Braves at Giants Series Preview: A San 'Francicso' Treat

Braves contortionist/closer Billy Wagner hopes to convert some save opportunities in San Francicso.

The Braves embark today on their initial road trip of the season. First up is a 3-game set against the San Francicso Giants at The House That BALCO Built. The Giants are the only undefeated team in the NL, having swept the hapless Astros in Houston to start the season 3-0. The Braves sit at 2-1, tied for first in the NL East with the Marlins and Phillies.

Here is a breakdown of the pitching matchups:

Friday, 4:30 P.M. - Tim Hudson vs. Jonathan Sanchez

Both pitchers make their 2010 debuts in the Giants' home opener. The 34-year-old Hudson returned from arm surgery at the end of last year, making 7 modestly successful starts. Hudson is 4-4 lifetime against the Giants with a 4.03 ERA. Among current Giant regulars, Aaron Rowand has had the most success against Hudson, going 7/15 with 2 BB, a HBP, and no Ks. On the flip side, Edgar Renteria is 0/7 against Hudson and Bengie Molina is only 7/39 (with no BB or K--classic Bengie).

The 27-year-old LHP Sanchez is coming off an inconsistent year in which he threw a no-hitter, struck out over a batter an inning, and put up a career-best 4.24 ERA, but also walked 4.85 batters per 9 IP on the year and put up a 6.44 ERA combined in May and June. At his best, he is completely dominant, but he can also be very wild. Patience will be key for the Braves' hitters. Sanchez is 1-2 with a 5.30 ERA against the Braves. Interestingly, lefty-killers Matt Diaz and David Ross are both 0/5 off Sanchez, while two guys who struggle somewhat against lefties--Nate McLouth and Brian McCann--are both 3/7 off him. Yunel Escobar is also 3/6 off Sanchez.

The rest of the preview is after the jump.

 

Saturday, 10:00 P.M. Derek Lowe* vs. Todd Wellemeyer

* Apparently there was a typo in the Braves notes that led many outlets (including the Braves' broadcast team) to say that Lowe was pushed back to Sunday. That is apparently not the case, and he'll be starting Saturday as originally planned. Sorry for the confusion.

Lowe looks to improve on his dismal 5 ER in 6 IP performance from Monday. Lowe is 5-5 with a stellar 3.10 ERA in 15 career starts against the Giants. Of the Giant regulars, Aaron Rowand (him again) has hit him the best: 10/20 with 3 BBs, only 1 K, and (you guessed it) a HBP. Aubrey Huff is 10/34 with 2 HRs off Lowe, and Molina is 8/24 (with, of course, no BBs or Ks). On the flip side, our old pal Mark DeRosa is just 1/8 in his career off of Lowe.

A 31-year-old RHP, Wellemeyer looked like he was destined to be just another middling AAAA-type starter until he was placed in the hands of mad pitching scientist Dave Duncan, who somehow finagled him into an excellent 2008 season, in which Wellemeyer went 13-9 with a 3.71 ERA. Of course, his peripherals were not nearly as good as his ERA in 2008, so he was due for a regression, and it came with a vengeance, as Todd endured a miserable 7-10, 5.89 campaign in 2009. The Giants signed him as a scrap-heap guy after the season and he pitched great this spring, easily beating out hyped prospect Madison Bumgarner for the #5 spot in the Giants rotation. Wellemeyer has a 3.00 ERA in 7 games (1 start) against the Braves. Nate McLouth is just 4/19 off him, though he does have a homer. Eric Hinske is 1/5, but that 1 hit was a homer. No other Brave has more than 3 ABs against Wellemeyer.

Sunday, 4:30 P.M. Kenshin Kawakami vs. Tim Lincecum

The 34-year-old Kawakami is hoping to get off to a successful start in his 2nd year in America and MLB. This matchup is perfect for "The Dragon Slayer," because really, there is no greater dragon to slay than the 2-time defending Cy Young winner Lincecum.  Kenshin made 2 starts against the Giants last year, going 0-1 with a 3.38 ERA. He pitched decently each time but got little run support, only 4 runs total. What a surprise. Among current Giants, Molina went just 1/6 of Kawakami but Rowand went 2/3 with (this is a running theme) a HBP.

The Freak is coming off a dominant 7IP, 0 ER performance against the 'Stros. Of course, that was an Astros lineup consisting of Hunter Pence, the barely mobile Carlos Lee, and 6 guys from the local beer league team, so take those numbers with a grain of salt. Still, no one can deny the awesomeness of Tim Lincecum--well, no one but Yunel Escobar, who hit that memorable jack against Timmy last year. Lincecum is 5-1 with a 2.72 ERA against the Braves in 6 career starts. Brian McCann has the best numbers off Lincecum of any Brave: 6/16 with 3 doubles. Esco is just 3/13 (with that HR), and Chipper is 4/14.

Question to Be Answered: Can the Giants' Bats Keep This Up?

Through 3 games, the Giants are hitting .349 / .398 / .491 (AVG / OBP / SLG). Considering that hitting was universally considered to be the Giants' weak point, this has to be somewhat surprising. Even more surprising has to be the performance of Edgar Renteria, who after a 5-hit game Wednesday is hitting a cool .727 / .786 / .818.

I am going to guess that the answer to this question will be a resounding "NO". For one thing, those numbers are fueled by an unsustainable .378 Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP), a number which should drop to somewhere around .300. The Giants roster also contains only 2 real power threats--Huff and Pablo Sandoval--and no one with an above-average walk rate. Starting catcher Bengie Molina, in fact, has a sub-Francoeur career walk rate of just 3.9%. Though they may well hit for a decent average this year, that lack of power and patience will catch up to them sooner or later. Let's hope for sooner.

To get an idea of just how far back to earth they should fall, here is a graph of what their offensive production should look like. This is based on the career averages of the 8 players who will likely be starting for them this weekend (that means no Freddy Sanchez, who is on the DL).

Sf-hitting2__proj__medium

In other words, this team has no patience whatsoever, but they do manage to put the ball in play most of the time, though not with a lot of authority. The Braves' pitchers should look to exploit this lack of patience to get some quick innings--something the Braves' starters have not done a good job of so far in the young season.

Since two of the three games are afternoon affairs, here's hoping most of you Braves fans will be able to tune in. I know I'll be watching. It should be an interesting series.

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