Reslient Braves will win in four
By now you’ve seen many of the expert predictions and likely come away with the understanding that the Braves are understandably entering this National League Division Series against the Giants as the underdogs.
My good friend and MLB.com colleague Matthew Leach opened his prediction column with, “If good pitching beats good hitting — and more often than not, it does — just imagine what great pitching can do to a wounded lineup.”
It makes perfect sense to favor a pitching staff that posted a 1.91 ERA over its final 31 regular season games over a lineup that no longer has the benefit to lean on Chipper Jones or Martin Prado.
But many of these journalists who are picking the Giants to advance to the NLCS are new to this game of doubting the Braves. Those of us who spent long stretches of this season doing so have come to realize that this Atlanta bunch seems to be at its best when backed into a corner and left for dead.
Over the course of the 10 weeks leading into the All-Star break, the Braves weren’t the same team that won just one of its final 10 games in April. In fact, it would be easy to argue that they spent that span proving to be the National League’s finest.
They managed to win two of three against the Twins in Minnesota and then returned from that road trip to take two of three from a Rays team that at the time owned the Major League’s best record.
Unfortunately for the Braves, they enter this postseason having spent the past two months attempting to regain that dominant form that enabled them to win 39 of its final 57 games before the All-Star break.
When the Braves took three of four from the Giants in August, they were showing signs that they might still be the NL’s best club. They might have swept that four-game set had they not committed a pair of ninth-inning errors (Jones and Alex Gonzalez) and then issued a pair of 11th-inning walks (Peter Moylan) in the Friday night game.
A few days later Jones blew out his left knee and forced the Braves to start limping toward the finish line. Jason Heyward became a monster again near the end of August. Omar Infante continued to be a steadying force when he took over the leadoff spot after Prado moved to third base and began batting third in place of Jones.
Without Jones, the Braves exited August with optimism. Meanwhile the Giants won just 11 of 26 in August and entered September with their postseason hopes fading. Adding to the San Francisco fans concerns was the fact that Tim Lincecum had spent the season’s fifth month going 0-5 with a 7.82 ERA.
With a Derek Lowe-like turnaround, Lincecum went 5-1 with a 1.94 ERA in September. If you need a reminder, Lowe went 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA in his final five starts for the Braves.
Now Lowe and Lincecum will square off against each other tonight hoping to carry the final-month success into October. Or maybe more appropriately, both are hoping to be the one that receives the two or three runs of support that could prove decisive in each of the games of this Series that will feature two less-than intimidating offenses.
Deservedly much has been made about the Giants pitching staff. But if Lowe continues his recent success, the Braves trio (Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson also included) can prove to be just as effective as Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez.
From an offensive and pitching perspective these two clubs are very similar. But as one scout mentioned yesterday, this is a Series that could be determined by the gloves.
The Braves allowed 17 unearned runs in their final 29 games of the regular season. They had gone through the previous 53 games allowing just 17 unearned runs.
The Giants allowed just five unearned runs in their final 32 regular season games. They allowed a total of 17 unearned runs in their final 77 games.
Bobby Cox has said that the defensive woes are out of his club’s system. He better hope so because this evenly-matched Series could be decided by just one or two defensive miscues.
The Giants have home-field advantage, a rock-solid rotation and the momentum created by a strong run through September.
But proving that I am indeed capable of learning my lesson, I’m not going to once again assume the Braves to be doomed. In fact, I’m predicting the Braves will win this Series in four games.