been on a pretty good streak himself, though, since the ASB. He has never pitched against the Giants in SF, but has faced them twice in Atlanta, giving up only 1 run in 12.0 IP with 16 K's and only 3 walks. Clearly an immovable object vs. irresistable force situation. However, as my PQS studies have shown, it is really up to the pitcher, so count on the Giants have a hard time against Minor in AT&T here.
Madison Bumgarner: Bumgarner has recorded eight consecutive quality starts. He has struck out 61 since the All-Star break, leading all National League pitchers. Opponents are batting .167 (21-for-126) off Bumgarner with runners in scoring position.
Bumgarner is a pretty darn good LHP himself though. And he has been doing well all season, not just recently. He has done great against Braves in Atlanta, but in his one start last season against them, only lasted 2.2 IP, giving up 4 runs, 3 earned (4 hits and 2 walks, vs. 2 K's). In general, he has a 2.97 ERA in AT&T for his career.
Have to think that the game will be a close battle, with Bumgarner getting the lean for how well he has done against the Braves in his career plus how well he has done recently plus how well the Giants have done versus LHP, plus how poorly the Braves have done versus LHP, and lastly for their home park advantage.
The Giants could be 0-3 as almost easily 3-0 by this point. The baseball gods being what they are - mostly random - probably will be 1-2 or 2-1 at this point.
Game 4: Hudson vs. Lincecum
Tim Hudson: (old one from prior Nats start) Hudson bounced back from one of his worst starts of the season by throwing 6 1/3 shutout innings against the Padres last Tuesday. Since Hudson lost to the Nats on July 1, the Braves have won all eight of his starts, With Hudson posting a 3.12 ERA. ogc update: Nats pound on him, 4 ER in 6.0 IP, raiseing ERA to 3.69.The original Timmeh vs. the new one? Both are short right-handers not expected to do that much for that long in the majors. Needless to say, both have surpassed what people might have thought when they saw their short statures.
Tim Lincecum: Lincecum's shocking overall numbers mask his second-half improvement. He's 4-3 with a 3.10 ERA in eight starts since the All-Star break. Still, the 86 earned runs he has allowed exceed his 2011 total by 20.
Hudson has done well against the Giants during his career, with a 3.27 ERA in 6 starts in AT&T, but he only struck out a paltry 4.6 K/9 and had a poor 1.75 K/BB ratio. One HR in 41.1 IP helped greatly, and his good walk rate (2.6 BB/9) was a plus as well. His starts PQS score has dropped over the years: 4 PQS in 2001, 5 in 2002, 0 (DIS) in 2006, 3 in 2007, 4 in 2010 (but only 2 K's in 7 IP), and 3 in 2011. So he's not the dominant pitcher he was before, he's now a crafty righty type.
In his career, he has dominated Giants hitters but, luckily for us, we have acquired two hitters who have had success against him: Pagan (.355/.364/.484/.848 in 33 PA) and Pence (.333/.412/.400/.812 in 17 PA). Also, Posey has had his number (.571/.600/.571/1.171 in 10 PA/7 BA). However, Sandoval has not well (.286 OPS in 14 PA; but wow, ZERO K's in 14 AB). Scutaro has an oh-fer-four, Theriot .167 OPS in 12 PA/AB. Only Belt has more than one game experience (7 PA) but only .452 OPS.
For Timmy, it was the worse of time, then it was pretty good time since the ASB. For his career, he has a 2.80 ERA in 5 starts against the Braves in SF. He's been pretty good on the road too (3.48 ERA) in Atlanta, though he did not face them earlier this season. He has a career 3.17 ERA at home, and he has been much better at home than on the road, 3.92 ERA vs. 6.99 ERA. However, his PQS scores have not been pretty in August, despite better ERA since ASB: 3, 3, 0, 4. He was very close to losing his DOM in his last start, if Bochy didn't take him, and even before then, had Kemp's deep fly ball been a hit or even a homer, it did have that distance.
Should be another tough game, with the silver lining being that the Giants now have Pagan and Pence, and maybe Lincecum is stepping forward and pitching going forward instead of throwing, as Bochy asked for. Most likely the teams will end up 2-2 in this series, but either team could easily be up 3-1. Still, there probably will be cries over the Giants offense, even though it looks like they are sending up pretty good starters up against us.
Every series will be key in some way going forward. In this case, the Giants want to win the series for a number of good reasons. First of all, put continued pressure on LA. Second, put some distance between the Giants and potentially one of the teams they'll be batlling should the Giants fall back into the wild card race, as the Braves currently holds one of the wild card spots. Thirdly, they are playing at home against a good team, always a good reason to want to win the series. Lastly, they have a lot of momentum coming from sweeping the D-gers, particularly on the road, and to just play .500 would be disappointing.
However, the Braves are not a team easy to push over. After all, despite all of their troubles with their starting rotation, both injuries and poor performances, they are actually 2 games ahead of us with their record of 71-53. And they are 19-11 in their last 30 games, while the Giants are only 16-14. And 35-24 on the road, which goes against the Giants great 35-26 home record (Atlanta has actually been better on the road than at home. And their manager has been positive in 1-run games the past two seasons, +3 in 2011 and currently +6, so perhaps he's good like Bochy in maintaining a .500 record, has that skill.
And they do beat up on RHP, with a great 49-28 record so far this season, though that is mainly at the hands of under .500 teams, who they beat up (44-21) but are not so good against over .500 teams (27-32). Then again, neither are the Giants, only 29-32 against over .500 teams (40-23 against under .500 teams). However, the Giants are only 42-42 against RHP and the Braves are smartly throwing 3 RHP against us (Maholm could have pitched in this series, he was in the rotation just before, and he has had a great 2.40 ERA and 26 K vs. only 6 BB in 30.0 IP, but still, is a LHP). But also, the Giants smartly has both their LHP going against the Braves, it is possible the Giants aligned the rotation for this (but more particularly for the LA series, as both worked out well).
Still, sometimes, when hitters are hot, it is hard for any pitcher to hold him down. Pagan was super hot during the sweep and has been hot since Cabrera was suspended, hitting .481/.500/.704/1.204 in those 6 games. As well, Arias was even hotter, .529/.529/1.000/1.529. If only he knew how to play LF, because neither Blanco (.450 OPS) or Christian (.091 OPS) has done anything since Melky said good-bye.
Interesting tidbit from KNBR this morning, though, about that: apparently Melky took off with his tail turned once the news came down that he was suspended, without saying anything to the team. He must have known that it was coming, so I would think that he would have already thought about what he might do if and when the news broke out. And he just hightailed it out of there with not even a word of apology to the team, or anything to explain himself. The morning show wondered if the Giants might be playing with anger because of that.
I've also speculated here previously that perhaps the Giants are playing with purpose as well. Melky was having an MVP type season and now that's tainted by the drug usage. It is only natural that other teams and fans think that the Giants do not deserve to be where they are right now because of that, as clearly, without all the Melky production, the Giants would not even be battling LA for the division lead at that time, they would be back with AZ or worse. The Giants rallying call right now might be to prove that they deserve to be in the playoffs, Melky or no Melky.
Unfortunately, the rallying call is not being heard by many players. Only Scutaro is hitting well in those 6 games (skipping the gut punch game in the last game against the Nats): .385/.370/.538/.909. The other starters are not doing so well: Posey (.739 OPS), Crawford (.697), Pence (.689), Sandoval (.673), Belt (.485), Hanchez (.000 in 10 PA/AB). Though, I suppose, in aggregate, Posey, Crawford, Pence, and Sandoval aren't doing that bad either, as not every hitter is always hot in any particular 6 game stretch, as long as there is some hitting in the lineup, with the hot hitters, it can do well. And it has, .284/.318/.408/.726 in those 6 games vs. .264/.324/.387/.711 for the season.
So perhaps what I should say is that Arias and Pagan has heard the call and lead the team, and now we will need other hitters to pick up the slack and take the baton from them, much as it can be said that they took the baton from Posey, who has single-handedly carried the team on his back since the All-Star break. Even with that subpar stretch, Buster Posey is still hitting .408/.487/.712/1.199 since the All-Star game, with 9 HR in 125 AB and 36 RBI in 34 starts (35 games).
And as I noted in a post before, Pence has been doing his job, which is driving in runs. Despite his lousy .193/.239/.313/.552 batting line with the Giants, he has an excellent 15 RBI in 21 games, and 4 RBI in his last 6. And that is because when there is a RISP, he has hit very well, .296/.313/.593/.905. Where he has fallen down on the job is getting rallies started when the bases are empty or there is a runner on first, hitting a very poor .154/.195/.205/.400 with no runners and even poorer .118/.211/.118/.328 with a runner on first.
And it is not like that is unusual for him, either, as he only has 4 strikeouts in 27 AB, for a good 85% contact rate when there are RISP. Apparently pitchers feel the need to pitch to him with RISP because they don't want to walk him, but then pitch him tough when there are no RISP because they don't want him to start a rally. Of course, they shouldn't be doing this, but, of course, that's assuming that they are doing this, as that is what the data shows.
More probably, this is just SSS with regression to the mean, as he was the opposite with the Phillies, his RISP was only .703 OPS, while he had a .760 OPS with no runners and .986 OPS with a runner on first. For his career, he has hit better with runners on, better with runner on first (.894 OPS) than RISP (.827 OPS is still pretty good), than bases empty (.785 OPS which is good).
So the good news is that he's still driving in runs while his overall batting line is horrible. And he's been getting better in his time with us. The thing is that he was out of whack for much of July for the Phillies and was just figuring things out when he is traded, which I think set him back a little, in terms of getting comfortable. In his first 7 games, he only hit .133/.156/.233/.390 (but with 5 RBI in 7 games). In his next 7, which ended before the Melky suspension, he hit .241/.267/.379/.646 (6 RBI in 7 games). Around that time he said that he was close, at which point he had his 3-hit game, then Melky put the pressure on again with his suspension. And in the 7 games after Melky, he hit .208/.300/.333/.633 (4 RBI in 7 games).
To get the Giants offense going in the next 10 games, we will need one or ideally both of Pence and Pablo to start hitting like they can, to be the leaders of the offense. Relying on Pagan and Arias to continue their hot hitting is not an option, just be glad that they did what they did. Pablo was showing some signs with his hard outs, but then his hammy acted up. Plus Posey's too. Pence hopefully can carry the load during this crucial 10 game period where the Giants need to at least split with Atlanta, then win both series against the Astros and Cubs on the road, if they hope to be still in good shape in the standings, as the next six games after that is 3 against AZ then 3 against LA, both at home (good for us).
Getting a nice finishing kick with these 10 games is also good because that's the last of non-NL West teams we play against for the rest of the season. That's 28 games against the NL West in Sept/Oct, with 6 against the D-gers (and that's the last 3 games of the season, where it looks like we'll be playing for the division title with them unless we can get more separation), 9 against the D-backs (can't forget them, they are only 5.5 games behind and a good showing by them against us could vault them back into the NL West division title race), 7 against the D-Rox (any games in Colorado are tough games, no matter how bad their team is; lucky that is ony 3 games, as we have 4 at home), and 6 against the 'Dres.
That's 18 tough games, for sure, and SD, despite us winning that series against them, has actually been playing well for the past two months, so one could argue that the only easy games will be the 4 against Colorado in AT&T, with the other 24 tough games against teams dying to knock us off, particularly AZ after Melky because Gibson is publicly steamed over how Melky benefited the Giants during his time of using.
So the Giants need to take care of things now, don't let down against the Braves, then taking it to the Astros and Cubs, because it won't be easy after that against the NL West gauntlet. Luckily, Lincecum and Cain appears to be coming out of their funk, just in time for Zito to go into his funk, and Vogelsong appears to have some struggles with his command late in the season - he had a similar pause last season as well, in August, before having a nice finishing kick in September. Now we need both Sandoval and Pence to join the hitting parade, per their career numbers, and that solid core in the middle will mean better pitches for Pagan and Scutaro to hit, as no starter will want to walk anyone ahead of Pablo, Posey, Pence. Any supplemental hitting from Arias, Belt, Crawford, and the LF would be great as well.