Where: AT&T Park
Probable Pitchers: Thursday: Julio Teheran (1-0, 5.08) vs. Ryan Vogelsong (1-2, 7.20); Friday: Tim Hudson (4-1, 3.83) vs. Matt Cain (1-2, 5.57); Saturday: Paul Maholm (4-3, 3.09) vs. Madison Bumgarner (3-1, 2.31); Sunday: Kris Medlen (1-4, 3.25) vs. Tim Lincecum (2-2, 4.75).
Keys: The San Francisco Giants (20-14) don’t wow you in any facet of the game, but play solid all-around baseball. They have very few weaknesses, which means the Atlanta Braves (20-13) will need to match their solid play. That starts with good defense as the Giants don’t strike out often (second-lowest in the National League), and the Braves’ pitching staff ranks in the bottom five in the National League in strikeouts. Defensively, the Braves have been mediocre to this point, and will need to elevate their play in this series.
One thing the Giants have surprisingly struggled with in 2013 is allowing home runs, and the Braves lead the MLB with 47 on the season. The Braves have simply won in 2013 when they hit a home run and lose when they don’t. They will need to use their strength and take advantage of the Giants’ weakness to have success in this series.
What to Watch: How much does Brian McCann play in his return from the disabled list? How does he continue to adjust to the speed of MLB pitching? To this point, Gerald Laird has served as the catcher for Teheran’s starts. I doubt that continues as that would mean two consecutive starts for Laird and consequently two straight days off for McCann.
The natural day off for McCann would be on Saturday in a day game after a night game against a left-handed pitcher (Bumgarner). The heating up of both Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla could help McCann in returning to his old form. Those two players swinging a hot bat should lead to more pitches to hit for McCann.
Which Matt Cain shows up? The three-time All-Star pitcher has been wildly inconsistent in 2013. He’s held opponents to two earned runs or less in three starts this season, which includes his last start against the Los Angeles Dodgers in which he allowed one earned run in seven innings. Conversely, he’s had four starts in which he’s allowed four earned runs or more.
Part of the problem in the early going for Cain has been the home run. He has already allowed nine home runs — tied for second most in the National League. Cain’s start will be a picture of the strikeout and home run battle that will be on display the entire series.
The battle of the left-handers on Saturday should be a good pitcher’s dual. It is Bumgarner, not Cain or Lincecum, who sits in the top 10 in the National League in ERA (2.31), innings pitched (46.2), strikeouts (43), opponent batting average (.204) and WHIP (0.94). Maholm has been solid himself and is coming off a start in which he held a very potent Cincinnati Reds‘ lineup in check. Don’t miss the Saturday afternoon contest between two steady and underrated left-handers.
Outlook: Playing the defending World Series champions in their backyard will not be easy. Despite the struggles from the rotation, the Giants still hold a half-game lead in the National League West. Manager Fredi Gonzalez will be thrilled if the Braves can leave San Francisco taking three of four games. If the Braves manage a split, you take it with satisfaction and go on your merry way in a long 162-game season.