For the first time since the 2010 NLDS, the Giants and Braves will square off; it's hard to imagine that Atlanta won't still have a sour taste in their mouth following San Fran sending legendary manager Bobby Cox out the door thanks to some dominant pitching.
The Braves are a surprising 8-12 early in the season, but there's no real reason to underestimate them as they come into San Francisco for a three-game series that both teams desperately need to win.
The Giants picked up a game on the Rockies in Colorado, but a rough start from Matt Cain in the finale caused them to miss a sweep that could have brought the team within a game of first in the NL West.
Game 1, Friday 4/22, 7:15 PM PST: Madison Bumgarner (0-2, 7.36 ERA) vs. Tommy Hanson (1-3, 3.86)
Pitching Edge: Hanson's record might indicate that he hasn't pitched that well thus far in 2011, but that's not really the case -- he's suffered from some bad luck and big innings more so than he's been a bad pitcher.
"I missed my spot a couple times ," Hanson said about his most recent start, an awkward loss to the Mets. "Really, looking back, there was only a pitch or two I would take back. It took me all of the first inning to get locked in and make some pitches. I felt really good as a whole. I just didn't get the results I wanted."
And the same could be said for Bumgarner, who's flashed enough "stuff" in his starts this season to warrant me continuing to roll him out in fantasy baseball, despite his embarrassing ERA.
Perhaps that stuff -- aka Bumgarner's strong breaking ball and ability to overpower lefties -- can translate well against a Braves lineup that has struggled mightily in a West Coast trip, one big inning (the ninth in the second game against Los Angeles) aside.
Bumgarner's never pitched against Atlanta in the regular season, which might actually boost his ability to confound a lineup that has two of it's best hitters -- Jason Heyward and Brian McCann -- batting from the left side.
Hanson's had good success in a pair of starts against the Giants, going 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 14 strikeouts in 14 innings pitched.
Opposing Batter to Watch: Dan Uggla, who's a righty starting to pick up the pace and stroke the ball. Just a gut feeling that he could go yard here.
Game 2, Saturday 4/23, 1:10 PM PST: Tim Lincecum (2-1, 1.67) vs. Tim Hudson (2-2, 4.05)
Pitching Edge: "Huddy" started out the season gangbusters but has struggled mightily in the early innings over his last few starts, two of which have been losses.
His splits actually indicate that he could do pretty well against San Francisco, having posted a 5-4 record with a 3.56 ERA, though he only has 58 strikeouts in 91 innings against the Giants.
Of course he'll definitely need a hot start if he wants to pitch competitively against Lincecum, who's remained white-hot all season, including a seven-inning no-hit bid in his last start against Colorado.
Lincecum's had great success against the Braves too -- 6-2 in his career with a 2.89 ERA and 61 K's in just 53 innings.
Opposing Batter to Watch: Brian McCann, who's the only player on the Braves roster that's actually had any decent success against Lincecum. In 25 plate appearances, McCann's posted a .375/.667/.1.067 line with a home run and four doubles, so he's definitely a dangerous guy even against the Freak.
Game 3, Sunday, 4/24, 1:05 PM PST: Jonathan Sanchez (2-1, 3.13) vs. Brandon Beachy (1-1, 3.86)
Pitching Edge: Beachy's a youngster who finally put together a good outing for the Braves after winning the final rotation spot over Mike Minor out of spring training, picking up a win against Los Angeles after pitching six scoreless innings.
So he's kind of an X-factor, but then again, that's the precise way to describe Sanchez, who can either be a dominating force or who can, often times, struggle with his control.
The "good Sanchez" has been around most of the time so far this, having not yielded more than three runs in a single start this season.
The Braves will be an interesting test then, because Sanchez has struggled against them in his career, posting a 1-3 record with a 6.00 ERA in seven appearances (and five starts), though he's struck out 31 batters in just 27 innings, while also issuing 10 free passes.
If he can rebound and keep the Braves offense to minimum production, this could be a series swinger.
Opposing Batter to Watch: Nate McLouth, who's a dark horse to actually produce since, you know, he's Nate McLouth. He's batting .429 with a home run against Sanchez in eight plate appearances. Granted, it's a small sample size, but if McLouth is hitting the ball then the Giants have a problem.
Fearless Prediction: The Giants struggle to provide Bumgarner and Sanchez enough runs and go 1-2 against Atlanta. While the Braves are struggling mightily on their West Coast trip so far, and there's a good chance the Giants could win the series, but Sanchez' struggles against Atlanta seem too prominent to overcome. With the Bumgarner-Hanson matchup, it just seems like the pitching cards didn't fall the right way for San Fran with the scheduling here.