Stats & Info: Brian McCann

Hitters struggle against Medlen's changeup

October, 5, 2012
(The Atlanta Braves host the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Wild Card, Friday at 5 ET on ESPN Radio.)

The Atlanta Braves Kris Medlen has one of baseball’s nastiest changeups, and it was a major reason for his success in 2012. Medlen netted misses on 40 percent of the swings taken against his changeup (the major-league average is about 30 percent).

The pitch became even more valuable once Medlen converted to full-time starter. In the 12 games Medlen started, hitters missed on 49 percent of the swings against his changeup.

Medlen this season threw strikes 75 percent of the time with his changeup -- that was the highest rate in baseball for anyone who threw at least 200 changeups.

Interestingly, Friday’s opposing pitcher, Kyle Lohse, had the seventh-highest strike rate at 72 percent.

David Ross, and not Brian McCann, will start at catcher for the Braves in the one-game playoff. Ross has done a very good job catching Medlen this season. This season with Ross behind the plate (44⅓ innnings), Medlen’s ERA is 0.81 with an opponent batting average of .190. With McCann (92⅔ innings), Medlen’s ERA is 1.75 and opponents hit .211.

For the season, Ross threw out 14 of 33 runners (42.4) attempting to steal. McCann threw out only 17 of 93.

The Cardinals’ best bat against right-handed changeups is Carlos Beltran. Against right-handed pitching, Beltran misses one out of every six swings on changeups. He hit .286 with a team-high four home runs on at-bats that ended with a changeup.

AP Photo/Reed SaxonMatt Kemp hit his sixth career walk-off home run as the Dodgers beat the Phillies
The Los Angeles Dodgers needed somebody to stop the bleeding after heading into Wednesday's game on a four-game losing skid. Who better than Matt Kemp?

Regulation baseball didn’t treat Kemp nicely as he went 0-4 with three strikeouts through the first nine innings. As it turned out, he was merely saving it for later.

After coming up with a game-tying infield single in the bottom of the 10th inning, Kemp went deep off of the Philadelphia Phillies Jacob Diekman in the bottom of the 12th for his eighth career walk-off hit.

Six of Kemp's eight walk-offs have cleared the fences including both this season. All six walk-off homers have come since 2010, two more than any other player in the majors and more than 12 entire teams.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Kemp is the first Dodger to have a game-tying hit in extra innings and then follow it up with a walk-off homer since the team moved to Los Angeles. The last non-Dodger to accomplish the feat was Mike Young of the 1987 Baltimore Orioles.

The all-world centerfielder has been limited to 41 games this season due to nagging hamstring injuries, but drove in three huge runs Wednesday - all in extra innings. In fact his three RBI match the extra-inning total the Dodgers had as a team entering the game.

Kemp’s home run looked similar to many of the others he has hit this season in that it came off of a fastball and he didn’t pull the pitch. Of Kemp’s 13 home runs, 10 have been off of heaters – all of which went out to center or right.

With seven opposite-field home runs, Kemp is tied for second in the majors. Only the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen has more with eight.
Ryan Howard was back in the lineup for the Philadelphia Phillies for the first time since last year’s playoffs, but strong pitching and a late rally by the Atlanta Braves spoiled his return.

The game was a scoreless tie until the eighth inning, when the Braves scored five runs on a bases-loaded walk and Brian McCann grand slam. It was the second grand slam of the season for McCann, with both coming against the Phillies.

McCann has nine career grand slams, with one as a pinch hitter and eight while he was behind the plate. According to our friends at the Elias Sports Bureau, his eight grand slams as a catcher are tied for fourth among backstops who debuted in the last 50 years. Mike Piazza leads the way among catchers with 14.

Tim Hudson picked up the win for the Braves by tossing seven scoreless innings. Hudson was able to get outs early in the count. Fourteen batters saw only one or two pitches, and six of his seven innings were completed in 12 or fewer pitches.

Tim Hudson
He averaged 3.04 pitches per plate appearance, his lowest in a game since September 2009. Hudson did not record a strikeout, and induced just three swings-and-misses, tied for the fewest in his past 48 starts.

The key pitch for Hudson on Friday was his sinker. He threw the sinker 47 times out of his 79 pitches. That 57 percent usage was well above his average of 41 percent of pitches over the past two seasons. The sinker averaged 10.3 inches of horizontal break, his most in a game since May 2010.

Hudson’s outing spoiled the return of Howard to the Philadelphia lineup. He doubled to the centerfield warning track in his first at-bat and singled in the seventh. That marks the third straight year that Howard has recorded a multi-hit game in his first game of the season.

Kyle Kendrick pitched seven shutout innings for the Phillies, his first quality start since May. But the call to the bullpen marked the end of Philadelphia’s pitching success.

Antonio Bastardo allowed five runs in the eighth inning. He has allowed 17 runs in 28⅔ innings this season. That’s the same number of runs he allowed in 58 innings while compiling a 6-1 record last season.

In 2011, the slider was the money pitch for Bastardo. In 70 at-bats that ended with the pitch, he allowed only nine hits (.129). McCann’s grand slam came on a slider, the 10th hit that Bastardo has allowed on a slider already this season in 46 at-bats.
The National League Wild Card race goes to the final day with the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals tied at 89-72. The Braves entered Tuesday with a one game lead in the Wild Card, but lost 7-1 to the Philadelphia Phillies, while the Cardinals scored 13 of the game’s final 14 runs against the Houston Astros in a 13-6 win.

In Wednesday’s Wild Card madness, Atlanta’s Tim Hudson gets the call at home against the Phillies (7 ET on ESPN2). Over the last two years, Hudson is 21-9 with a 2.38 ERA at home, including a 2.29 ERA there this season. Last year, Hudson pitched in the final game of the regular season, when the Braves clinched a playoff spot. He allowed four ER in seven IP and got the win over the Phillies.

Chris Carpenter will start for the Cardinals against the Astros at Minute Maid Park, where he has not won since September 3, 2005 (he’s made five starts in Houston since that last win). If both teams are still tied after Wednesday, a one-game tiebreaker would be Thursday at Atlanta.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, since 1995, 13 different teams have clinched a playoff spot on the final day of the postseason, not including regular season playoff games. The biggest September deficit ever overcome by a team that made the postseason was 8½ games by the 1964 Cardinals, who went on to win the World Series. The 2011 Cardinals were 8½ out after games of September 5.

Story to Watch
The Braves were 81-55 through September 1 and seemingly in command of the NL wild card race, with an 8½ game lead over the Cardinals. They were leading the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 at home on September 2, but blew the game, losing 8-6. That started their collapse.

What’s gone wrong for the Braves and who’s to blame? Well, Atlanta is struggling against left-handed pitching during its September to forget. The team is hitting .231/.263/.332 against left-handed pitching this month. The Phillies will start the right-handed Joe Blanton but lefty Cole Hamels is expected to pitch in relief.

Those who were reliable in the Braves bullpen in the first five months of the season have not been in the final month. Jonny Venters has a 6.08 ERA since August 26. Craig Kimbrel has a 6.75 ERA since September 9.

Key Stats
Chipper Jones has hit a wall. He’s 8-for-41 (.195) in his last 12 games. Brian McCann is hitting .180 in 36 games since coming off the DL in mid-August.

With a win, the Phillies would set a franchise record with their 102nd win of the season.

Story to Watch
The Cardinals looked to be out of the Wild Card race, but have won 15 of 19, including a 3-game sweep of the Braves, to move into a tie for the NL Wild Card lead. What’s gone right for St. Louis?

Albert Pujols has looked like the Albert Pujols we’ve come to expect at this time of the season. He’s hitting .363 (fifth-best in the NL) with five HR and 19 RBI (tied for fifth-most in the NL) in September. Pujols had one of the biggest hits for the Cardinals, a two-run game-tying single with two outs in the ninth inning of the series opener against the Braves, a game the Cardinals would win in extra innings.

Key Stat
Pujols is hitting .300 with 98 RBI. He has never finished a season batting under .300 (he will do so with a 1-for-4 or worse Wednesday if the season ends) or with fewer than 100 RBI.

NL Pennant Race Panic Meter

September, 26, 2011
Just a few weeks ago the Atlanta Braves appeared to have a playoff spot locked up. After a 5-2 win over the Washington Nationals on September 1, the Braves were a season-high 26 games over .500 at 81-55 and owned a 8 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card race.

The next night they were leading the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 at home, but blew the game, losing 8-6. That started their collapse, as they have gone 8-15 since then, which is the worst record in the NL starting on September 2.

So what’s gone wrong and who’s to blame on the Braves?

The Braves are struggling against left-handed pitching during their September to forget. The team is hitting .240/.276/.323 against left-handed pitching this month, and have lost four of six games started by southpaws.

A number of Braves position players have struggled since the start of the month. Chipper Jones is 3-for-22 with five strikeouts in his last seven games. Since coming off the DL in mid-August, Brian McCann is hitting .174 with a sub-.300 OBP.

The Braves have been hindered by injuries to two of their top starting pitchers - Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson – while veteran Derek Lowe is 0-4 with an 8.24 ERA in his last four starts.

The bullpen that was so reliable in the first five months has been unstable in the finals weeks. Jonny Venters has a 5.84 ERA since August 23, and Craig Kimbrel has a 6.75 ERA since September 9. The bullpen has five blown saves this month, only the Cubs and Mets have more.

On the other side of the ledger, the Cardinals playoff hopes appeared to be on life support just a few weeks ago. Following a 4-1 loss to the Brewers on September 5, the Cardinals trailed by 8 games in the Wild Card race.

Since then they have won 14 of 18, including a three-game sweep of the Braves. They have the best record in the NL starting on September 6 and have pulled to within one game of the Wild Card lead.

So what’s gone right for the Cardinals during their recent hot streak?

Matt Holliday missed nine games with an injured hand, but Allen Craig stepped up in his place. Craig has started eight of those nine games, and is hitting .281 with six extra-base hits, including three home runs.

Albert Pujols has looked like the Albert Pujols we’ve come to expect at this time of the season. He’s hitting .374 with five homers and 19 RBI in September, ranking among the league leaders this month.

The Cardinals have also gotten an unexpected offensive boost from shortstop Rafael Furcal. After hitting one home run in 37 games with the Dodgers, he’s hit seven in 48 games with the Cardinals. All seven of his homers have come with the score either tied or within two runs.

The Braves finish up with three home games against the Philadelphia Phillies, who have the majors' best record, while Cardinals face the league's worst team, the Houston Astros, in their final three games.

NL East slides, NL West rises in rankings

September, 2, 2011
The previous edition of the ESPN Stats & Information Divisional Power Rankings discussed the close race between the AL East and NL East for divisional supremacy. Through July 31, the NL East had outperformed the AL East in two of the categories that we measure (non-divisional win percentage and strength of schedule) and was comparable in the other two. After four months of baseball, the NL East trailed the AL East by 4.2 points and appeared to be rising to the top.

Despite strong months by the Philadelphia Phillies (18-7) and the Atlanta Braves (17-9), the NL East slid in the rankings in August and now trails the AL East by 12.4 points. Its slide was a result of poor performances by the bottom of the division, resulting in a .481 win percentage against non-divisional opponents in the month of August.

Specifically, the Florida Marlins lost 14 of 17 games that they played against teams outside of the NL East in August (lowest win percentage outside of the division of any team in MLB). The Washington Nationals (6-11) and New York Mets (4-9) also struggled in non-divisional August games.

Injuries to top NL East performers Jose Reyes and Brian McCann hurt the NL East in the player ratings, while the ascension of NL West players such as Clayton Kershaw and Troy Tulowitzki helped the NL West jump into third place in the rankings. San Francisco had a rough month, dropping out of first place in the division and going 9-15 outside of the NL West, but the rest of the division had a successful month.

Every team in the division besides San Francisco rose by at least three positions in the Power Rankings since the last release of these rankings, largely because they all posted winning records outside of the division in August.

The Milwaukee Brewers were unstoppable in August (21-7) and helped the NL Central climb 2.8 more points. Look for the Brewers in a National League divisional showdown as Philadelphia travels to Milwaukee on September 8 for a four-game series. Other inter-divisional matchups to keep an eye on are Texas at Boston beginning September 2 (Boston took three of four last month in Arlington) and Atlanta at St. Louis beginning September 9.

The San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves open a four-game series in Atlanta at 7 ET on Monday Night Baseball on ESPN.

San Francisco makes its first trip to Atlanta since clinching the 2010 National League Division Series over the Braves, which began the Giants' march to the World Series title.

Chances are if this game is close late in the game, the winning team just might close out the game in its final at-bat. Among all National League teams, the Braves (20) and Giants (18) have the most wins in their last at-bats this season.

On the mound

Madison Bumgarner takes the mound for San Francisco, hoping this turn on the hill is much better than the last time he faced the Braves. On April 22, Bumgarner allowed four runs (three earned), four hits, two walks and two strikeouts in only 2⅔ innings of work in a 4-1 loss.

A major key to success for Bumgarner has been getting through the third inning without too much damage, something he didn’t do back in April (allowed all four Atlanta runs to score). In innings 1-3, Bumgarner has allowed 42 ER in 69.0 IP (5.48 ERA). But in innings 4-9, he has allowed just 15 ER in 76⅓ IP (1.77 ERA).

Tim Hudson will take the mound for Atlanta. In his past six starts against the Giants, Hudson is 4-0 with a 2.70 ERA, and in his past three starts against San Francisco, he’s allowed only four earned runs in 23⅔ innings.

Hudson thrives with David Ross behind the plate, winning nine of 10 decisions this season. Ross has served as Hudson’s personal catcher since June 15, well before Brian McCann was injured, and the numbers demonstrate exactly why that move was made.


As a member of the Philadelphia Phillies from 2006 to 2007, Aaron Rowand hit .315 with a .368 on-base percentage and .454 slugging percentage in 29 games against Atlanta. However, since joining the Giants, Rowand is hitting only .250 with two HRs with a .316 OBP and .426 slugging percentage in 21 games against the Braves.

Dan Uggla went 0-for-3 in the Braves' 6-5 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Sunday, snapping his 33-game hitting streak. Uggla was struggling before the streak began, hitting only .173 (he raised his average to .232 before the streak ended). Since 1900, among single-season hit streaks of at least 30 games that did not begin the season, Uggla had the fourth-lowest BA.

Stat of the game

This stat comes courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau: Atlanta’s Chipper Jones has not walked in his past 53 plate appearances. That’s the longest such streak of his career; his previous high was 49 plate appearances without a walk in June 1995 (his rookie season).

NL East narrows gap in power rankings

August, 2, 2011
The American League East remains at the top of the ESPN Stats & Information Divisional Power Rankings for the third straight month, with the National League East close behind.

Over the past three months, the AL East and NL East have been the top two divisions by a large margin. The two east divisions have separated themselves from the pack, so let’s take a closer look at how they compare.

The NL East has a slightly higher win percentage in games outside its division. The NL East has won 56.1 percent of its games outside the division, one percent higher than the AL East. In July, the NL East outperformed its American League counterpart with a .609 win percentage outside the division, compared to .585 for the AL East. The two divisions also produced the two best teams in the league last month: the Boston Red Sox (10-3) and Philadelphia Phillies (11-5) had the two best win percentages against non-divisional opponents in July.

The NL East also outperformed the AL East in the category that measures strength of schedule. The two divisions have the top four teams in the MLB Relative Power Index, a metric that combines win percentage and strength of schedule. The Baltimore Orioles’ extremely low RPI hurt the AL East. The NL East did not have one team in the bottom third of the index.

The AL East and NL East had exactly the same score when it came to the Power Rankings. Four of the top six teams in the most recent ratings are from the east divisions, and resurgence of the Florida Marlins in July (17-10) helped in July’s rankings.

The greatest difference between the two divisions is in the category that measures player performances. The NL East has two more top-30 pitchers than the AL East, but its lack of power hitters hurt its ranking. As of August 1, the AL East has 10 position players ranked in the top 30 of ESPN’s MLB Player Ratings, including eight from the Red Sox and New York Yankees. Only Jose Reyes and Ryan Howard from the NL East ranked in the top 30. An injury to the Atlanta Braves’ Brian McCann and trade of Carlos Beltran hurt the NL East’s player ratings. (Both players appeared in last month’s top 30 batters.)

The trades of Michael Bourn to Atlanta and Hunter Pence to Philadelphia have the potential to increase the NL East’s player rating scores if these players can perform as expected. Other trades, such as Ubaldo Jimenez to the Cleveland Indians, have the potential to help one division and hurt another in the next edition.

Look for the NL Central, which lost more impact players to trades than any other division, to fall even further into last place. Both the NL West and NL East had teams involved in major deals, so expect them to reap the benefits in the ratings.

The Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds play the rubber game of their three-game series at Great American Ballpark at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN.

Last night, the Reds pulled away late, scoring seven runs in the seventh inning en route to a 11-2 win. The Elias Sports Bureau reports that the victory marked the first time they beat the Braves by at least nine runs since routing Atlanta by a score of 13-1 on July 28, 1998, at Cinergy Field. The two teams met 93 times since then, prior to Saturday.

Following their win Saturday, the Reds will be trying to win consecutive games for the first time since a three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 13-15.

With the loss, the Braves currently trail the Philadelphia Phillies in the standings by five games, the farthest they've been behind since June 26. After going 17-9 in June, they are just 12-7 in July and 5-4 since the break.

On the mound

Brandon Beachy takes the mound for the Braves, making his first start versus the Reds and just his 17th career start in the majors. Beachy struggled in his last outing, allowing a career-high six runs against the Rockies on July 19.

Beachy has been more effective against righties this year, limiting them to a .221 batting average and .651 OPS, compared to a .280 batting average and .836 OPS against lefties.

The slider has been his primary out pitch versus righties, and it's been a good one, as right-handed batters are just 7-for-44 (.159) with 19 strikeouts in at-bats ending in the pitch.

Against lefties, he’ll mostly use two offspeed pitches – a changeup and a curveball – but he hasn’t had much success with either. Left-handed batters are hitting over .300 (13-for-43) in at-bats ending in those two pitches.

Dontrelle Willis is making his third start this season for the Reds. The team has lost both of his previous starts, scoring just three runs combined in those games, while Willis has allowed four runs in 10.2 innings.

The key stat to watch for Willis is his walks and strikeouts. Though it’s early, his 9-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio is encouraging, considering that he hasn’t finished a season with more strikeouts than walks since 2007.

Though his rate of four walks per nine innings is still below the league average, it is less than half of what he produced in his previous three seasons, when he was walking nearly a batter per inning pitched.

Who's hot, who's not
Though Brian McCann was hitless in four at-bats Saturday, he's had a history of success against the Reds. McCann is hitting .340 and slugging .681 against them in his career, including 13-for-32 (.406) over the past two seasons.

Jason Heyward has struggled against lefty pitching this year, with a .167 batting average. After getting six hits in his first 19 at-bats (.316) versus southpaws, he’s hitting just .119 (7-for-59) against them since late April.

Sunday night slump

The Reds will try to snap a dubious streak when they take the field tonight, having lost their last seven games on Sunday Night Baseball. Their last win in the Sunday spotlight came on Aug. 13, 2000, a 3-0 win at the Cubs.

-- Katie Sharp and Mark Malzewski contributed

Braves in good hands with Jair Jurrjens

May, 29, 2011

The heat maps above show Jair Jurrjens' frequency of pitches on the outside half of the plate this season. He has pitched on the outside half effectively, particularly with the changeup.
The Atlanta Braves and the Cincinnati Reds are set to meet in a rubber match on Sunday Night Baseball. The good news for Atlanta: Jair Jurrjens takes the hill, sporting a 6-1 record to go along with an NL-best 1.56 ERA.

Jair Jurrjens
According to Elias, since the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, only three of their pitchers have had a lower ERA over their first eight starts of a season: Buzz Capra in 1974 (1.06), Greg Maddux in 1994 (1.13) and Tom Glavine in 2002 (1.50).

Jurrjens' eight straight starts of six-plus innings pitched with two or fewer earned runs is the longest such streak by a Braves pitcher to start the season in the live ball era (since 1920).

Why has Jurrjens been so effective? His ability to work on the outside of the plate has really helped him flourish this season. Taking a look at the heat maps above, Jurrjens' highest frequency in pitch location is on the outside corner of the plate to hitters.

His key pitch has been his changeup; 66.1 percent of the changeups he has thrown on the outside half of the plate have resulted in strikes, among the highest percentage for any pitcher this season. Entering Friday, only four pitchers had a higher percentage using the changeup on the outer half of the plate.

In his last start, 18 of his 27 changeups were thrown for strikes as he pitched 7⅔ scoreless innings in a win over the Pirates. On the season as a whole, he’s throwing his changeup for strikes 64.5 percent of the time.

Opposing batters are hitting just .209 in at-bats ending in a Jurrjens changeup, down from .330 last season.

He has also placed his fastball well on the outer half of the plate. In fact, 62.3 percent of his fastballs toward the outer half of the plate have resulted in strikes, ranking eighth in the National League among starters with a minimum of 200 such pitches through Thursday.

Another key to Jurrjens' success has been his ability to control the top of the order against his opponents. Batters in the top four of the lineup are hitting just .183 against Jurrjens. In fact, cleanup hitters are only 1-for-23 with two walks against him this season (.043 BA, best in MLB), including 0-for-their-last-9 (Ryan Howard has the only hit).

So what's Jurrjens kryptonite? No. 7 hitters are 10-for-23 against him, including 9-for-their-last-16. Among those to bop Jurrjens are Yuniesky Betancourt, Juan Miranda, and Chris Snyder, each of whom went 2-for-3 against him.

Opposing Jurrjens will be Johnny Cueto. Cueto has won six of his last seven decisions in the month of May. He was 4-0 with a 1.59 ERA last May.

The matchup to watch for Cueto is against Braves catcher Brian McCann. He has homered in each of the starts he’s made against Cueto.

McCann is a Reds killer. After his four-hit game Saturday, he’s now hitting .351 for his career against Cincinnati.
Tuesday was a day and night full of statistical oddities across the major leagues, especially in the National League Central.

• The Cincinnati Reds beat the Chicago Cubs 7-5, but did it in unusual fashion. The Reds scored their first five runs without recording an RBI, the result of three Cubs errors. The Reds ended the game with just two RBI, the first time a team has scored seven or more runs with two or fewer RBI in the past 25 seasons, and just the third time in the past 50 years.

• In defeat, the Cubs allowed seven runs, all of which were unearned runs.

They're just the fifth team since 2000 to allow seven runs or more, with none of them earned. Oddly enough, the Reds have been involved in the past three such instances -- winning two of those games.

• Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena hit another home run, his fifth of the season, and all five have come in the last 12 games.

During his rough 2010 season, Pena hit just .120 in the month of May, more than 100 points lower than he hit in April. This season, Pena has reversed that trend.

• Pena’s home run came in the first inning off Reds starter Edinson Volquez, who allowed three runs in the first frame. Of the 31 runs he’s allowed this season, 17 have come in the first inning. That's tied with Javier Vazquez for the most in the major leagues.

Volquez's ERA is 17.00 in the first inning and just 2.97 the rest of the game.

• Brian McCann came off the bench and provided all the offense for the Atlanta Braves in their win over the Houston Astros.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, McCann became the second player in major league history to hit a game-tying pinch-hit home run in the ninth inning and a walk-off home run in extra innings.

It was first done by Jeff Heath of the Boston Braves on August 27, 1949 against the Reds.

• Mark Melancon blew a save for the Astros, the team’s 11th of the season, the most in the National League. The Houston bullpen is last in the NL in ERA and saves.

According to Elias, the Astros have the worst save percentage through a team's first 16 opportunities in a season in the divisional era.

• Albert Pujols went 3-for-5 in the St. Louis Cardinals win over the Philadelphia Phillies, but has not hit a home run in his past 84 at-bats, the longest such streak of his career.

Stats & Info NLDS Preview: Braves-Giants

October, 4, 2010
A capsule stat-based preview of the Braves-Giants NLDS matchup

Top things to know

The Braves-Giants National League Division Series matchup will feature two of the best pitching squads in the National League. The combination of these elite pitching units and average-to-below average offensive lineups sets this series up to be arguably the lowest-scoring of the four.

The Giants ranked second in the National League in both starters’ ERA (3.54) and relievers’ ERA (2.99), while the Braves were fifth among starters (3.80) and third among bullpens (3.11). Both teams were consistently near the top of the ranks throughout the season, but the Giants’ run at the end of the season could prove to be the difference. During the crucial month of September – in the midst of the postseason meat grinder that became the NL West – the Giants posted a 1.78 ERA, holding batters to a paltry .182 batting average.

Deciding factor

The Braves lack of offense is not breaking news, but it’s the lack of power that could be most critical in this series. Both Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain posted the highest home run rates of their careers in 2010, making them arguably more susceptible to the homer than they’ve been in previous years.

Unfortunately, the Braves are sorely lacking power. They have the lowest isolated power (.143) and slugging percentage (.401) of any postseason team. Specifically, the team’s two best power sources – Brian McCann and Jason Heyward – have each seen their power go out down the stretch. McCann (2 HR, .326 slug pct) and Heyward (2 HR, .385 slug pct) both struggled in September and October, mirroring the team's season-long lack of power, and one that could spell trouble for the Braves.

Most interesting matchups

Two of the most compelling figures in this matchup are Braves closer Billy Wagner and Giants catcher Buster Posey. In his final season in the majors, Wagner put together arguably his best campaign, posting his highest Wins Above Replacement (WAR) mark since 2003. In addition, among those with at least 50 innings pitched in 2010, Wagner ranked second in the National League in strikeout rate at 13.5 K per 9, behind only Carlos Marmol.

Wagner was incredibly dominant versus left-handed batters, limiting them to a .071 batting average – just four hits in 56 at-bats - and a tiny .246 OPS. No home runs. No extra-base hits. Against right-handers, however, Wagner surrendered five home runs in 183 at-bats. That is certainly solid work, but noticeably less than his performance against lefties. This sets up a potential late-inning showdown between the southpaw Wagner and the right-handed Buster Posey. Posey dominated lefties this season, hitting .309/.367/.588 against them, with an OPS increase of over 120 points from his marks against righties. The two have faced each other just once – with Wagner forcing him into a groundout – but the postseason could bring a different result.

Statistical secrets

While much of the focus on the Giants offense centers around Posey and Aubrey Huff, perhaps the most dynamic player for the Giants was Andres Torres. A journeyman throughout his career, Torres blossomed in 2010 and his overall package made him one of the most valuable players in baseball.

Despite remaining under the radar for much of the season, Torres ranked second among National League outfielders in WAR – behind only Matt Holliday – and ahead of darlings such as Carlos Gonzalez, Jayson Werth and Heyward. A significant portion of that value was derived from his defense. He ranked first among all outfielders in Ultimate Zone Rating, a potential key advantage given the spacious parks at which this series will be played.

The fact that he missed nearly two weeks after undergoing an appendectomy, yet after returning to the lineup still hit two homers in eight games during the heat of a postseason race, is just another checkmark in his favor.

SIG's Picks

Albert Larcada of ESPN Stats and Info did statistical analysis of the last 10 postseasons, looking for the factors that most separate winning and losing teams. He found three: power hitting, front-end starting pitching and the ability to turn batted balls into outs. Using his findings, he was able to make a projection.

The Giants meet all necessary criteria for a good playoff team. Outstanding front-end starting pitching, the best defensive efficiency in the NL, and decent enough power from their bats. For the Braves-Giants matchup, Larcada's system picks the Giants in four games. He gives the Giants a 58.8 percent chance to win the series overall.

1st pitch: the oddities of August

September, 1, 2010
Today’s Trivia: Since September 1, 2009, Jose Bautista has 53 home runs. In the last decade, only three AL players hit 53 HR from one September through the following August. Can you name them?

Quick Hits: With August in the books, let’s take a look back at the statistical oddities of the month.

Miguel Cabrera was intentionally walked 13 times in August. Only the Philadelphia Phillies (17) and San Francisco Giants (14) had more intentional walks as a team. In fact, over the last 50 years, only Barry Bonds’ 15 IBB in August 2004 exceeded Cabrera’s total in that month. Over the previous 50 years, no Detroit Tigers player had more IBB than Bill Freehan’s six in August 1967.

• The Los Angeles Dodgers did not have a triple in August. Their last triple-less month was June 1985.

Eric Young Jr. had 66 at-bats in August and did not record an RBI. That’s the most in a calendar month without an RBI since Willy Taveras had 72 in September 2006.

• Overall, only 808 HR were hit in August, 170 fewer than 2009. In fact, it was the fewest home runs hit over a full August of MLB action since 1993.

• In his first full month in the majors, Houston Astros first baseman Brett Wallace was hit by more pitches (six) than anyone else. Over the last 50 years, Craig Biggio’s 10 HBP in August 1997 are the only greater total by an Astros player.

Felix Hernandez had a 0.82 ERA and 51 strikeouts last month. Over the last 50 years, only Tom Seaver (1973 Mets), J.R. Richard (1979 Astros) and Roger Clemens (1998 Blue Jays) have had 50+ K and an ERA below 1.00 in August. Would you believe King Felix’s two losses were not unprecedented in such a month? Seaver was 3-3 despite a 0.99 ERA.

Fausto Carmona allowed five sacrifice flies in August. Prior to 2010, he’d never allowed more than four over the course of an entire season.

• With 12 HR and 24 RBI, Jose Bautista led the AL in both categories in August. The last AL player to do that in August (without being tied in either category) was Rafael Palmeiro in 1999 (15 HR, 39 RBI).

Aramis Ramirez hit .579 (11-19) with runners in scoring position. He had entered the month hitting just .220 with RISP.

Today’s Leaderboard: From the perspective of opponents’ batting average, August’s top four pitchers come from two teams and one state. Oakland’s duo of Dallas Braden and Gio Gonzalez were tops in baseball, while the Padres’ Mat Latos and Jon Garland were the best in the NL.

Key Matchups: It’s good to be Brian McCann right now. For one, he is 7-for-10 with a pair of HR in his last three games. That figures to continue Wednesday against Mike Pelfrey, the pitcher he has faced the most in his career. McCann is 18-for-37 (.486 BA) against Pelfrey, including a single, two doubles and a home run in his last four at-bats against him. McCann’s eight doubles are twice as many as any other batter against Pelfrey.

Among those glad to see August in the rearview mirror, Tim Lincecum ranks among the happiest. Entering the month at 11-4 with a 3.10 ERA, he went 0-5 with a 7.82 ERA. Will September be kinder? Standing in the way on Thursday is Colorado, a team he’s 0-2 against this season. With a .455 BA, Todd Helton has been a tough out for Lincecum. However, it’s Chris Iannetta who has been the toughest out. In 22 plate appearances, the Rockies catcher has six hits and eight walks against Lincecum. That’s good enough for a .727 on-base percentage.

Trivia Answer: From September 2001 to August 2002, Alex Rodriguez had 60 HR. Through those same months in 2005-06, David Ortiz had 58 HR and Travis Hafner had 53.

When the improbable becomes probable

August, 26, 2010
In the Colorado Rockies' come-from-way-behind 12-10 victory Wednesday afternoon against the Atlanta Braves, their win probability (based on teams throughout history in similar situations) dipped as low as 1.2 percent in the fourth inning:

• The Rockies trailed 3-0 after the top of the first, meaning their win probability was 28.9 percent even before they came to bat.

• After the top of the second, the Rockies trailed 7-0 - a win probability of 7.0 percent.

• When Omar Infante homered in the third inning to give the Braves a 10-1 lead, the Rockies' win probability fell to 2.2 percent.

• With the score still 10-1, Brian McCann doubled leading off the top of the fourth, and the Rockies' win probability dipped to its lowest point at 1.2 percent.

• Trailing 10-6 in the sixth inning, the Rockies' win probability sat at just 15.5 percent until a Ryan Spilborghs two-run double increased it to 30.8 percent, cutting the score to 10-8.

• The Rockies' win probability did not get above 30.8 percent until the eighth inning, when Carlos Gonzalez’s two-run single tied the game at 10. The Rockies win probability jumped all the way from 24.9 percent to 61.2 percent with the hit.

• When Troy Tulowitzki followed with the go-ahead single to make it 11-10, the Rockies' win probability went up to 84.9 percent, and increased to 93.1 percent with Todd Helton’s RBI single providing the final run.

• The Rockies' win probability did not dip below 90 percent from that time forward as they closed out the Braves in the 9th.

The Cincinnati Reds' 12-11 victory over the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday featured several win probability swings:

• The Reds scored four runs in top of the first inning and had a win probability of 82.4 percent before the Giants even came to bat.

• After the Reds scored four more runs in the third inning to take an 8-1 lead, their win probability stood at 96.4 percent.

• When Homer Bailey singled to give Cincinnati a 10-1 lead in the fifth inning, the Reds' win probability was all the way up to 99.5 percent, its highest point until the game was over.

• The Giants cut the lead to 10-5 after six innings, but the Reds' win probability was still high at 97.4 percent.

• Even when Juan Uribe homered in the eighth to make it 10-8, the Reds still had a win probability of 85.2 percent.

• The biggest win probability jump of the game occurred on Andres Torres’ eighth-inning double, which tied the game at 10 and knocked the Reds’ win probability from 65.3 percent down to 26.2 percent.

• When Aubrey Huff’s sacrifice fly in the eighth gave the Giants an 11-10 lead, the Reds' win probability fell to 14.6 percent.

• The Reds entered the 9th inning trailing 11-10. After Ryan Hanigan flied out leading off the top of the inning, the Reds' win probability was at its lowest point at just 8.3 percent.

• After Drew Stubbs reached second base on an error, Paul Janish’s game-tying single in the 9th took the Reds' win probability from 21.9 percent up to 56.1 percent, the third-biggest jump of the game.

• The Reds took a 12-11 lead in the 12th inning on a Joey Votto single, which brought the Reds win probability from 48.1 to 84.9 percent, the second-largest win probability movement of the game.

• Torres came to bat in the ninth inning with runners on first and third and two out, with the Giants trailing 12-11. The Reds’ win probability was at 80.9 percent at this juncture. Torres grounded out to end the game, bringing the Reds’ win probability to 100 percent.

FanGraphs: The 2010 WAR All-Stars

June, 23, 2010
It's that time of year again: the time for hand-wringing about the way Major League Baseball selects its All-Star position players. Is there a way beyond all the gnashing of teeth about the alleged silliness of fan voting, stuffing the (virtual) ballot box, and so on? Maybe not. But there are more objective methods of measuring overall player value available to the public than in the past. Bloggers have come up with some ingenious suggestions for using multiple seasons or even full-blown projections to generate “true talent” All-Star teams, but let's take a more simple approach using FanGraphs' implementation of Wins Above Replacement to see what players have been the most valuable at each position in the league so far this season (as of June 22).

Joe Mauer is having a good season (if slightly disappointing for him) and just barely squeaks ahead of Victor Martinez. Mauer's teammate Justin Morneau, on the other hand, is having a season even Albert Pujols would be proud of. Robinson Cano is stepping out from the shadows of more celebrated Yankees by having a dominant season at the plate and being above average in the field. Marco Scutaro is having a well-rounded season at shortstop, even if his presence is also a testimony to the relative weakness at that position in the American League this season.

This is about what we've come to expect from Evan Longoria, and given that he is only partially through his third season, that we have such high expectations for him says as much about him as any other superlatives. Fellow Ray Carl Crawford is having a good year even by his lofty standards, and Alex Rios, coming off a disastrous 2009, looks like one of the best outfielders in baseball. Two Rangers round out the All-WAR AL All-Stars: Josh Hamilton is the third outfielder mostly on the strength of his recent offensive outburst, and Vladimir Guerrero still has enough left in the tank to outhit the rest of the primary DHs in the AL.

There isn't as much competition among the NL catchers, and Brian McCann is clearly the class of that group this season. Adrian Gonzalez, not surprisingly, is a major part of the Padres' current revival. Chase Utley is having a down season relative to his usual standard, but it's more than enough to be the best second baseman in the National League. Troy Tulowitzki is currently leading all NL shortstops but is also out for a couple of months, and Hanley Ramirez is right behind him at 2.2 WAR. Ryan Zimmerman is having another excellent year behind the veil of Strasburg mania. Marlon Byrd is playing less like the stopgap everyone thought he would and more like, well, an All-Star. Matt Holliday is the second best outfielder so far in the National League; despite not really having heated up with the bat yet, UZR is impressed with his glovework (in a small sample size).

The big surprise on the WAR leaderboards is the Giants' Andres Torres, a capable player, but not someone one would have seen as an All-Star before this season, in which he has played well on both sides of the ball. There aren't any “primary DHs” in the National League, of course, but Albert Pujols has been the most valuable hitter in the National League other than Gonzalez so far, and really, it would be laughable to have an All-Star Game without the best player in baseball, wouldn't it?

Matt Klaassen is a writer for FanGraphs.