ATLANTA -- So much for that notion about a set lineup for the Giants.Two days after saying that the contingent he fielded for the first two games of the National League Division Series would be "pretty much the lineup that we'll be going with," manager Bruce Bochy benched third baseman Pablo Sandoval and replaced him with Mike Fontenot for Sunday's Game 3 against the Atlanta Braves. Offense was the first factor Bochy cited in explaining his decision. Sandoval was 1-for-6 with an intentional walk and two strikeouts in the series' first two games, continuing a year-long slump. Sandoval finished the season with a .268 batting average, 13 home runs, 63 RBIs and a .732 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage), compared with .330, 25 homers, 90 RBIs and a .943 OPS last year. "Pablo is searching a bit with his swing," Bochy said. "We did this a couple of times late in the season." Bochy acknowledged that he also considered defense in making the switch. In the eighth inning of Game 2, Sandoval committed a throwing error after fielding Melky Cabrera's slow roller, accounting for an unearned run in Atlanta's three-run rally that tied the score.
Addition of Saito a challenge for Giants
ATLANTA -- Mustering offense against Atlanta's relievers already has proven to be a challenge for the Giants' hitters. And the task might not get easier for them, even with Braves closer Billy Wagner being sidelined with an injured left oblique.The Braves named right-hander Takashi Saito, who has performed handsomely against the Giants during his five Major League seasons, to replace Wagner on the National League Division Series roster. Saito himself had been bothered by lingering shoulder discomfort. When healthy, he has compiled a 4-1 record with a 1.14 ERA and 14 saves in 31 lifetime appearances against the Giants, primarily as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 2006-08. Position players on the Giants' Division Series roster are a combined 8-for-35 (.229) with 11 strikeouts against Saito. Overall against the Giants, Saito has 31 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings. Given Saito's inactivity, he's unlikely to be used as a closer. Then again, it hasn't mattered which reliever the Giants face. Atlanta's bullpen has amassed 9 2/3 scoreless innings in the series' first two games, permitting six hits and striking out 11.
Giants not at home in Atlanta
ATLANTA -- Other than a magical visit in 2002, Turner Field hasn't exactly been a field of dreams for the Giants over the years.
The Giants won Game 5 of the 2002 National League Division Series to advance to the NL Championship Series, so their postseason mark at the Braves' home park is 2-1. But their overall record since the facility opened in 1997 is 18-36-1 -- yes, that includes a tie in August 2002 in a game that was called after a rain delay of 2 hours, 33 minutes and never concluded.
The Giants have won just one series among the 17 they have played at the venue, dropping three of four in their lone visit this season in August. The Braves boasted the best home record in the Majors this season at 56-25, though the Giants ranked third in the NL with a 43-38 mark, including 11-4 down the stretch.
Of more immediate concern for the Giants -- and the Braves, for that matter -- is the fact that the 4:30 p.m. ET start time will cause some issues with light and shadow in the early innings. Although the shadow of the stands should move beyond the mound by the time the game starts, the batter's eye in center field will remain bathed in bright light on a cloudless day well into the game.
"I'm sure it's going to make it a little bit more difficult on the hitters," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "Two good pitchers going, hitters will tell you, it's not easy to hit a Major League pitch. Then when you get in the shadows, it does make it tougher. But that's why runs are a premium, which they are anyway with the two staffs, the bullpens."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.