Braves-Giants Preview

Atlanta’s Derek Lowe is the tested postseason veteran. Tim

Lincecum is 11 years his junior making his playoff debut for San


While Lowe’s spectacular September put him among the National

League’s best over the final month, Lincecum emerged as the most

dominant pitcher in the NL in his first two full major league


The two power right-handers face off Thursday night when the

Braves and Giants play Game 1 of their division series opener at

AT&T Park.

Lowe is on a roll. He won his last five regular-season starts

with a 1.17 ERA. Lincecum rebounded in September after a

career-worst five-start losing streak in August.

”The way September went was the way you envisioned pitching

every month,” Lowe said.

Lincecum is the two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner and

three-time All-Star.

Lowe, a 16-game winner like Lincecum, is a big reason the Braves

reached the playoffs.

”He’s a lot different pitcher right now than he was in the

first half of the season,” said manager Bobby Cox, whose Braves

clinched the NL wild card in his farewell season. ”He was good in

the first half. He’s even better now.”

It took big performances by Lincecum’s supporting cast to get

the Giants back to the playoffs after a six-year absence. They won

the NL West with Lincecum coming through over the final month, and

he hopes to carry that momentum into his playoff debut.

”Things got a little bit more crucial,” Lincecum said

Wednesday of his successful September. ”I went through more of a

hectic period in my career. Obviously that rough month made me want

to turn things around, just do something different. Just changing

my between-starts routine, going a little bit harder and doing a

little bit more conditioning.”

San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy knows Cox will be prepared for

anything and everything. The 69-year-old Cox is retiring after the

season. He led Atlanta to 14 straight division titles before this

recent four-year drought.

”I revere this guy so much with what he’s done and what he’s

accomplished,” Bochy said. ”It’s going to be good to see him, I

will say that. I do know that you have to play your best ball to

beat this team. You’re not going to surprise Bobby. He’s a great


Neither team planned to finalize its roster until Thursday

morning’s deadline, though Bochy said outfielder Aaron Rowand made

the team. At 91-71, the Braves finished with one fewer win than the

Giants. Both teams played catch up in September, with Atlanta

losing the NL East to the defending league champion Phillies. San

Francisco also clinched in Game 162.

Lowe will make his 11th career start and 22nd appearance in the


”It’s something I’ve always enjoyed, pitching in big games,”

Lowe said. ”The Giants really don’t care about my past.”

Lincecum finished his up-and-down year by winning five of his

last six starts following the skid. He beat the Braves way back on

April 11 in his second start of the year, then lost on the road

Aug. 5. Atlanta catcher Brian McCann has been one of several Braves

to regularly hit Lincecum, going 8 for 21 with a home run and three

doubles against the hard-throwing righty.

All the numbers and matchups mean little now. The Braves are

playing to extend their special year for Cox. Like Atlanta, the

Giants made it this far without a superstar like their old Barry

Bonds-led teams.

”This year we made every effort to put together the best team

we could and do everything we could to improve on last year’s

record and be contenders all through the season,” said second-year

San Francisco managing partner Bill Neukom. ”So far so good is all

you can say.”

Bochy has said Lincecum has emerged a better pitcher because of

his struggles, which the 10th overall draft pick in 2006 never

experienced in his days at the University of Washington or in a

brief minor league career.

Lincecum’s losing streak began with that start at Atlanta. Cox

knows that’s all in the past.

”What’s a bad month for him?” Cox joked. ”He’s tough. He’s as

good a pitcher as you ever want to see.”

Lincecum’s unorthodox delivery and quirks – he doesn’t ice his

arm after starts – have earned him nicknames such as the

”Franchise” and ”Freak” along the way.

He certainly has grown up this year, starting from his offseason

marijuana bust back home in Washington state and through his lows

of August.

”He’s ready,” third baseman Pablo Sandoval said. ”I think

he’s going to win everything right now. It’s the right moment.

He’ll get focused. You’ve got good and bad moments in the season,

and you just go out and do your job.”