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Turner Field, relief corps boons for Braves

Turner Field, relief corps boons for Braves

SAN FRANCISCO -- It will be tough for the Braves-Giants National League Division Series to top itself in Game 3, but even living up to the first two contests would make for quite a game on Sunday.

Following an off-day on Saturday, the two clubs will resume their taut competition on Sunday at Turner Field, as the only first-round series this year where one team doesn't have a 2-0 lead. Here are some of the storylines to follow when the series resumes:

Mighty 'pen: A stout bullpen was one of the Braves' greatest strengths throughout the season, and it hasn't disappointed in the NLDS. Atlanta relievers have turned in 9 2/3 innings of shutout ball already. And in the 11th inning on Friday, they finally got a lead to protect.

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Kyle Farnsworth didn't disappoint, finishing off the hard-earned 5-4 victory. Still, there's the question of what the Braves will do in the ninth if Billy Wagner is unavailable, which it appears he won't be. Perhaps rookie Craig Kimbrel's time is now. It would be a tough blow to go without Wagner, but Atlanta has no shortage of quality relievers.

Terrific at the Ted
Best home winning percentage in 2010 regular season
Rank Team Record Pct.
1. Atlanta Braves 56-25 .691
2. Minnesota Twins 53-28 .654
3. Philadelphia Phillies 54-30 .643
4. Colorado Rockies 52-29 .642
Detroit Tigers 52-29 .642
New York Yankees 52-29 .642
St. Louis Cardinals 52-29 .642

Top of the order: The heart of the Giants' order has hit reasonably well this series. The top of the lineup is another matter. San Francisco's offense lives and dies by the home run, and that's a much more effective tool when there are runners on base -- as we saw in the first inning on Friday.

To make that all work better, the Giants need their table-setters to do their jobs. Andres Torres and Freddy Sanchez are a combined 2-for-16 with one walk in the series. They need to get on base more often in order for the Giants to be at their best offensively.

Left of the dial: Having already slowed Atlanta with its two star right-handed starters, San Francisco now sends lefty Jonathan Sanchez to the mound. Against a heavily right-handed lineup, you'd think that would be bad news for the Giants. It's not.

The Braves hit worse against lefties than right-handers this season, batting .251 with a .334 on-base percentage and a .385 slugging percentage when facing left-handed pitchers (as opposed to .262/.341/.408 against righties). The issue, at least in part, is that left-handers have more success neutralizing the two most dangerous hitters in the Atlanta lineup.

Neither Jason Heyward nor Brian McCann struggles against lefties, but they both have a noticeable platoon split. And as Games 1 and 2 have shown, when you take Heyward and McCann out of the equation, the Braves sometimes struggle to score runs. When those two get involved and contribute, the offense works much better.

Home cooking: The Braves simply were not a good road team this season, posting the worst road record of any playoff team. At home, though, they're a completely different club -- their 56-25 home mark was the best in the Major Leagues. Atlanta scored 44 more runs at home than on the road, and allowed 39 fewer. It's hard to figure, given that Turner Field is a fairly neutral ballpark, but for whatever reason, the Braves are just a different team when they get back to Atlanta.

Only four times all year did the Braves lose home games on consecutive days. All they need to do is avoid a fifth occurrence, and they can force this series to a fifth game or even finish it off.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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