On the heels of an ugly sweep in San Diego, the Braves return to the friendlier confines of Turner Field, and they’ll square off with the defending champion San Francisco Giants over the weekend. Let’s glance forward at what to expect.
Friday, June 14th – 7:30 PM ET – Kris Medlen vs. Madison Bumgarner
On paper, this is the best pitching match-up of the weekend. Medlen has been in the news lately in the midst of rumors that he’ll be headed to the bullpen when Brandon Beachy arrives, but in the meantime, he’s been very good on the mound in recent days. He’s allowed only 1 run (and it was unearned) over his last 13.2 innings (2 starts), and with that surge, Medlen has lowered his ERA to a sparkling 2.87 for the season. The most encouraging thing for me from Medlen is his improved control, as the right-hander has only 3 walks in his last 4 starts which cover 21.2 innings, and if he is to return to his late 2012 form, he’ll need that spotless control. He’ll be opposed on the mound by Madison Bumgarner, who has “struggled” to a 3.58 ERA this season, but he’s a complete stud for the Giants. It’ll be crucial for Medlen to hold the fort down against Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, as the Giants are missing significant pieces of their lineup (Pablo Sandoval and Angel Pagan to be specific) as this series approaches. For the offense, Bumgarner isn’t the best match-up, but he’s not been quite himself this year, and the right-handed bats (paging the Upton brothers) should help the Braves.
Saturday, June 15th – 4:05 PM ET – Mike Minor vs. Chad Gaudin
At first glance, Mike Minor vs. Chad Gaudin is a distinct advantage for Atlanta, but upon further review… it’s still a distinct advantage for Atlanta. Minor rebounded from two “off” starts in a row, and threw 6 one-run innings in a win over the Dodgers over the weekend. He’s been the best pitcher on the team all season, and with a 2.44 ERA and 1.81 BB/9, Minor is currently one of the best pitchers in the National League. For the Giants, Gaudin has only made 2 starts (both this season) in his last 4 seasons, but he is the fill-in while Ryan Vogelsong is on the shelf. He has historically struggled wildly with control (4.11 BB/9 for his career), and he lacks elite stuff as a right-handed starter, which is traditionally the best type of pitcher for the Braves to face. Simply put, this is the likeliest win of the series, and about as lopsided of a pitching match-up as the Braves will see during the season.
Sunday, June 16th – 8:00 PM ET (ESPN) – Julio Teheran vs. Tim Lincecum
The Braves celebrate Father’s Day with a match-up of a fading former star against a rising young phenom. Tim Lincecum is certainly not TIM LINCECUM anymore, and frankly, he isn’t a top-flight option at all at this stage. “The Freak” is still very capable of putting up high strikeout numbers (9.16 K/9 on the year), but his home run rates are up over the past two years, and his control is inconsistent. It’s a scary match-up in that he could be dominant if he’s “on”, but generally, it’s a neutral face-off at worst. For Teheran, he’ll be coming off of his worst start since early April, after he allowed 5 runs to the light-hitting Padres on Monday night. It was a blip on the radar for Teheran, and this is a nice spot against a so-so lineup in which he could get himself back on track to defend his rotation spot. The eyes of the country will be on this nationally-televised game, and hopefully for the Braves sake, they’ll be looking toward a potential sweep.
Despite the fact that the Giants are the defending World Series champions, they are only 34-31 as the series begins, and as a result, San Francisco sits in 3rd place in the NL West. The injury bug has hit them in a big way, as the aforementioned Vogelsong, Sandoval, and Pagan injuries have really affected them, and the step back from last year’s ace in Matt Cain has negatively affected them as well. With all of that said, however, the Giants are fully capable of rising up and stealing this series if Atlanta isn’t careful, and it will take the best effort from the full Braves roster to win and/or sweep this series. Stay tuned to this space for game-by-game analysis as it comes.