A popular meme is to call the Atlanta Braves the “Barves.” The first time I ever saw the misspelling was probably on The 701 Level, but these days it’s widely used by fans of pretty much every team. Well, except Braves fans. If there was ever a day where the name made perfect sense, it was May 11, 2013 at AT&T Park.
On Thursday night, the Braves looked like a 95-win team easily dispatching a San Francisco Giants team that, by comparison, looked like it would have a tough time finishing over .500. Last night’s game was an easy-breezy win for the Giants that seemed almost surreal when they knocked Tim Hudson out in the fourth. However, Friday night scored a 0.2 on the laugher scale compared to the slapstick brilliance we saw today.
Soon after this display, Justin Upton leaped for a Buster Posey fly ball. His attempt was about three feet short, which looked pretty silly since he had time and was about 10 feet in front of the wall. Left fielder Evan Gattis looked a lot like a catcher playing in the outfield (weird how that works) when he let a Gregor Blanco liner get by and roll to the wall.
The silliness wasn’t just provided by Atlanta, however. Madison Bumgarner had a hell of a time running past first base and trying to backpedal while finding the bag with his foot. I compared it to being in a shower and trying to step on a spider with the lights off, but he also resembled someone playing whack-a-mole with his feet on a moving treadmill.
Last night, Matt Cain had a line drive bounce off him. After somehow chasing down the ball and getting the putout, Cain stayed in the game and played through the pain. There was a lot of that today. Not great plays like Cain’s, more like people hurting themselves but not seriously enough to leave the game. Pablo Sandoval got hit by a Paul Maholm slider in the right forearm. It seemed like half a dozen guys fouled balls off themselves, including Bumgarner. Hunter Pence and Dan Uggla had a nasty lower leg collision on a Pence takeout slide at second base. That allowed Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper to talk about “shinburgers.” I checked, and “shinburger reference” is not on the bingo card. Maybe the next one.
Getting serious for a moment, Bumgarner was filthy today. 11 strikeouts, with the only run coming when Paul Maholm narrowly avoided getting struck out with runners on second and third, and instead did his best Barry Zito impression and flicked a looping single to left. Bumgarner now has 54 strikeouts over 53.2 innings, which is worth noting because he hasn’t struck out more than a batter per inning since he was an 18-year-old in the Sally League. Bumgarner leads the Giants’ rotation in every statistical category one can think of, and at this pace he’s looking like Bruce Bochy’s likely choice to start the All-Star Game.
On the other hand, Maholm suffered a similar fate as Hudson the night before, only lasting 4.1 innings while surrendering 6 earned runs. Sandoval started things off in the first inning with a line drive home run to left with about 95% of his weight resting on his front foot, but it was the fifth inning when the Giants realized they could just start hitting the ball at the Braves’ corner outfielders and good things would happen.
– The middle infielders have been hitting like crazy of late. Marco Scutaro went 2-for-4 to push his hitting streak to 11 games, pushing his average from .215 to .301 in the process. His defense at second base has been uneven at times, but offensively the Scutaro we saw last season seems to have returned over the last two weeks.
– Brandon Crawford also went 2-for-4, and while it’s probably too early to start talking streak (he has at least one hit in each of his last five games), he is now hitting .270 after a 2-for-32 skid caused his average to drop 109 points.
– Francisco Peguero hit a single, but otherwise it was a rough day. He grounded into a double play with runners on first and second and no outs in the fourth. In the fifth, he misplayed Gattis’ sinking liner, which rolled a ways behind him. In the bottom of the fifth he was pulled for Gregor Blanco, who had a double and a triple and drove in four runs.
– Since I was hanging out with friends and family in the stands last night, I wasn’t paying extremely close attention 100% of the time. But it sure seemed like Brandon Belt (who went 1-for-4 with a double) got in a lot of 0-2 counts. So I checked, and Belt started his first three plate appearances with two strikes against him (including the at-bat that ended with the double) and started 0-1 before taking a ball in his fourth PA. Today Belt only got one chance at the plate, and he started 0-2 again. But he ended up hitting a single up the middle with the bases loaded that plated two.
– Tomorrow it will be Tim Lincecum against Kris Medlen, who hasn’t started against the Giants since May 26, 2009. Medlen only made one appearance against San Francisco last season, pitching one shutout inning in relief. Medlen was magnificent as a starter at the end of 2012 and has pitched fairly well this season, so the Giants probably can’t expect to knock him out early like they did with the last two Barves starters. If that proves to be a safe assumption, Lincecum will need to do more of what he mentioned after his last outing: focus on competing (in a friendly manner, of course) with his fellow starters. Games two and three of this series against the Braves weren’t just blowout wins for the Giants, they brought with them much-needed dominant outings from the leaders of their rotation. An unexpected gem from Lincecum would put the Giants in a confident mood on their way to face old friend Melky Cabrera in Toronto.