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.

Aaron Judge set a new postseason strikeout record

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For a few days, it looked like Aaron Judge was finally hitting his stride in the postseason. He was still striking out at a regular clip, piling more and more strikeouts atop the 16 he racked up in the Division Series, but he was mashing, too. He engineered a three-run homer during Game 3 of the Championship Series, followed by another blast and game-tying double in Game 4. His one-out double helped pad a five-run lead in Game 5, while his 425-footer off of Brad Peacock barely made a dent during a 7-1 loss in Game 6. And then Lance McCullers‘ curveball found and fooled him, as it did five of the 14 batters it met in Game 7:

The strikeout was Judge’s first of the evening and 27th since the start of the playoffs. No other major league batter has racked up that many strikeouts in a single postseason, though Alfonso Soriano’s 26-strikeout record in 2003 comes the closest. Within that record, Judge also collected three golden sombreros (four strikeouts in a single game), narrowly avoiding the dreaded platinum sombrero (five strikeouts in a single game).

It’s an unfortunate footnote to a spectacular year for the rookie outfielder, who decimated the competition with 52 home runs and 8.2 fWAR during the regular season and was a pivotal part of the Yankees’ playoff run. Thankfully, the image of McCullers’ curveball darting just under Judge’s bat won’t be the image that sticks with us for years to come. Instead, it’ll look something like this: