Giants-Braves Preview

Despite being one of the majors’ hottest clubs over the past

month, the San Francisco Giants likely knew they were in for a

challenge with a trip to face the Atlanta Braves.

After the majors’ best home team lived up to expectations by

beating the Giants ace in the opener, Barry Zito tries to remain

unbeaten at Turner Field and help San Francisco avoid a third

straight loss Friday night.

The Giants (62-47) entered the series having won 21 of 27 since

July 4, but they fell 3-2 on Thursday night as Atlanta’s Eric

Hinske hit a go-ahead home run off two-time NL Cy Young Award

winner Tim Lincecum.

Alex Gonzalez had a two-run shot to help the NL East-leading

Braves improve to 37-14 at home, but they have split 20 games

overall since the All-Star break.

“It was a huge win for us. You can’t underestimate getting a win

against their No. 1,” Hinske said.

Atlanta (62-46) held a seven-game division lead two weeks ago,

but that advantage is at two heading into Friday. The Giants have a

1 1/2-game lead in the wild-card race as they send Zito (8-6, 3.38

ERA) to the mound.

The veteran left-hander is 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA all-time at

Turner Field, surrendering one run in his last 14 innings there.

Chipper Jones and Brian McCann are a combined 0 for 9 against

him.

However, Zito has received zero run support in his last three

starts overall, going 0-2 despite a 2.61 ERA. He allowed one run

and three hits over seven innings Saturday in a 2-1 win over the

Los Angeles Dodgers.

His battery mate, rookie Buster Posey, will try to bounce back

after a disappointing first game back in his home state. The

Leesburg, Ga., native was 0 for 4 on Thursday, but the reigning NL

player of the month is hitting .398 in his last 31 games with seven

homers and 27 RBIs.

Atlanta rookie outfielder Jason Heyward doubled Thursday and is

batting .324 over his last 19 contests. Heyward and Posey were on

opposite teams during a 2005 state championship game in Georgia and

could battle again for NL rookie of the year.

“It will be fun to watch,” Braves outfielder Matt Diaz told the

Giants’ official website. “Both are hitting in an impact spot in

the lineup. You don’t always see rookies in that position.”

Heyward is looking to end a 28-game homer drought as he tries to

lead Atlanta to three straight wins for the first time since a

four-game run July 6-10.

Like Zito, counterpart Tommy Hanson (8-8, 3.83) has gotten poor

support of late, receiving a combined six runs over his last four

starts while going 0-3. The right-hander has a 2.55 ERA during that

skid and was on the wrong end of a 2-1 defeat in Cincinnati on

Sunday despite allowing two runs over 7 1-3 innings.

“It’s always tough losing,” Hanson told the team’s official

website. “I feel like I went out there and gave us the best chance

to win. It just didn’t work out.”

Hanson won his only start against the Giants on July 20, 2009,

allowing three runs and five hits over seven innings in an 11-3

victory.

San Francisco hasn’t dropped three in a row since a season-high,

seven-game skid June 26-July 2.