Both the Giants and Braves boast stellar starting staffs. The Braves have seen a few starters go down due to injury in Kris Medlen and Jair Jurrjens, but the staff is still superb. Derek Lowe has been amazing in September, Tommy Hanson had a successful sophomore season, and Tim Hudson is the National League Comeback Player of the Year.
For the Giants, Tim Lincecum is the two-time reigning N.L. Cy Young winner. Even though his numbers were down from last season, he is an incredible pitcher with dominant strikeout potential. Matt Cain is similar in talent and skill to Hanson, so he is obviously a well-respected starter. Jonathan Sanchez battled inconsistency this season, but when he has command of his pitches he can be extremely tough to hit. Rookie pitcher Madison Bumgarner has the potential to be a solid second starter in the majors, and he proved that this season.
Game 1: Thursday, 9:37pm EST:
Derek Lowe (16-12, 4.00 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 1.17 Sept. ERA) vs. Tim Lincecum (16-10, 3.43 ERA, 3.15 FIP, 1.94 Sept. ERA)
This is a game with two pitchers throwing the ball better than they have all season. Lowe was the N.L. Pitcher of the Month in September. In his last five starts of the season, he was 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA and a 29-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Lincecum, as previously mentioned, has already won the Cy Young award twice in his young career. His fastball and changeup combination is one of, if not the, best in baseball. He has great career numbers against Atlanta. The Braves need Lowe to keep throwing his slider effectively and force the impatient Giant lineup to swing at sinkers below the zone. This will cause plenty of grounders, which is Lowe's specialty.
Game 2: Friday, 9:37pm EST:
Tommy Hanson (10-11, 3.33 ERA, 3.31 FIP, 1.81 Sept. ERA) vs. Matt Cain (13-11, 3.14 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 3.29 Sept. ERA)
Both of these young pitchers had very productive seasons. They can both strike batters out and force weak contact. Cain's 4.0 fWAR is a bit lower than Hanson's 4.3 fWAR in a bit more than 20 innings pitched. This points out that Hanson was more effective, something that many do not realize heading into this game. Hanson's fastball and slider are his best pitches, with his curve also being a solid option. Cain uses his curveball and changeup at a similar rate, which is something the Braves should try and key on. The difference between his fastball (91.6mph) and changeup (84.8mph) is not vastly different, but both were by far his most effective pitches this season.
Game 3: Sunday, 4:37pm EST:
Tim Hudson (17-9, 2.83 ERA, 4.09 FIP, 5.32 Sept. ERA) vs. Jonathan Sanchez (13-9, 3.07 ERA, 4.00 FIP, 1.01 Sept. ERA)
Obviously, Hudson struggled down the stretch. At one point this season, he was a legitimate Cy Young contender, but his struggles in September pushed him out of the race. Hudson had begun to regress toward the mean (he has a very low BABIP and abnormally high GB%) up until his last two starts. Despite giving up four runs on the season's final day, he allowed just two hits. In his previous outing, he pushed through six solid innings and lead the Braves to a 3-2 victory over the Marlins. Sanchez has been dominant as of late. His 1.01 September ERA is even better than Lowe's. He still walked 19 in 35.2 innings, seven of which came in one outing, but he was able to hone in his strikeout pitch and keep runners on base. The Braves are a very patient team as they had the highest OBP in the N.L., so the game plan against Sanchez is obvious, don't let him beat you with bad pitches. Hudson will look to keep the ball down and out of the zone, just as Lowe will, and the overly-aggressive Giant lineup should hit plenty of grounders against both sinker-ballers.
Included in "Sept. ERA" is any regular season start made in October. If a game four or five is imminent, I will preview the pitching matchups a few days before each game.