So in my last preview, I was objective. I was complimentary of the Giants, and dismissing of the Braves' players. Well, that was just about enough of that, let me tell you. This is a Braves-centered blog, and this is going to be a Braves-centered post. Because all that any of us want is for this squad to Win One For Bobby, and I for one am not about to let some old-fashioned idea of "objectivity" stand in the way of my disparaging all that might stand in the Braves' way. Good? Good. Vamanos.
Why the Braves are good enough to win:
The pitching staff has, throughout this entire season, dominated opponents. Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson are, in practical terms, co-aces, and when the back of your rotation consists of pitchers like Jair Jurrjens and Derek Lowe, you're doing pretty damn well. And, yeah, Derek Lowe draws a lot of scorn, but this isn't the same guy who's been underachieving throughout the season. Lowe has started throwing his effective slider more often, taking the emphasis off of the sinker that has become less and less effective as the years have worn on. He's been striking out more batters, walking fewer, and allowing fewer runs. And I don't know about you, but to these eyes, that's a significant improvement in just about every area you could want improvement in.
As for Jurrjens, he almost certainly won't pitch in the ALDS, which means we'll be seeing more of rookie Brandon Beachy. Was Beachy overly impressive in his first-ever start, a crucial game against the Phillies? No. But he did hold his own, and he's striking out plenty of batters while displaying very solid control, particularly for a rookie. If he could do that against a Phillies lineup that is one of the best in MLB, then what's to stop him from throwing a Halladay (i.e. postseason no-no) against comparatively weak Giants hitters? NOTHING.
"But Paddy," the pessimist fan in you might protest, "but Paddy - the Braves don't have much of a lineup either!" To which I respond, "Not much, no, but enough? OH WE GOT ENOUGH. Y'see, Jason Heyward aka the Jay Hey Kid aka the likable 21-year old who's already establishing his Hall of Fame bona fides is ready to flat-out mash in his first postseason appearance. Didja see what Doc Halladay did in losing his playoff virginity? Yeah - that's basically the equivalent of Heyward crushing four dongers in tomorrow's (today's, depending on where you're reading this) game. And Brian McCann? Yeah, the Giants have a couple of great lefties in Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner, but they're gonna have to throw northpaws Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain before them. You don't think B-Mac* isn't ready to destroy some left coast pitching? Think again, brother. McCann is one backstop who never backs down and never stops. Hitting. And/or fielding.
*Don't know if this is a legit nickname. I kind of hope it's not. Can't we call him Squints, as in the kid from The Sandlot? He's had all those eye problems...The Sandlot is a baseball movie....no? No one else?
So now that we're moving past what is probably the single worst joke I've ever made in print, let's go ahead and run contrary to literally everything I said yesterday. What do I mean? Well, I mean that this Braves lineup isn't limited to our two studs. No, there is indeed quality to be had up and down the batting order. We don't have the best plate discipline in MLB for nothing, after all. Omar Infante may've been struggling of late, but that's a dude whom we were discussing as a batting title contender just a scant few weeks ago. Brooks Conrad has already delivered some goods with that walkoff grand salami against the Reds, and he's got plenty of pop left in his bat for some postseason heroics; just don't ask him to field a ball, ok? Good. Glad we understand each other. And Derrek Lee? Well, he's a quality fellow. Why does that matter? Well, because he stole MVP votes from Andruw Jones in 2005, and as many of you Braves faithful reading this know, Jones' June performance alone merited the MVP trophy. So, clearly, Derrek Lee knows that he owes, karmically and contractually, a great performance to this Atlanta squad.
So there's our quality one-through-five. Clearly those guys are going to bat a combined .437 in this series; it's practically a foregone conclusion at this point. What remains? Well, there's Tater-Tottin' Alex Gonzalez for one; he's just the chill bro who came south of the border in order to relieve Braves personnel of the burden of dealing with Yunel 'Medellin' Escobar on a day-to-day basis, which is pretty sweet. Is Mr. Gonzalez, whom I have to do everything in my power not to call 'Speedy' which oops I guess there it is anyway, going to draw many walks? No. Is he going to hit for a high average? A more emphatic No. But can he drop those titular Tater Tots? Oh, goodness me, yes. Are we going to root for them? And how.
Speaking of titular Tater Tots, let me tell y'all a story real quick here. Guy spends his life devoted to his craft, and gets phenomenally good at it. He goes so far as to get selected by one of the top practitioners of his particular trade. He works his way through the ranks and eventually makes the big time, performing so well as to get transferred to another, even better division. Only as it happens, his initial time spent there doesn't go so well; a few accounts get dropped, potential clients are missed, all that kind of business. Guy gets demoted, and has to work his way back up to the top.
Did you guess that I was talking about Nate McLouth? Probably not, since that was, at best, a not-so-clear metaphor. But Mr. McLouth back there is back up to his executive-level ways; his season-long numbers won't show it, but he's been much more like himself in the late part of the second half of the season. Wanna know why? Well, it's this lovely thing called Regression to the Mean, which states that his terrible horrible no good very bad BABIP is going to stop being so terrible horrib you get the point. We can expect bigger things from him than one normally would a sub-.200 hitter, is what I'm saying. Yes, I am perfectly aware that that is more or less the definition of a backhanded compliment and/or faint praise, but, well, I'm kind of rolling here.
Speaking of rolling, and not speaking but perhaps unconsciously registering the existence of repeated paragraph openers, how about that Matt Diaz, eh? This guy is a true Atlantan hero, and, frankly, there's just not much debate to be had about that. Why do I say that, in the face of his bad numbers this year? Well, (a) because I've never let facts stand in the way of a good compliment, (b) his BABIP is down over 80 points this year and figures to regress, and (c) statement (a) was absolutely false, and, accordingly, everything you need to know is that that BABIP is going to regress, like, so hard during these playoffs. Plus, that dude took down Red Man - the modified Green Man, not the chewing tobacco giant, unless that stirs something in the heart of anyone who is anti-big tobacco - in the unfriendly confines of Citizens Bank Park. That, friends, is great hustle.
And do you even want to talk about the bullpen? I mean, is it even worth wasting our collective time reading and/or writing about it? Jonny Venters? Just keep running him out there every day and dare teams to hit a lefty who hits 96 on the gun. Ditto Mike Dunn. Ditto Billy Wagner, who happens to be posting one of the best seasons of his career in this, his final campaign. Do you think teams really want to face Peter Moylan, the sidearming non-southpaw who throws in the low-90s from an even lower arm slot? Ha! And let's not forget about Craig Kimbrel, who's striking out nearly two batters an inning, and Christhian Martinez who will be yet another very effective arm in an already loaded bullpen. If the Braves get themselves a lead, you can bet on this group maintaining it. And for anyone who watched the glory days of Chris Reitsma and Dan Kolb, you know how valuable that is.
Finally, consider that all our strong pitching is going up against a weak-at-best San Francisco lineup. They've two hitters that carry the load in Buster Posey and Aubrey Huff, but whom do you trust beyond them? Pat Burrell, who was last seen washing out of Tampa Bay? Andres Torres? The guy doesn't even have an appendix! No, I'm afraid that this is going to be a series of low-scoring games that the Braves have the pitching and bullpen to win. What's that, you say? Those are the exact same strengths as the Giants? Sure, yeah, they are.
But I believe in the power of winning it for Bobby.