After Friday night’s surreal game in San Francisco, the Giants might be ready for a change of scenery. However, the trip to Atlanta won’t be a leisurely visit. The Giants managed to knock Tommy Hanson around well enough in Game Two before things went haywire, but they were handled fairly well in Game One by Derek Lowe, needing an awesome performance from their ace Tim Lincecum to get the victory. Neither of those games have any significant predictive relevance for this one, of course, but seeing another groundball machine inTim Hudson (whose stats beyond ERA are remarkably similar to Lowe’s this season) on the mound won’t be much cause for comfort. Well, maybe a bit — the more groundballs the Giants put into play, the more likely Brooks Conrad is to have to try and field them.
The Giants aren’t bereft of their own pitching talent, sending Jonathan Sanchez out on Sunday against Hudson. On the surface, their numbers are somewhat similar. Each has an ERA about a run better than his xFIP, although neither has a career line that shows the ability to consistently “outpitch” his xFIP significantly. Each has a 2010 WAR just over 2.5 and a tERA under 4. Their actual methods are quite different, however. Hudson is a right-handed groundballer with a below average strikeout rake who doesn’t walk many; Sanchez is a left-handed flyballer with a great strikeout rate who has a problem with walks. CHONE’s August update does not see them as overall equals, projecting Sanchez’s context-neutral ERA (nERA) at 4.42 and Hudson’s at 3.95; do with that what you will.
While the series has evened up and Altanta has homefield advantage for the moment (however you want to quantify that), the Giants still have the superior offense. While some have raised the concern that the Giants are too right-handed on offense given Atlanta’s right-handed top three pitchers, this might be a bit overblown. True, of the Giants good hitters, only Aubrey Huff is left-handed. However, of their switch hitters, Andres Torres has a close-to even platoon split for his career, Pablo Sandoval (one bad year doesn’t make him a bad hitter) hits righties better than lefties, and Buster Posey (whose platoon sample in the majors is too small to say either way) has hit everyone well so far in his brief MLB sojourn. Right-handed hitter Pat Burrell has a smaller-than-average observed platoon split for his career, and curiously enough, a reverse split in both 2009 and 2010, although the sample size should dissuade one from overemphasizing those two seasons. Of greater concern for Giants’ hitters than platoon issues will be how to deal with the Braves’ relievers, as the Atlanta bullpen has been every bit as good and deep as advertised. Even with Takaski Saito and now Billy Wagner out, they have enough arms to go the bullpen early if necessary, and given enough room to work, can set up tough matchups for hitters.
As a flyball pitcher, Sanchez is a good fit for the Giants’ home park, which lowers home run rates. Turner Field isn’t a hitter’s haven, but it isn’t as forgiving to pitchers regarding the long ball. However, that issue isn’t quite as worrisome as it might be, as the left-handed throwing Sanchez will have the platoon advantage against the Braves’ best hitters — Jason Heyward, Brian McCann, and, of course, feared Giantslayer Rick Ankiel (ahem).
As a baseball fan without a vested rooting interest in this match up, here’s hoping Game Three offers as many surprising twists as its predecessor, whomever comes out on top.