The Atlanta Braves continue their chase for a division crown as they head out West for a critical six game stretch against the San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres. They'll begin the trip six games out of the NL East lead behind the Washington Nationals, but hold a three game lead for the first wild card spot over the St. Louis Cardinals.
San Francisco comes in to the series with a 69-55 record, currently in first place in the NL West, and holds a 2.5 game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers. They'll be looking to put a little more distance between themselves and the rest of their division, coming off a sweep of the rival Dodgers. The Braves do catch a break as they will miss Giants ace Matt Cain (13-5).
Instead the Braves will see LHP Barry Zito (9-8, 4.42; vs. Tommy Hanson), Ryan Vogelsong (10-7, 2.85; vs. Ben Sheets), LHP Madison Bumgarner (14-7, 2.83; vs. Mike Minor) and RHP Tim Lincecum (7-13, 5.30; vs. Tim Hudson).
The Braves haven't hit left handed pitching very well this season but have balanced their lineup with a midseason trade for Reed Johnson. However, if they want any chance of competing for the division crown, they will have to have a better showing from guys like Brian McCann, who's hitting .227 with a .262 OBP against left-handers. They are desperate for anything from 2B Dan Uggla, who's currently hitting .204 against LHP but has shown the ability to walk with a .355 OBP, nearly 20 points higher than his average against RHP.
Atlanta comes in to AT&T Park riding a four game winning streak in San Francisco but haven't been playing as well as they would have liked, dropping two series in a row. The team snapped their own losing streak with a 5-1 victory over the Nationals on Wednesday evening. Chipper Jones summed up the scenerio perfectly:
"I think if we're heading out to the Left Coast having lost five in a row, there's always that little check in your spirit in the back of your mind," the third baseman said. "This win allows us to take a deep breath and hopefully build some momentum going forward."
San Francisco will trot Barry Zito out for the opening game of the series, and that could mean bad news for the Braves. Jason Heyward is a career 0-6 and Chipper Jones is 2-12 against the left hander, who easily handled the Braves en route to a 9-0 victory in Turner Field back in July. This will be Zito's first career start against the Braves in AT&T Park, where he has struggled over the Summer, going 0-3 with a 6.86 ERA since beating the Dodges back in June.
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