Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, July 16, 2012 at 8:30 PM
We were deciding over this past weekend whether to provide showcase coverage for San Francisco/Atlanta or NY Mets/Washington in this Tuesday edition of the NOTEBOOK. When Atlanta swept the NY Mets…and the Giants swept the Houston Astros…the decision became much easier! It’s a no-brainer to take a look at two hot teams who are fighting for both divisional and Wildcard consideration.
When Atlanta and San Francisco completed their weekend sweeps:
*Atlanta was three games behind the Washington Nationals in the NL East, but disappointed that an 8-2 run over 10 games had only knocked one game off their deficit…
*San Francisco had moved to 2.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West thanks to some weekend help from the San Diego Padres…
*Atlanta and San Francisco were right in the thick of the Wildcard picture with the Pittsburgh Pirates of the NL Central. Atlanta and Pittsburgh had the same exact 49-39 record. San Francisco was a half-game back at 49-40 (though, SF won’t have to worry about a Wildcard if they win the West!). With the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals both getting swept last weekend…we started to see some separation in the standings. Right now…it’s six teams fighting for five spots (Washington-Atlanta-Cincinnati-Pittsburgh-San Francisco-LAD). The Cards and Mets are about three games off the Wildcard pace. Nobody else is going to matter unless Miami, Milwaukee, or Arizona catches fire quick).
That sets up a great three-day set between the Giants and Braves in Atlanta. The Braves catch a break because they don’t have to face Matt Cain. Though, they don’t draw Tim Lincecum either…which is probably bad luck the way he’s been pitching against good teams. Before we get to the projected pitching matchup, here are some keys you should be aware of...
*Both of these teams have done a good job of bullying losers, but haven’t played all that well vs. winning teams.
San Francisco: 29-20 vs. losers, 20-20 vs. teams at .500 or better
Atlanta: 24-10 vs. losers, 25-29 vs. teams at .500 or better
Remember, the Braves just swept the Mets! So, Atlanta was 22-29 vs. winning teams before that strong result. Either that series was a sign that Atlanta has stepped up in class with recent improvements in healthy…or it was a sign that New York is about to shrink back to being a losing team.
Also worth noting that Atlanta has played a much tougher schedule. They have 54 games vs. winners, compared to just 40 for the Giants. It’s true that Atlanta has the lesser record at the moment. If you believe in the importance of being “battle tested,” maybe that suggests the Braves will be less intimidated by this three-day challenge.
*Atlanta has the better run differential despite playing the tougher schedule.
San Francisco: -2 runs on the scoreboard this year, with only 40 games vs. winners
Atlanta: +42 on the scoreboard this year, with 54 games vs. winners
There are some methodologies which give Atlanta tremendous credit for this. You’ll have to make your own judgment calls. We just wanted you to be aware that Atlanta may have some edges that the overall raw standings hide. The won-lost records in your morning newspaper are very similar. If you flop schedules, things might not look so close. And, with the HOME team showing this hidden edge, that could create the muscle it takes to win the series at affordable prices.
Let’s see if there’s anything in the projected pitching matchups that would counteract Atlanta’s run differential and strength of schedule advantages…
TUESDAY (on MLB Network)
S. Fran: Zito (7-6, 4.01 ERA, 1.43 WHIP)
Atlanta: Jurrjens (3-2, 4.97 ERA, 1.66 WHIP)
Jurrjens has horrible full season numbers because he was pitching hurt back in April. Since returning from the Disabled List, he’s looking like his old self. He’s allowed six earned runs in 25.1 innings for an ERA of 2.13 over four starts. And, Jurrjens was credited with three wins and one no decision in those outings. So…even though the full season numbers would point to Zito here…healthy form, and what we know of these pitchers over the past few seasons would point to Jurrjens. That’s why he’s a favorite tonight. And, it should be said that part of the reason Atlanta has surged back into playoff relevancy is because they’re getting good innings from this linchpin player. Pitching depth for a playoff run probably isn’t there unless Jurrjens is healthy. His recent form plus the run differential edges for Atlanta will have us at least thinking about the host here.
S. Fran: Vogelsong (7-4, 2.36 ERA, 1.12 WHIP)
Atlanta: Minor (5-6, 5.97 ERA, 1.42 WHIP)
Big edge for the Giants in the middle game…though Vogelsong’s not quite as scary outside of San Francisco (his road only ERA is 3.59, and his WHIP is 1.26). Minor has been inconsistent all season. The Braves just kind of cross their fingers and hope for the best when his spot in the rotation comes up. We’ll think about the Over if weather conditions are favorable for scoring given Minor’s full season numbers and Vogelsong’s mortality on the road. The market is prone to price totals off full season numbers rather than home/road splits.
S. Fran: Bumgarner (11-5, 3.15 ERA, 1.07 WHIP)
Atlanta: Hudson (7-4, 3.80 ERA, 1.23 WHIP)
We’ll think about the Under in the finale. This will be a day game after a night game, and decent pitchers will be on the mound. Those WHIPS in particular should attract your attention. It can be tough to string together hits against both of these hurlers. Note that this will also be a getaway game for both teams. San Francisco flies to Philadelphia after the game for a Friday nighter. Atlanta heads to Washington for a critical weekend series against the team it’s chasing for first in the NL East. The texture of the series at this point could trigger a big play. If the Giants lose the first two, they’ll make some sense in an “avoid-the-sweep” spot against a team in lookahead position. If Atlanta hasn’t won the series yet, our stat indicators will likely be pointing to them to do so. The Under is definitely on the early radar.
JIM HURLEY may have a big play going tonight in the TV game…and is likely to be stepping out at least once in this three-game series. Keep in mind though that there are several important matchups on the card the next few days. Among those:
NY Mets at Washington
Chicago White Sox at Boston
LA Angels at Detroit
Cleveland at Tampa Bay
Toronto at NY Yankees
We previewed the White Sox/Red Sox for you yesterday with showcase coverage (please check the archives if you missed it). Angels/Tigers could just as easily have been a showcase series because so much is at stake for Detroit this week. The projected pitching matchups suggest several big play possibilities on both sides and totals in those marquee matchups through the week.
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Back with you Wednesday with more baseball coverage. Our college football conference previews are running on weekends this month. We’ll cover Conference USA this Saturday and Sunday.
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