NLDS Game One Preview: Atlanta

Much of the attention around Game One of this Giants-Braves series understandably will go to Bobby Cox‘s decision to have Derek Lowe start rather than Tommy Hanson. Cox did this in order to keep Hanson on regular rest, and given that Lowe isn’t as bad as some think to he is, it’s an understandable choice. The Giants’ top three starters — Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez — are excellent, but Lowe, Hanson, and Tim Hudson are no slouches, either. The Giants have one of the best pitchers in baseball going tomorrow night, but if Lowe can keep the ball on the ground like he usually does and his infielders do their part, the Braves are going to be hard to score on, too. Moreover, as Dave Cameron pointed out in our playoff preview podcast, the Braves have a excellent bullpen (even with Takashi Saito being out) that Bobby Cox should be willing to go to early and often.

The problem the Braves face going into Game One is not so much preventing runs, but scoring them. First, there’s the small issue of Tim Lincecum being really good, even though it has been a “down” year for him (“only” 5.1 WAR, 3.15 FIP). Even more problematic for the Braves is the state of their offense. Perhaps more than any other team, Atlanta’s offense illustrates why simply going off of current season stats when analyzing a matchup is a mistake. In 2010, the Braves’ offense was cumulatively the third most productive in the National league at 39.9 park-adjusted batting runs above average (the Giants were seventh at -14.6). Leaving aside the difference between observed performance and true talent, if we take a closer look, we see that Chipper Jones (+12) and Martin Prado (+17.4) were responsible for about 30 of those. Both Jones and Prado are out for the playoffs. Those injuries, coupled with a McLouthCabreraAnkiel mess so horrible that it makes one think “man, Eric Hinske should really get some starts,” could make things very ugly for Atlanta going up against Lincecum tonight.

The situation isn’t hopeless. Much attention will be given to probable NL Rookie of the Year Jason Heyward and “how he responds” to the pressure situation of being the playoffs. The Braves are obviously counting on a lot from Heyward, but he is not the Braves’ only good hitter. Brian McCann isn’t just a good hitter for a catcher, he’s a good hitter, period. CHONE‘s latest update sees McCann as a slightly better hitter (+17/150) than Heyward (+16/150). This means that San Francisco can’t simply save their best left-handed relief specialist for one or the other. Although Derek Lee has had a down season in 2010, his track record suggests he’s a much better hitter than his .340 wOBA in 2010 would indicate. These three players (perhaps including All-Star Omar Infante) don’t make the Braves’ offense a great one by any stretch. Still, Cox has wisely maximized his resources this season by hitting Heyward second (usually the most misused spot in the batting order) more than anyone else on the Braves. If Cox follows his practice from Sunday and slots the right-handed hitting Lee at #3 between Heyward and McCann, it will be much more difficult for the Giants to leverage left-handed relievers against the Braves in crucial situations.

The San Francisco’s offense is probably slightly better than Atlanta’s overall, although the Giants have some holes and questions marks as well. The Giants also have the advantage in starting pitching on Thursday. However, the gaps are smaller than they might seem, and between the Braves’ bullpen and a few good hitters in the key spots in the batting order, Atlanta has more than a sluggers chance. I look forward to the possibility of some interesting matchups between both bullpens and middles-of-the-orders tomorrow night.




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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


14 Responses to “NLDS Game One Preview: Atlanta”

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  1. Ron A. says:

    This game isn’t “tonight.”

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  2. Undocorkscrew says:

    One thing that should be noted is that the Giants hit more grounders than your average team. In fact, they lead the NL in GIDP. With Lowe, Hudson, Venters, and Moylan……..that could spell trouble.

    But then you look at the shape of the Braves infield. Lee is great at 1B, Gonzalez is at least average at SS……but Conrad, Infante, and McCann leave a lot to be desired.

    Giants have been hitting a ton of homers lately, but the Braves staff has given up the fewest in the NL. If the Braves can start fielding better, this could be an insanely even series….

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  3. Brent says:

    Hanson would be on regular rest actually, making Bobby’s decision more less defendable.

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    • Nitram Odarp says:

      That may be true, but if the series goes to games 4 and 5, Lowe would be able to start 4 on 3 days rest, while Hanson would get 4 days rest between games 2 and 5.

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    • Nitram Odarp says:

      Plus Lowe has been amazing since getting the cortisone shot in his elbow between his August 29 and September 8 starts. Since then he has a 1.17 ERA, 1.90 FIP, 2.24 xFIP, 8.51 K/9, 0.88 BB/9, and 68.1% GB rate.

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      • Nathan says:

        Which is directly traceable to increased use of his slider, up to over 30% from under 15%, per Capitol Avenue Club.

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      • Anon21 says:

        Which in turn may be traceable to taking his cues from Braves’ pitching coach Roger McDowell. Media reports make it sound as though Lowe has given over “game planning” to McDowell since early September, and the results have been excellent.

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  4. GabeS says:

    I don’t get why having Lowe pitch game 1 is such a big deal. I mean if you look at his career against the Giants he holds his own against them. I think one of the things that should be noted is that Hanson is pitching his first post season game in San Francisco. I don’t know about you guys, but throwing my first game away with thousands of fans booing at me will throw me off my game a bit. I was surprised when Cox slated Hudson for game 3.

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  5. Brent says:

    Lowe has been very good, and I think all 3 pitchers give the Braves a chance to win. But 5 game series are so random you have to give yourself the best chance to win, and that means putting your best pitchers in position to throw twice. If the series goes 4 games, the Braves may walk away having used their 3rd best pitcher twice and neither of their two best pitchers more than once.

    That being said, there are some legitimate reasons to think Derek Lowe has turned some sort of corner and is a different pitcher than he was for most of the year. But isn’t that putting a lot of faith in 1 month of work? We have 350 innings of Derek Lowe as a Brave that suggest he is a middle of the order pitcher, and Bobby Cox has opted to go with him over two pitchers who have demonstrated over an awful lot of innings that they are better than him.

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