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Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Freak and Kung Fu Panda Vault Giants Ahead of Braves


Atlanta was cruising along with good pitching and the lead, and then something bad happens to make them lose the lead and eventually, the game. The same script played out just like Friday's game, except the teams didn't need extra innings to finish the Giants' 6-3 victory.

In the first inning, Brian McCann got the jump on Tim Lincecum with a two-run, two-out homer into the stands in right field. Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami, who earned the nickname "Dragon Slayer" for pitching his best when opposing other teams' aces, made that stand up as he retired the first eleven batters he faced. Pablo Sandoval broke that streak with a triple and scored on Aubrey Huff's single, which beat Atlanta's unusual right infield shift on him.

The Braves couldn't get anything else going against Lincecum in the meantime. After the top of the sixth, they had only mustered four hits since the home run and struck out six times (seven overall). In the bottom of the sixth, the Giants grounded out twice to start the frame. Sandoval then singled and Huff walked to move him to second. Mark DeRosa then singled to right field. Jason Heyward attempted to throw out Sandoval at the plate, but his throw was up the third base line and McCann couldn't block it. The ball struck Sandoval and rolled into foul territory behind the plate. The confusion allowed Huff to come around and score the go-ahead run. Kawkami finished the inning and left the game in the seventh for a pinch-hitter. His day included just one walk and five hits allowed in six innings.

Lincecum struck out the side after getting the 3-2 lead to finish his day with seven innings pitched and ten strikeouts. Kris Medlen answerd in the bottom of the inning by striking out two of the three men he faced.

The Braves were held off the scoreboard in the eighth by set-up man Jeremy Affeldt. Aaron Rowand led off the Giants' half with a single was erased on a fielder's choice by Escobar. Sandoval then smacked Medlen's first offering into the right field seats to increase the Giants' lead to three.

With two out, Huff hit a fly ball to left field. The wind messed with it enough that Diaz had the ball go off his glove. Huff reached third on the error, probably assisted by Diaz dropping the ball as he was trying to pick it up. Bengie Molina drove Huff home with a single.

Heyward somewhat made up for his error with a similar home run to yesterday; an opposite-field shot to left. That closed the gap to 6-3, and that's how the game ended after Matt Diaz struck out.

My Commentary: The Braves blew another quality start, which makes them 1-2 in that department after six games. Atlanta was 64-35 in quality starts last year. It's always frustrating when a quality start is blown, but two in one series almost makes it unbearable.

Heyward now leads the Braves in the young season with three home runs. He may lead the league in strikeouts (9), but the production has been there for the first week.

In an illustrative note about small sample sizes, Jeff Francoeur has a bigger OPS+ (299) in the first week than all the Braves outfielders' OPS+es added together (278):

Melky Cabrera - 11
Matt Diaz - 24
Jason Heyward - 180
Nate McLouth - 63

The problem is likely Diaz and McLouth getting limited action and Cabrera being exposed as Gregor Blanco with power.

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