Braves hitters lead the National League in home runs and strikeouts, but they’re not even close to leader Cincinnati when it comes to taking walks.
That’s been more of a problem since Atlanta’s early-season home-run outburst tapered off, and it was glaring again Saturday when another San Francisco pitcher, left-hander Madison Bumgarner (4-1), sliced and diced them for most of the way in a 10-1 Giants win against the Braves at AT&T Park.
Bumgarner had a season-high 11 strikeouts with only two walks in seven innings, and counterpart Paul Maholm didn’t make it out of a four-run fourth inning, which blew open what had been a one-run game and sent the Braves toward their 14th loss in 23 games since a 12-1 start.
“We should have a bunch more (walks) if we didn’t swing at so many pitches out of the zone,” hitting coach Greg Walker said Saturday morning, a few hours before the Braves swung at more pitches outside the strike zone against Bumgarner. “That’s our challenge, to get the ball in the zone. If we do that, we’ve got a chance.”
Coupled with Matt Cain’s eight-inning, two-run outing Thursday, it marked the first time since July 2012 that Giants starters had consecutive regular-season games with at least seven innings and fewer than three earned runs allowed.
“They swing, and they swing hard,” Bumgarner said. “So you keep mixing it up and try to throw good pitches.”
The Braves trailed by two runs when Evan Gattis doubled to start the fifth inning. Chris Johnson struck out, B.J. Upton walked and Gerald Laird struck out before Gattis scored on Maholm’s single, the pitcher poking an opposite-field hit to left to cut the Giants’ lead to 2-1.
But just as a six-run fourth inning against Tim Hudson doomed the Braves in Friday’s 8-2 loss, a four-run fifth gave the Giants a commanding lead Saturday before the 186th consecutive sellout crowd at AT&T. Maholm (4-4) was charged with eight hits, six runs and three walks in 4 1/3 innings.
“Obviously I didn’t make a few pitches, we didn’t make a few plays,” Maholm said. “We weren’t able to get anything on the board. They played better today.”
Marco Scutaro had the first of seven Giants hits in their big inning Friday and lit the fuse again Saturday with a one-out triple that got past right fielder Justin Upton when he tried to make a shoestring catch of the sinking liner. The ball rolled to the warning track.
With Jason Heyward on the disabled list, Upton has moved to right field when Evan Gattis is in left.
“You definitely have to make a decision pre-pitch on how aggressive you want to be, and hopefully you’re right,” Upton said, when asked about the ballpark’s spacious outfield. “From the jump I should have played that ball (conservatively) to keep the double-play intact. It was an error on my behalf. I was too aggressive on that ball.”
Braves bench coach Carlos Tosca said: “It’s a big outfield out there, and you’ve got the wind to play with, and we’re flipping and flopping him back and forth from left to right.”
Maholm hit the next batter, Pablo Sandoval, bringing up Braves nemesis Buster Posey with two on and one out. The South Georgia native doubled to the base of the right-field wall, with Upton racing back and jumping too soon on a catch attempt.
“With Posey in a 2-0 count, I have to make sure that I give him a little bit of room,” Upton said. “I was just too shallow. That ball carried and carried on me. Like I said, pre-pitch adjustments you’ve got to make.”
Maholm faced one more batter, walking Pence intentionally. Blanco pinch-hit against Cory Gearrin with the bases loaded and drove a ball to right-center that cleared the bases for a 6-1 lead.
The Giants added four runs in the eighth inning, including three charged to Anthony Varvaro.