SAN FRANCISCO — Took a jog along The Embarcadero this morning, the Bay on the left and Coit Tower on my right, and passed a homeless guy (I assume) who sat with a change box and holding this sign: “Let’s be honest. I just need a beer.”
The guy deserved a six-pack just for the honesty, but I didn’t have one on me.
Now some of you are probably going to flip on the Braves’ playoff opener tonight and think, “Let’s be honest. We’re just happy to be here.” And you would be correct. I’ve been in several winning locker rooms after championships before and I’ve never witnessed a greater eruption of pure joy than I saw in the Braves’ clubhouse last Sunday after players watched the San Diego Padres lose to San Francisco on television, enabling Atlanta to clinch the National League wild card berth.
But now that the Braves are here, is it really so far-fetched to think they won’t win this series against the Giants? Not at all. They have a solid chance to move on against (almost certainly) Philadelphia in the NLCS.
The Giants are good but not overwhelming. The Braves have three strong starting pitchers (Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson) and a solid bullpen. Their lineup has been depleted by injuries and their defense has been shoddy, but this is a team that has found unusual ways to win all season and led the majors in final at-bat victories (25) and the National League in come-from-behind wins (46, two less than the New York Yankees).
Besides, Braves’ fans should be aware of how anything can happen in the postseason, particularly in the first round, given the number of NLDS exits during the 14-year division title run (five).
Lowe has been rolling of late (5-0, 1.17 ERA in September) and he’ll need to roll tonight because he’s opposed by the Giants’ two-time Cy Young winner, Tim Lincecum. The Braves’ best chance this series is to win low-scoring games. Offensively at least, their key player could turn out to be first baseman Derrek Lee, the late-season acquisition meant to make up for the loss of Chipper Jones. Lee was a member of the 2003 Florida World Series team, as was shortstop Alex Gonzalez.
Another obvious key bat: Catcher Brian McCann: I’ll get into this more later in the game column but McCann is one of only three players on the active roster from the Braves’ last playoff team in 2005. He was a rookie when he hit a three-run homer off of Houston pitcher Roger Clemens in the NLDS. Also on that team was Hudson and reliever Kyle Farnsworth (who obviously left and was reacquired). It’s pretty amazing that the team has turned over that much.
Before I turn it over to you, I have run into some Braves fans here (but not many).
Jerry Brewer of Roswell, whose son plays baseball at Centennial High School and trains at the instructional school of Howie McCann (Brian’s father), was outside the stadium Thursday, looking for a ticket. “I was going to be here on business anyway and then Sunday happened, so lo and behold I’m here,” he said.
Brewer actually planned to attend the Friday game. “I’m literally swinging through town on the way to Stockton,” he said. “I tried to do StubHub but the prices kept going up. So I figured I’d make one last-ditch effort and see if I could find a scalper. My best hope is that the Braves win tonight so prices will go down for [Friday's game].”
Will Lopez lives in San Francisco but became a Braves fan through his grandmother, who originally is from Atlanta. “I started following them when they had Jeff Blauser, Walt Weiss, Fred McGriff,” he said. “I think they’ve got a
good chance. They’re a young team and fun to watch. Even though it’s Bobby Cox’s last year, hopefully this will be a trend.”
Braden Bates, 24, who’s from Sacramento, came to the game with his girlfriend Sarah Rodriguez, who bought him a Braves shirt for his birthday. “They’re the first team I can ever remember cheering for,” he said. “I was a pitcher in high school and college so I guess I just latched onto them. John Smoltz was my favorite player.”
His outlook on the series: “They’ve got it in the bag. This [Giants] team hits a lot of ground balls and their playing a team that gets a lot of ground balls defensively.”
Way to break it down. Now we’ll see how it really goes.
Any thoughts before the first pitch?