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NLDS Game Two Preview: San Francisco

Not to take anything away from Tim Lincecum and his game score of 96 last night, but the Giants look good tonight, too, with Matt Cain going out there. Cain increased his K/9 and decreased his BB/9 since last year while improving his FIP from 3.89 to 3.65. Interestingly enough, Cain’s strand rate reduced from 81.6% to 75.3%, which most will point toward regression to the mean. His BABIP is still low at .260, while his FIP has outperformed his xFIP every year since joining the big leagues. Much of this is due to pitching at a pitcher’s ballpark all of his career, keeping Giants’ pitchers at low HR/FB ratios (a very good 7.4% for Cain in 2010). Cain can keep the ball in the ballpark at home, especially for Braves hitters who don’t exhibit particularly great power.

If last night’s 1-0 result was any indication, there will probably be very few runs scored in this game as well. Except for a few mistimed sinkers to right-handed hitters Buster Posey and Cody Ross, Derek Lowe was particularly effective in preventing hard hits (9 groundouts, 1 flyout). Still, the Giants’ strength at drawing walks was evident last night, and if the collective lineup remains patient against Tommy Hanson, they will be a few hanging curveballs or over-the-plate fastballs away from a couple of runs. Hanson has drawn swings from outside the strike zone the same as the MLB average (29.3%), so he isn’t particularly deceptive on out-of-the-zone pitches. Rather, Hanson gets most of his whiffs inside the strike zone, so the key for the Giants is to wait for a good pitch to hit and not let Hanson get ahead in the count (then again, isn’t it always?).

As noted by the fielding of Brooks Conrad and Rick Ankiel last night, the Braves defense may be the worst in the National League. Hanson’s GB% is almost identical with his FB%, and I’m not sure which batted-ball type is to the Braves’ advantage based on the lack of quality fielding. Assuming that Hanson doesn’t adjust his pitch selection and sequencing based on last night’s fielding, look for ground balls off Hanson’s changeups and curveballs put in play.

In my preview for yesterday’s game, I noted the strength and depth of the Giants’ bullpen this season. Lincecum’s complete game shutout provides another advantage for the Giants against the Braves going forward in addition to being two wins closer to the NLCS. The Braves’ bullpen is also one of the best in the Majors right alongside the Giants’. But with Jonny Venters throwing 1.2 IP last night (albeit in an efficient 13 pitches) with appearances from Peter Moylan, Michael Dunn, and Craig Kimbrel, the Braves would like to get major innings from Hanson. An off day between Games Two and Three will suppress this advantage, but Giants will be able to freely use any of their bullpen arms tonight should Cain need to exit early.

Carson Cistulli challenged his fellow writers today by predicting the entire box score of the Phillies-Reds matchup tonight. As one of the newer writers and one who is slow to adopt new policies, I will only venture a guess at the final score, which will be 3-0 Giants for a 2-0 lead in the series.