NLDS Preview: Braves vs. Giants

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Here at HardballTalk we pride ourselves on writing dozens of posts a
day obsessing on every single little thing possible. We’re told,
however, that some of you have lives and thus not all of you are able to
read dozens of posts a day obsessing on every single little thing
possible.  That’s a shame, but for that reason, we’ve put together a few
previews covering the broad strokes of each of the four Division Series
matchups. Today, the final one:
Braves vs. Giants.

The Matchup: Atlanta Braves (91-71) vs. San Francisco Giants (92-70)

How’ve they been doing?
The Giants ended the season in pretty spiffy fashion, going 19-10 over
the last month. Really, their entire second half was pretty spiffy
(45-29).  The Braves, well, not so much. They were 14-16 in September
and October, and often looked bad doing it. They certainly peaked
mid-season, looking uncertain back in the spring and simply hurt/tired
as the weather cooled down.

Haven’t I seen you before?
The Braves took the season series 4-3. Two of those Braves wins, however, came back when Atlanta had Chipper Jones, Martin Prado and an effective Troy Glaus playing and before the Giants — in Mat Latos’ words — went out and got a bunch of guys and slapped “San Francisco” on their chests. The season series has very little bearing here. They are very different teams.

Who’s pitching?
The Braves go with Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson in the first three. Bobby Cox was being cute yesterday and said that maybe Brandon Beachy would start Game 4, but I think the odds of that occurring are about the same as sporting those red pinstriped uniforms from the late 70s. Is Derek Lowe on short rest ideal? Nah. But for such a thing to be a good move doesn’t require him pitching as good as Derek Lowe on full rest. It merely requires him pitching better than Brandon Beachy in a playoff game. Which I think he would do.

The Giants are going with Lincecum, Cain and Sanchez. Bruce Bochy said he’s not sure if he’d go with Madison Bumgarner or Barry Zito in Game 4, though I’m guessing it would almost certainly be Bumgarner. It’s one thing to avoid using your big expensive bust of a pitcher in the playoffs, but it’s another thing altogether to make a big point of it before the thing begins.  If the Giants’ backs are up against the wall in Game 4, however, we’d probably see Lincecum again.

The storyline which doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things
but which TBS will nonetheless beat to death

Bobby Cox Bobby Cox Bobby Cox Bobby Cox Bobby Cox Bobby Cox
Bobby Cox Bobby Cox Bobby Cox Bobby Cox Bobby Cox Bobby Cox Bobby Cox Bobby Cox Bobby Cox Bobby Cox Bobby Cox Bobby Cox.

Hey! Did you know that Bobby Cox is retiring? Did you that this is, in fact, his last time in the playoffs? Were you aware that the Braves and their fans would like to see Bobby get another World Series ring?  If not, be sure to keep the sound up during these games, because the broadcast team may just talk about this a bit.

Runner-up: Buster Posey vs. Jason Heyward. Yes, I love both of these players, yes they’re both awesome, and yes they’ll finish 1-2 for Rookie of the Year. But that voting is over now, and nothing they do in these playoffs will affect it.  I tend to get bored when too much focus is placed on one or two players in baseball — you can’t really take over a playoff series in baseball like you can in basketball or something — but we’ll probably hear a lot about that. 

The storyline which actually does matter but about which TBS won’t spend a lot of time
talking

There will be a lot of focus on the Braves’ off-brand lineup. And there should be, because how a team relying heavily on Melky Cabrera, Rick Ankiel, Nate McLouth, Matt Diaz, Brooks Conrad and Omar Infante managed to even make the playoffs is one of the greater mysteries of the known universe. But with the exception of Infante’s from-out-of-nowhere nice season, those guys are who we thought they were.  What we’ve heard very little of — and likely will continue to hear very little of — is how cold Jason Heyward and Brian McCann were late in the season.  We can talk about these no-names, but the couple of big-names the Braves have in the lineup need to step up.

What’s gonna go down?
There’s a time for being a fanboy and time for being a realist. Right now, it’s time for realism. While I think the Braves have a better shot of knocking off the Giants than either the Reds or Phillies, I can’t in good conscience pick them here. Yes, they have a decent 1-2-3 starting pitching punch, but it’s inferior to the Giants’. Yes, the Giants offense is rather anemic and one-dimensional (home runs), but the Braves’ is anemic too, and not as good in that one dimension as the Giants are. The Braves have a good pen. But if you don’t have a lead to protect . . .

I’ll root my heart out tomorrow evening, but I think the Giants take this one in four games.

Report: Dexter Fowler will take a physical in St. Louis on Friday

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Dexter Fowler #24 of the Chicago Cubs reacts after lining out during the third inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Update (8:51 PM EST): The deal is in place, according to Heyman.

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Update (8:27 PM EST): Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Cardinals made an “over-the-top offer” to Fowler to ensure he’d sign.

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Frank Cusumano of KSDK Sports reports that free agent outfielder will take a physical in St. Louis on Friday. Presumably, that means that Fowler and the Cardinals have gotten pretty far along in negotiations.

Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports recently reported that Fowler was looking for $18 million per year. The Blue Jays reportedly made an offer to Fowler in the four-year, $16 million range several days ago. The Cardinals’ offer to Fowler, if there is indeed one, is likely somewhere between the two figures.

Fowler, 30, is coming off of a fantastic year in which he helped the Cubs win their first World Series since 1908. During the regular season, he hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 home runs, 48 RBI, 84 runs scored, and 13 stolen bases in 551 plate appearances.

Fowler rejected the Cubs’ $17.2 million qualifying offer last month. While the QO compensation negatively affected Fowler’s experience in free agency last offseason — he didn’t sign until late February with the Cubs — his strong season is expected to make QO compensation much less of an issue.

Braves acquire Luke Jackson from the Rangers

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 16:  Relief pitcher Luke Jackson #53 of the Texas Rangers  throws during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Houston Astros at Globe Life Park on September 16, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. Texas won 14-3. (Photo by Brandon Wade/Getty Images)
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Tommy Stokke of RanRag Sports reports that the Braves and Rangers agreed to a trade. According to ESPN’s Keith Law, the Braves will receive pitcher Luke Jackson from the Rangers in exchange for pitchers Tyrell Jenkins and Brady Feigl.

Jackson, 25, is under team control through 2022. He has logged only 18 innings in the majors, yielding 14 runs on 22 hits and eight walks with three strikeouts. While Jackson has struggled with control, the Braves likely see upside because his fastball sits in the mid- to high-90’s.

Jenkins, 24, is also under team control through 2022. The right-hander made eight starts and six relief appearances in his first major league season in 2016, putting up a 5.88 ERA with a 26/33 K/BB ratio over 52 innings.

Feigl, 25, was an undrafted free agent and was signed by the Braves in 2013. The lefty underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015 and briefly rehabbed in rookie ball this past season.