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.

Marlins defeat the Mets, then pay their respects to Jose Fernandez on the pitcher’s mound

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 26: Miami Marlins players all wearing jerseys bearing the number 16 and name Fernandez honor the late Jose Fernandez before the game against the New York Mets at Marlins Park on September 26, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
Rob Foldy/Getty Images
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The Marlins were somehow able to muster up the strength not only to play Monday night’s game against the Mets, but also win it convincingly one day after losing Jose Fernandez in a tragic boating accident. The Marlins and Mets helped pay tribute to Fernandez prior to the start of the game as outlined here.

When the game started, the Marlins came out of the gate with a bang. Dee Gordon homered in his first at-bat, then the club hung a four-spot in the second inning. They tacked on two more in the third inning to chase starter Bartolo Colon and take a commanding 7-0 lead. The Mets chipped away for two runs in the fifth on an Asdrubal Cabrera two-run homer and tacked on one more in the eighth, but ultimately fell short by a 7-3 margin.

Gordon finished 4-for-5 with the homer and two RBI. Justin Bour went 3-for-3 with a single, double, triple, and a walk along with an RBI and two runs scored.

A.J. Ramos, who closed out the win, placed the ball on the pitcher’s mound for Fernandez. The Marlins huddled around the mound and said a prayer. The players huddled closer to the rubber on the mound, then left their hats behind as they retreated to the clubhouse as fans at Marlins Park chanted, “Jose, Jose, Jose.”

In a post-game interview, Gordon called his first-inning home run “the best moment of my life,” as NBC 6 Sports reports.

Indians defeat Tigers, clinch AL Central for first division title since 2007

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 7: Roberto Perez #55 of the Cleveland Indians hits an RBI single during the second inning against the Houston Astros at Progressive Field on September 7, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images
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The Indians beat the Tigers 7-4 at Comerica Park on Monday night, clinching the AL Central for their first division title since 2007. Starter Corey Kluber lasted only four innings before exiting with right groin tightness, but the Indians were able to overcome the adversity.

Coco Crisp gave the Indians their first two runs with a two-run home run in the second inning off of starter Buck Farmer. The Tigers would promptly tie the game on a two-run homer by J.D. Martinez in the bottom half of the inning.

In the fifth, an RBI double by Jason Kipnis and a sacrifice fly by Mike Napoli put the Tribe back on top 4-2. The Tigers answered once again with a Miguel Cabrera RBI single in the bottom half to make it 4-3.

Roberto Perez homered for the Indians in the top of the top of the seventh, and Cabrera answered with another RBI single in the bottom half to keep it within one run at 5-4.

The Indians tacked on another insurance run in the eighth on three consecutive two-out singles by Crisp, Rajai Davis, and Perez. Carlos Santana then hit what should have been the final out of the eighth inning, but J.D. Martinez botched the catch, allowing the Indians’ seventh run to score.

Cody Allen shut the Tigers down in the bottom of the ninth, protecting the 7-4 lead for his 30th save of the season.

The last time the Indians won the AL Central, their starting lineup featured a 28-year-old Victor Martinez, a 25-year-old Jhonny Peralta, a 24-year-old Grady Sizemore, and a 26-year-old CC Sabathia. It’s been a long time.

The American League playoff picture still isn’t set yet, so the Indians will be intently watching the final week of the season to see who will be their playoff opponent.