The San Francisco Giants open their National League division series against the Atlanta Braves tonight at AT&T Park. Game time is slated for 6:35 PM PDT (9:35 EDT).
Ace Tim Lincecum will start for the Giants against the well-traveled veteran, Derek Lowe. The Braves' righthander has faced the Giants twice this year and won both starts. Lincecum split his two decisions against Atlanta, most recently a tough loss on August 5 that served as something of a prelude to his bad month.
The Giants will start Cody Ross in right field and Juan Uribe at shortstop for tonight's opener. Aaron Rowand, who has the most postseason experience and success of any Giant, is on the 25-man playoff roster but remains in a reserve role, despite a record of success against Lowe. Likewise the seasoned Edgar Renteria, whom some of us remember all too well from the 1997 NLDS, is on the roster but not starting. One other Giant has extensive postseason experience, but he won't be on the roster. That would be Barry Zito, whose six playoff starts in Oakland did not outweigh his poor down-the-stretch performances this year. Bruce Bochy has indicated that the Giants' fourth starter and potential swingman will be 21-year-old rookie Madison Bumgarner.
"Boch," who as we all know likes to use lots and lots of pitchers, limited himself to "only" 11 for the playoffs. After the Big Three-- Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez-- and Bumgarner, the relief corps features lefties Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez, with Ramon Ramirez, Sergio Romo, Guillermo Mota, and Santiago Casilla joining closer Brian Wilson. The inclusion of Casilla instead of Zito is the only mild eyebrow-raiser here; all these guys earned their place and then some during that September surge.
Eleven pitchers means five outfielders, not six, and the odd man out is Jose Guillen. Nate Schierholz made it, giving the club a left-handed bat off the bench and excellent defense in the late innings. His lefty bat and superb D also earned Travis Ishikawa a spot. Ishi is also Aubrey Huff's only backup at first, although an argument could be made, and probably has been made, for Pablo Sandoval in that role, which would leave a spot for Guillen. Mike Fontenot joins Renteria for infield depth, and backup catcher Eli Whiteside is the last guy off the bench as usual.
A fair amount of fuss is being made over the presence of the Braves' fine rookie outfielder Jason Heyward and the Giants' Buster Posey squaring off in this series. They faced each other as Georgia high-school all-stars five years ago in the state championship, and here they are again on a much bigger stage. The first two months of the season clearly belonged to Heyward, who made his presence known with an opening-day home run reminiscent of Will Clark's 1986 debut. But over the long haul we claim Posey has been the better player, with comparable totals despite over 100 fewer at-bats. In any case, the Rookie of the Year vote has already been taken, and we won't know the results until well after the postseason is complete. Enough of that.
Rather than subject all of you to our annual rant about too many late-night postseason games, too many late-night freezing-in-the-cold postseason games, and simply too many dawgone postseason games period (how many? As many as 41, thankyaverymuch!), we will simply note without ceremony that the World Series this year is scheduled, for the first time ever, to conclude in November-- unless there is a four-game sweep. Any good news? Well, the NL team gets to host the seventh game for the first time since... well, since a long time ago.
See? We promised we'd behave. And now... (drumroll please)... GO GIANTS!!!