*UPDATE: I was thinking the Divisional Series was a 7-game series for some reason. I guess that’s the NBA. In the five-game series, they will play two in SF on Thursday and Friday, take a day off to travel to Atlanta for games on Sunday and Monday (if necessary), then back to SF for game 5 on Wednesday if needed. This means that whichever team is down 2-1 (if it’s not a sweep) could start its ace in game 4 on three-days rest, and then its number 2 starter for a potential fifth game. Advantage? Timmy is better than Lowe, but Hudson beats out Cain as number 2 starters. Again, another reason to believe this is a very even series.
The NL playoff bracket wasn’t completely decided until the Giants beat the Padres on Sunday to take the division, giving the Braves the wildcard. So without further ado, here’s what I see in the Braves/Giants series. (Note: remember xFIP is a good ERA predictor for the future, better in fact than past ERA).
The series opens up Thursday in San Francisco, with probable starters Derek Lowe and Tim Lincecum facing off. At first glance, fans might wonder why Lowe gets the nod over Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson, two guys who have lower ERAs this season. Besides having nearly twice as much playoff experience as Hudson–Hanson, of course, has 0 experience–Lowe has arguably pitched the best of any Brave this season, despite the higher ERA. As usual, he has induced a very high percentage of grounders, nearly 60%, and his 2.2 K/BB is slightly better than Hudson’s 1.8. Consequently, Lowe beat out his fellow starters in xFIP this season, and has an even greater edge in the last month posting a ridiculous 1.17 ERA in his last 30 innings, backed up by a 2.24 xFIP.
As for the entire series, if it were to go seven games, the Giants would be able to pitch Timmy, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez twice each, with Barry Zito picking up the start in game 4. The Braves would send Lowe, Hudson and Hanson up for double shifts, and pitch Mike Minor up against Zito in the middle game.
Advantage: Slight edge to the Braves in terms of xFIP, by only about 0.12 runs. Though as a side note, Madison Bumgarner is better than Zito in K/9, BB/9, Groundball%, ERA, and pretty much everything but the guitar. He should really be starting. The Braves also win the war of the bullpens, having posted the highest K/9 of all major league pens, leading to the second best xFIP.
As for offense, the Braves scored 36 more runs than the Giants this season, despite playing at pitcher-friendly Turner Field.
So where do Giants fans turn for a little confidence? The defense. Fangraphs rates San Fransico’s defense second best in all of baseball, having saved its pitching staff an estimated 54 runs. The Braves’ fielders, on the other hand, have cost their pitchers about 34 runs. That’s an 88-run difference on the season, which could very well make up for the Braves’ advantages in the other three areas.
Overall, this series seems like about as even a series as a neutral fan like myself could hope for. Game 7, here we come!
Next: A quicker look at the rest of the Division Series in both leagues, and a World Series prediction.