The NLDS matchup pitting the Giants against the Braves also happens to feature two of the most promising rookies in all of baseball. Atlanta’s Jayson Heyward and San Francisco’s Buster Posey will battle it out for the National League Rookie of the Year Award in November, but their performance in October could wind up being the bigger story.
Although neither team is an offensive juggernaut, Heyward has a lot more help in the Braves lineup, even with the losses of Martin Prado and Chipper Jones. In addition to the late season acquisition of Derek Lee, the bench contributions of Eric Hinske, Omar Infante and Brooks Conrad have helped pick up the slack. However, the Braves depth has not been able to compensate for the lineup’s relative lack of power. Only catcher Brian McCann topped 20 HRs for the Braves, so runs could be hard to come by against the stingy Giants pitching staff.
Without Buster Posey, the Giants would likely not be in the NLDS. However, the rookie catcher wasn’t the only late addition to the team who made a difference. The midseason acquisition of Pat Burrell proved to be a major pickup for the Giants. Before both Posey and Burrell came on board, the lineup was almost single handedly supported by the resurgent Aubrey Huff. Eventually, the development of Andres Torres and further addition of Cody Ross helped round out the lineup, but the Giants’ offense remains a below average unit.
With Lincecum, Cain and Sanchez, the Giants have the edge in starting pitching, but a lot of that has been mitigated by the September dominance of Derek Lowe (5-0 with 1.17 ERA). Behind Lowe, the Braves are well represented by sophomore Tommy Hanson and fellow veteran Tim Hudson. Combined with the relative lack of offense on each team, the quality arms being featured in the series seems to suggest a low scoring NLDS. Ultimately, the series could turn on which team’s rookie hurler (the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner and the Braves’ Brandon Beachy) pitches better in game 4.
The Giants may have an edge in the starting rotation, but the teams are near even in the bullpen. Brian Wilson and Billy Wagner both turned in dominant seasons closing games, but it is the depth that made each team’s bullpen so strong. For the Giants, righties Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla have carried the load, while the Braves have received strong contributions from the likes of Johnny Venters, Peter Moylan, Takashi Saito and Eric O’Flaherty.
Perhaps the biggest gap between the two teams is on defense. While the Giants rate near the top of the National League on defense, the Braves rank near the bottom. In particular, the Braves have struggled to catch the ball on the infield, which doesn’t match up well with Lowe and Hudson, both of whom are extreme ground ball pitchers.
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Source: Baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com
Prediction: Braves in four
Because neither team has a dynamic offense, this series will be decided on the mound. Although the talent of the Giants’ young starters can not be denied, they also lack experience. The Braves, meanwhile, can rely on the playoff tested Lowe and Hudson. In particular, Lowe has proven to be a streaky pitcher who can get on an extended roll, especially in the post season. I look for Lowe to match Lincecum in the opener and then for the Braves to polish off the series when it returns to Atlanta