Series Preview - Giants @ Braves (July 20th-23rd)
July 20th - Jonathan Sanchez (3-8, 4.69) vs Tommy Hanson (4-0, 2.85)
As I'm sure you all know by now, Sanchez no hit the inept Padres offense in his last start. Considering it was the Padres, I'm not really sure how much gratuitous praise this effort can get, but hey, you go mass media! Sanchez has amazing stuff, but hasn't been able to really put it together for a full season, and heres to hoping that he decides not to start doing it with this start. Sanchez is a big strikeout guy, getting 9.04 per 9 this year, and a big walk guy as well (5.26 per 9). As a result, he tires quickly and can't go very deep into games. This is only his second season as a starter, so he still needs to get his arm stretched out to be able to work deeper into games. If Sanchez is ON, it could be a very rough night for the Braves. However, if he's OFF...it could be a short night for him. God, I hope the Braves don't just go up there hacking and give him a bunch of short innings.
This is actually Tommy Hanson's first start in 11 days, due to getting the crappy turn in the rotation a couple days before the All-Star Break and getting pushed to the back end of the rotation after the break. Tommy didn't have a fun time in his last start, which was in Colorado, allowing 4 runs and a pair each of walks and strikeouts in 5 innings, resulting in a no decision for the rookie. It was really only his second bad start of the year out of 7, and thats a percentage I'm willing to take my chances with. His FIP is still over 5, which really should begin to drop once he starts striking some guys out.
July 21st - Ryan Sadowski (2-1, 1.00) vs Derek Lowe (8-7, 4.40)
I have never in my life heard of Ryan Sadowski. He made his ML debut on June 28th against Florida, shutting them out over 6 innings. He was the Giants 12th round pick in 2003, and pitched for Fresno of the PCL earlier this season, going 5-2, 4.11 with 59 strikeouts. Sadowski is a ground ball pitcher, keeping the GB:FB above 1 in all of his stops since 2008. He doesn't strike out a lot of guys, and he walks a fair share of them. Also, he's not getting anybody to swing at anything out of the zone (17.5%). He's benefitting from an 85.7% strand rate and a .227 BABIP, so that helps explain matters a little bit. The Braves have a nasty habit of making even the most out there rookie pitchers look like studs, and I assume Sadowski will be no exception.
Derek Lowe had a bit of a shaky outing on Thursday against the Mets, giving up 3 runs in 6 innings while walking 3 and only striking out 2. Fortunately, Lowe had the sinker working and got 13 ground balls en route to a 5-3 Braves victory and a no-decision for Derek. This Giants team keeps the ball on the ground a lot (4th in the NL in GB rate at 44.6%), so if Lowe has the sinker going well, he should get them to roll over on the ball and keep it in the infield.
July 22nd - Tim Lincecum (10-2, 2.27) vs Jair Jurrens (8-7, 2.77)
Crap, THIS GUY. If you haven't heard, Tim Lincecum is quite a good pitcher. He started the All-Star Game for the NL, and is the reigning NL Cy Young award winner. And this season...he's actually doing better than last year. His K rate is slightly higher, while he's cut the walks by a full one per inning and also cut his homers. His BABIP and strand rate are nearly identical to last year as well. Put that in a blender and throw it on pulse, and you get a FIP half a run lower than what he threw up last year. Ironically, his ERA last season was exactly accurate to his FIP, which is one heck of a coincidence. This season, he's actually underproducing compared to his FIP, likely due to the lead footed defense of the Kung Fu Panda, Pablo Sandoval, in the infield behind him.
Much like Lincecum, Jurrjens came into his own last year. Unlike Lincecum however, JJ is pitching slightly worse this year, though you wouldn't know it if you looked at his ERA. His K rate has dropped, while his walk & homer rate have remained relatively constant. The major reason for the ERA drop with Jurrjens is the dramatic drop in BAA, due to a 44 point BABIP drop. Despite an ERA nearly a full run lower than his effort last year, his FIP is actually higher this year. His strand rate has also increased to 77.3%, which is actually a good thing since he was a little unlucky in that regard last year. The big thing to look at with Jurrjens is stamina, because he ran out of gas in September last season. If the Braves want to be contending for a playoff spot in September, Jurrjens needs to have his battery charged up and ready to go. If JJ can continue to pitch like he did against the Mets on Friday (6 shutout innings as the Braves whalloped their New York counterparts), this game could be an epic pitchers duel that will be decided by the bullpens.
July 23rd - Barry Zito (5-10, 4.89) vs Kenshin Kawakami (5-7, 4.15)
Oh thank god we get Barry Zito. THANK GOD. He's been BETTER this year than last year, but still not worth his obscene contract. He's one start removed from allowing 9 runs to that same inept Padres offense we discussed earlier when talking about Sanchez. I don't know if he just didn't get his protein bar that morning or what. Overall on the season, Zito is having a nice rebound from the disaster that was 2008. His strikeout rate has risen to his career norm, while his walk rate has actually fallen to a level lower than his career average. Zito's absurdly low strand rate has also popped up to a level that is not horrendously bad, but still pretty low. He's had a lot of good starts this year (9 quality), but most of them came earlier in the year. Is Zito regressing to his dirtball San Francisco norm, or can he recapture the magic that allowed him to win the Cy Young in 2002?
And then...there is Kenshin Kawakami. Following a horrendous start in Washington on the weekend of the 4th, Kawakami came back to stifle the Rockies before the break, and then he had a rather dominant outing against the Mets on Saturday, where he was unfortunately bettered by Johan Santana. Kawakami ran into one bad inning on Saturday, allowing runs on a bases loaded walk and a fielder's choice on a grounder that just couldn't be turned into a double play. Aside from that inning, he was the soultaker...17 ground balls! I absolutely love seeing something like that in a pitcher. His control was all over the place, walking 4, but thats par for the course with Kawakami. On occasion, he'll get into one of these funks where he just starts walking everyone. Against this impatient Giants team (6.3% walk rate - by far the worst in baseball), that should hopefully not be a problem.
The Braves offense opened a can of whoopass on the Mets over the weekend, scoring 24 runs in 4 games and taking 3 out of 4 games. Yunel Escobar was a force to be reckoned with, and has blossomed in the 5 hole. He's going to need to produce and help pick up the slack thrown down to him by some of the other guys on the team.
There is one guy on the Giants offense that needs to be stopped, and that man is named Pablo Sandoval. He was probably the worst All-Star snub, and made the JOE TEAM OF DESTRUCTION. For the season, the man nicknamed Kung Fu Panda is OPSing .952 in relative anonymity. He's 6th in the NL in SLG, and is a FORCE. He should be pitched around whenever the opportunity comes up.
So the San Francisco Giants are coming to town, and they had their way with us back in May in San Francisco, winning 2 out of 3 in the series. Both teams have some really good pitching and some offensive struggles, so lets take a look at each matchup and see how the cookie crumbles.