San Francisco Giants: 3 Reasons They Can Still Win Atlanta Series
With the Giants suddenly finding themselves trailing the streaking Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West, the defending world champs open up a four-game series Monday night against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field, focusing on the four-game deficit they have behind Atlanta in the wild card race.
Here are three reasons the Giants, following this series in Atlanta, could find themselves in a playoff race different than the one with the D-Backs.
Pitching Matchups Favor the Giants
On Tuesday night, Atlanta is scheduled to have Randall Delgado (0-1, 6.75 ERA, 2.25 WHIP), make just his second big league start, going against San Francisco's Jonathan Sanchez, who has been struggling since coming off the disabled list three weeks ago.
While the Braves will have ace Jair Jurrjens (12-4, 2.63 ERA, 1.14 WHIP) taking the ball against Matt Cain on Wednesday, the series finale will feature another youngster for Atlanta, Mike Minor (2-2, 4.84 ERA, 1.61 WHIP), against the Giants' ace Tim Lincecum, who has been fantastic over his last several starts.
Lincecum (11-9) has lowered his ERA to 2.58 for the season, and his WHIP is 1.15. Over his last 10 starts, he is 6-3 with a 1.37 WHIP along with 74 strikeouts compared with 27 walks.
With Sanchez being the only Giants starter that hasn't been pitching well as of late, San Francisco has the edge in starting pitching in this series.
Brandon Belt Remains in the Lineup
Brandon Belt is now forcing Bruce Bochy's reluctant hand when it comes to inserting him into the lineup every day.
With Belt's two-homer performance in his first game back from Triple-A, his bat will keep him in the lineup as long as it delivers, as San Francisco's offense is in desperate need of a productive hitter other than Pablo Sandoval.
Atlanta Has No One to Chase, and the Giants Are in a Race
The Giants are in a familiar place.
Last August they were going through a grueling month, trailing in the NL West and looking to close the gap in the race to the postseason.
This August, they're two games behind NL West-leading Arizona, and four games back of NL wild card-leading Atlanta.
They're playing with urgency as the weeks whittle away in what's left of the regular season.
The Braves, in contrast, have not had a threat to their wild card lead virtually all season, and know that they won't catch NL East-leading Philadelphia in the race for a division crown, currently trailing the Phillies by nine games.
Urgency often defeats complacency, and while it's not fair to characterize Atlanta as a complacent club, they are certainly not facing any imminent danger of falling out of playoff contention.
The Giants Need Three out of Four
If the Giants can take the series from the Braves, it would put them right in the thick of the wild card race in the National League, just two games behind Atlanta.
With Arizona playing so well, it becomes all the more important for San Francisco to open up a second avenue other than the division title to qualify for the postseason.
Of course, a sweep would mean a tie atop the NL wild card standings; but against a team like the Braves, the Giants shouldn't get their hopes quite that high.
They'll need to heed the implicit warning in the old adage, "take it one game at a time".