So far, this California road trip hasn't been kind to the Braves; it's not going to get any easier. After a win in the series finale against Los Angeles slipped away, the Braves head to San Francisco to face the defending World Series Champion Giants.
Not much has changed for the champs since 2010, but they started the season with a couple of new faces. Despite being named the World Series MVP, Edgar Renteria was not retained and he sought greener pastures in Cincinnati; with him gone, the Giants picked up Miguel Tejada off the free agent market. Rookie prospect Brandon Belt, whom many compare to our own Freddie Freeman, made the team out of Spring Training. Belt manned first base while Cody Ross started the season on the DL; with Belt at first, Aubrey Huff moved to the outfield.
Neither Belt nor Tejada have provided much offensive support: Tejada has struggled with a .203 batting average while Belt sports a lowly .192. Instead, the Giants rely on what won them the World Series in 2010: their pitching.
Pitching matchups and more after the jump.
Friday, April 22, 10:15 p.m. EST
After a stellar start against Florida, Tommy Hanson wasn't as effective in his last start, allowing three runs in five innings despite nine strikeouts in a loss to New York. Hanson is 1-0 in two starts against the Giants with a 2.57 ERA. He'll be making his first regular season start at AT&T Park.
Bumgarner is off to a rocky start: 0-2 and a 7.36 ERA in his three starts and opponents are hitting him at a .362 clip. He started Game 4 of the 2010 Division Series against the Braves and allowed only two runs in six innings; otherwise, he has never faced the Braves in the regular season.
Saturday, April 23, 4:10 p.m. EST
Tim Hudson's last two starts have not been Hudson-esque. He started the season with two impressive wins, but has allowed nine runs in his last twelve innings. Hudson is 5-4 in 13 starts against the Giants with a 3.56 ERA.
Tim Lincecum has been stellar thus far: he's allowed six runs total in his four starts and currently ranks third in the NL with 32 strikeouts; his 1.67 ERA ranks fifth in the NL. He is 6-2 in eight starts against the Braves with a 2.89 ERA. April is Lincecum's best month: 12-2, 2.05 ERA in 123 innings.
Sunday, April 24, 4:05 p.m. EST
After seven major-league starts, Brandon Beachy finally notched his first win April 19, striking out seven in six shutout innings against Los Angeles. His performances in home and away games are as different as day and night: in three home starts, Beachy has posted a 5.82 ERA; in four road starts, a 1.69 ERA. He's also tied for the team lead with 24 strikeouts. He will be making his first career start against the Giants.
Sanchez lost his first start of the season, but the Giants have won his last three. In his last start, he allowed only two hits but walked four in 6.1 innings of a 6-3 win against Colorado. In 27 innings against the Braves, Sanchez is 1-3 with an ERA of 6.00.
The Giants pitching staff could do little wrong in 2010, posting the best ERA (3.36) and K/9 (8.2) in the majors, and the lowest BABIP (.282) in the NL; their 3.94 xFIP ranked seventh in the NL. The bullpen posted a 2.99 ERA in 2010, second only to San Diego, along with a 3.87 xFIP and a .293 BABIP.
The 2011 pitching isn't nearly as polished, their 3.66 ERA ranked seventh in the NL entering Thursday, but their top three are still dangerous. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez posted 613 strikeouts between them in 2010 along with a 3.22 ERA. Lincecum and Sanchez have so far in 2011 posted K/9 ratios of 10.67 and 10.96, respectively; Lincecum's 1.67 ERA, as stated earlier, ranks fifth in the NL while Sanchez's 3.13 ERA ranks 19th. Sanchez's 4.3 BB/9 ranks as the NL's sixth highest. Barry Zito is off to a rocky start in 2011, much unlike his 2010 start when he finished April 4-0 with a 1.53 ERA. This April has seen Zito surrender nine runs in 13 innings, compounded with a right foot sprain suffered in his April 16 start against Arizona that landed him on the DL.
The Giants bullpen posted a 3.11 ERA in 2010 behind closer Brian Wilson, who recorded 48 of the team's 57 saves and a 1.81 ERA; his 93 strikeouts tied for fifth among all NL relievers. This year, Wilson strained an oblique muscle near the end of Spring Training and it affected his performance; he allowed five runs between his first two appearances, but has rebounded with five straight dominating saves.
Like the Braves, the Giants also have three lefties in their pen: Lopez, Affeldt and Runzler, but Lopez has been the most effective of the three, holding lefties to a woeful .162 batting average in 2010. He is entering his first full season with the Giants after being traded from Pittsburgh last year at the trade deadline. Santiago Casilla was one of the Giants' most dependable relievers in 2010, posting a 1.95 ERA, but has been sidelined after one game with elbow inflammation.
Aside from Belt and Tejada, the Giants added no new faces to an offense that was about league average a year ago, placing seventh in batting average, eighth in OPS and wOBA. So far in 2011, the offense has posted a .251 batting average, .728 and a .319 wOBA. Four of their regulars currently hold batting averages over .300: Freddy Sanchez, Pablo Sandoval, Aaron Rowand and Buster Posey (who was out). However, the Giants have injury concerns regarding three of these hitters: Rowand had to leave Wednesday's game after getting hit with a pitch, Pablo Sandoval was a late scratch due to a strained right triceps and Posey was hit on the left hand with a follow-through. We'll see if any of these ailments factor into the offense in this series.
One person who won't be on the roster will be Brandon Belt who, after Cody Ross was activated from the DL, was optioned back to AAA-Fresno Wednesday, which just so happened to be his 23rd birthday. Andres Torres is on the DL with a strained left Achilles.
R - Aaron Rowand - CF
R - Freddy Sanchez - 2B
L - Aubrey Huff - 1B
R - Buster Posey - C
S - Pablo Sandoval - 3B
R - Pat Burrell - LF
R - Cody Ross - RF
R - Miguel Tejada - SS
The offense faces stiff competition with Lincecum and two lefties, so winning two of three might be a challenge; if the Braves' pitching does what is expected of it, I think two wins is definitely possible.