After a successful series in Cincinnati that saw Atlanta come a strike away from sweeping the defending NL Central champs, the Braves head west to San Francisco to take on the defending NL West champs in a four game series. The Giants' rotation is unchanged from last year's World-Series-winning team, but, somewhat surprisingly, their offense has been more potent than their starting pitching in the early going.
The Giants boast the reigning NL MVP in Buster Posey, and the young catcher has been nothing less of a force so far this year. Posey boasts the highest wRC+ on the Giants this year at 146, meaning he's created 46% more runs than league average so far. Posey's slash line so far this season sits at .288/.392/.500 and his OBP and OPS leads all Giants hitters. Over the last week, Posey has gone 7-22 with 5 walks, 2 doubles, and a home run.
The Giants' hottest hitter, and team leader in fWAR, is not Posey but rather former Philly Hunter Pence. Pence leads all Giants in slugging so far this year and is sporting a line of .287/.324/.515. Pence has been absolutely on fire of late, hitting 9-25 with 3 doubles and 2 home runs over the last week. Pence has driven in a quarter (6) of all runs the Giants have scored in the last week.
No Giant has more hits over the last week than second baseman Marco Scutaro. Scutaro, one of the hero of the Giants' 2012 World Series team, is molten hot right now, going 11-27 with 3 walks over the last week. On the year, the Giants' two-hole hitter has posted a line of .282/.333/.363 while playing above average defense at second. Keeping Scutaro off the bases in front of Pablo Sandoval, Posey, and Pence will be key for Atlanta pitching.
Thursday, May 9, 10:15 PM
First up for the Braves is Ryan Vogelsong, who has statistically been San Francisco's worst starter this year. After two good seasons in 2011 and 2012, Vogelsong has started this year with a thud, posting a 7.20 ERA and a 5.44 FIP over his first six starts. A high BABIP (.352), high HR/9 rate (2.06) and an low strand rate (61.5%) have all contributed to his struggles. Vogelsong doesn't throw particularly hard - his fastball averages 90.3 MPH this year - but he throws 5 pitches with solid command and movement. In addition to his four-seam fastball, Vogelsong also throws a sinking fastball, a cut fastball, a curveball, and a changeup. He's not afraid to throw his offspeed stuff in any count, but he relies mainly on his fastball to get outs, going to it a higher percentage of the time when he's in pitcher's counts. Further, his fastball has been very effective, as hitters are only hitting .227 against it in his career. He has seen a decline in velocity on all of his pitches this year, which may help to explain his poor numbers.
Friday, May 10, 10:15 PM
Game two matches up Tim Hudson against Giants' ace Matt Cain. Though Cain has been San Francisco's best pitcher over the past few years, he hasn't looked the part so far in 2013. Through 7 starts, Cain has posted a 5.57 ERA to go with a 5.13 FIP. The scary thing for Giants fans is that Cain's BABIP is right in line with his career averages, though he is being hurt by an abnormally low 66% strand rate. Cain's HR/9 has also spiked, from 0.86 last year all the way to 1.93 so far this year. His groundball percentage has also decreased for the third straight year, down to 34.1%. Given the Braves powerful offense, they could take advantage of this. Cain throws four pitches: a four-seamer, a slider, a curve, and a changeup. Much like Vogelsong, Cain is remarkably good at mixing his pitches, and will throw any of them in any situation.
Saturday, May 11, 4:05 PM
Paul Maholm takes the mound on Saturday, and will face the Giants' best pitcher so far this year, Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner has gone 3-1 in 7 starts this year, posting a 2.31 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in the process. A 3.03 FIP would seem to indicate that he's a bit over his head right now, but make no mistake: Bumgarner is for real. Bumgarner has a very long delivery from the left side, throwing from a low 3/4 delivery. Despite his long delivery, Bumgarner gets good speed on all four of his pitches. His fastball sits around 92 MPH, and he also throws a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. His best pitch is his slider, and he gets whiffs 13.5% of the time he throws it. It's his go to pitch for an out, as he'll throw it over 36% of the time in a 2 strike count. Bumgarner's worst start of the year came on his last turn against the Phillies, so maybe the Braves will have similar luck on Saturday.
Sunday, May 12, 4:05 PM
The Braves pitching opponent in the series finale will be the enigmatic Tim Lincecum. After four straight seasons of Cy-Young-caliber numbers, Lincecum was a train wreck last year. This year hasn't looked much better, as the right-hander has pitched to a 4.75 ERA (3.82 FIP) and a 1.49 WHIP across 41.2 innings. So far this year, Lincecum's K/9, BB/9, and HR/9 are all basically identical to his numbers last year, meaning that what you see with him is probably what you're going to get. Lincecum throws 5 pitches: a four-seam fastball, a sinking fastball, a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. That said, Lincecum has basically scrapped his curve this year, as he's only thrown 39 across 7 starts. His changeup and slider are both still excellent offerings, with the slider getting whiffs 15% of the time and the change getting whiffs a whopping 26% of the time. Walks are still the biggest issue for Lincecum however, as he's issuing over 4 walks per 9 innings. If the Braves can be selective against the Giants hurler, they should have success.
The Braves win 3 games out of 4. Brian McCann has a big series, including his first home run of the year. Justin Upton returns to his home-run-hitting ways, going deep at least once (Ok, maybe that's no so bold...).