Three Cuts: Braves fall to Giants behind Bumgarner’s gem

Behind Madison Bumgarner’s seven-inning gem, the San Francisco Giants dominated the Atlanta Braves for the second consecutive game, winning 10-1 on Saturday. Here are three observations from the game:

1. While impressive, Bumgarner’s lights-out effort against Atlanta was not surprising

To describe the Braves’ offense as “susceptible” to dominant pitching performances would be a bit of an understatement at this point.

Of the 13 top pitching game scores this season — a metric that measures the strength of a pitcher’s individual performance in any given game, with 114 considered a “perfect score” — three have come against the Braves. Philadelphia’s Cliff Lee (86 game score), Detroit’s Anibal Sanchez (88) and Washington’s Jordan Zimmermann (86), respectively, have each befuddled Atlanta’s hitters at some point in 2013.

Bumgarner did not quite crack that list, but he was certainly nipping at its heels.

The 23-year-old left-hander, who has proven to be one of the better starters in the National League since 2011, worked seven innings, allowing four hits and one earned run. Not surprisingly given the Braves’ M.O., he struck out 11. It was the 16th time the Braves (21-15) have hit double-digit strikeouts. For comparison’s sake, Bumgarner’s final game score ended up at 74 — his second-best start of 2013.

Atlanta only challenged him a few times and ended up 1-for-8 with runner’s in scoring position.

It was Bumgarner’s (4-1) first-ever win against the Braves.

“He’s pleasantly wild in the strike zone and out of the strike zone he throws pitches that go from strikes to balls,” said Carlos Tosca, who managed the Braves in Fredi Gonzalez’s absence. Gonzalez missed the game to attend his daughter’s graduation. “It’s kind of you’re geared up to be aggressive in the strike zone, but at the same time in the back of your head is, ‘He throws pitches that are borderline strikes.’ You gotta pick one or the other.”

Aside from touching up San Francisco starter Ryan Vogelsong on Thursday night, the Braves lineup has struggled against opposing starters multiple times in the past few games — Cincinnati’s Mike Leake pitched well in a losing effort on Wednesday, while Matt Cain submitted his usual quality effort on Friday night.

The Braves are averaging a little more than two runs per game in their past six losses.

2. Brandon Crawford, of all the Giants hitters, gave Paul Maholm trouble

Maholm (4-4) entered his eighth start as one of the most smothering pitchers in baseball when it came to left-handed hitters.

He, along with teammate Mike Minor, ranked in the top-five against lefties in opponent’s batting average, OPS and weighted on-base average. In short, he had been nearly untouchable, falling in line with the likes of Chris Sale, Matt Harvey and Clayton Kershaw.

Crawford was the only left-handed batter in the Giants lineup Saturday. The shortstop is also the team’s traditional No. 8 hitter, the least imposing spot in a National League lineup, excluding only the pitcher. Still, in spite of the mismatch on paper, Crawford tallied two hits in two plate appearances against Maholm. His fourth-inning double that drove in reigning N.L. MVP Buster Posey provided all the insurance Bumgarner would need, too.

It was a strange scenario to be sure: Maholm had punched out notable lefties Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche, Prince Fielder and Joey Votto in decisive situations earlier this season, but could not find an answer for Brandon Crawford on Saturday.

That’s a tiny sample size, but unlikely? Yeah, you could say that.

“Pauly usually goes through the lineup rather quickly and with limited amount of pitches. And his pitch count was up a little bit for that amount of innings,” Tosca said of his starter. “He competes, he always competes, but he wasn’t the Maholm that we’re used to knowing.”

3. Evan Gattis wasted little time

Regardless of who threw the ball, there was hardly a pitch Evan Gattis didn’t think he could hit in AT&T Park on Saturday.

Gattis, who received the start in left field, was impatient and successful in equal measures against the Giants, finishing 2-for-4 with a double and the Braves’ lone run. Here is a complete rundown of his at-bats against Bumgarner and reliever Chad Gaudin:

— In his first career at-bat against Bumgarner, the rookie swings at the very first pitch. The low-90s fastball is popped into Angel Pagan’s glove in center field. Pitches seen: 1

— With the bases empty in the fifth inning (down 2-0), Gattis steps into the box. He takes the first strike, another 91-mile-per-hour fastball, this one coming on the outside part of the plate. Bumgarner then shows his breaking stuff to Gattis for the first time — and the rookie sends a line drive to left field for a double. He would later be driven in by Maholm. Pitches seen: 3

— In his third at-bat against Bumgarner, Gattis comes out swinging again. He sends a first-pitch slider at his knees into foul territory. Then, after running the count to 1-1 on a low changeup, he takes his fourth cut of the game on yet another slider, again sending the ball to Pagan — this time as a single. That would end Gattis’ night against Bumgarner (2-for-3, double) and he can now claim he’s one of the most successful hitters of all-time against the young lefty. Pitches seen: 6

— With the game already well in hand, Gattis is initially delivered an inside fastball by Gaudin. Of course he swung. He made contact, too, sending a slow roller back to the mound before being thrown out. It was not a patient performance — he swung at the first pitch on three of his four at-bats — but patience can occasionally be overrated: Dan Uggla struck out four times on 19 pitches; Chris Johnson struck out three times on 16 pitches. Pitches seen: 7

With Brian McCann’s return (and Jason Heyward returning soon), Gattis’ plate appearances are likely to decrease. But it doesn’t look like he will make them last any longer than he has to.

El Oso Blanco is getting his cuts in early and often.