Giants-Braves Preview

Whichever team wins Sunday’s finale between the Atlanta Braves
and San Francisco Giants will capture the season series, but the
clubs may have more important meetings ahead.

The potential postseason foes are set to complete a tight
four-game set at Turner Field, with San Francisco’s Jonathan
Sanchez and Atlanta’s Derek Lowe looking to continue the trend of
strong starting pitching.

Neither team has scored more than three runs in any of the first
three games in Atlanta, with the clubs trading 3-2 victories before
the Braves won 3-0 on Saturday night.

“It’s funny,” Braves starter Tim Hudson said. “Chipper (Jones)
told me before the game, ‘You’re going to have three runs to play
with. Make it last.'”

Atlanta (63-47) extended its NL East lead to two games over
Philadelphia, improving its team ERA to 1.55 in seven August games.
In this series, Braves starters have allowed three runs and 13 hits
in 21 innings.

If the season ended Saturday, Atlanta would face San Francisco
(63-48) in an NL division series. While trailing San Diego by one
game in the NL West, the Giants remain 1 1/2 games ahead of St.
Louis and Philadelphia in the wild-card chase.

San Francisco’s pitching, which ranks second in the majors with
a 3.39 ERA, has kept the team in this series, but the Giants’ bats
have been slumping.

Hudson and Billy Wagner limited San Francisco to three hits
Saturday, and the Giants have totaled six runs – with no homers –
while losing three of four. The home run drought matches the club’s
longest of the season.

That may bode well for Lowe (10-9, 4.44 ERA) as the Giants face
a second straight sinkerballer. Both Hudson and Lowe rank among the
top five in the majors in ground ball-to-fly ball ratio.

Lowe also has a strong track record against San Francisco, which
hasn’t beaten him since he was with the Dodgers on April 24, 2007.
In his last seven starts against the Giants, he’s 3-0 with a 2.08
ERA.

The right-hander walked a career-high seven in San Francisco on
April 10 but allowed one run in six innings of a 7-2 victory.

Sanchez (8-6, 3.38) is well accustomed to working around walks.
The left-hander has more walks per nine innings (4.57) than any
other major league pitcher, but four walks resulted in no damage in
six-plus innings of a 10-0 win Tuesday at Colorado.

During that start, Sanchez struck out seven consecutive batters
at one point, tying the franchise record set by Hall of Famer Juan
Marichal on Sept. 6, 1964.

“I just tried to throw strikes and focus on getting ahead of
hitters,” Sanchez told the Giants’ official website. “They were
swinging after the first inning. They were swinging at pitches off
the plate, in the dirt. I was getting ahead the whole time, so they
had to swing.”

Good control may be especially important against the Braves,
whose 446 walks rank second in the majors behind Tampa Bay.

Sanchez lasted just 4 1-3 innings against Atlanta on April 9,
allowing three runs and seven hits, but the Giants came back to win
5-4 in 13 innings.

Neither team has won back-to-back games in the season series,
which stands at 3-3 with only Sunday’s matchup remaining.