SAN FRANCISCO -- Multiple storylines are guaranteed to unfold before the Giants and Atlanta Braves begin their best-of-five National League Division Series on Thursday at 6:37 p.m. PT on TBS and MLB.TV at AT&T Park. The convergence of the NL's top Rookie of the Year candidates, Atlanta's Jason Heyward and San Francisco's Buster Posey, will be analyzed. Giants left-hander Barry Zito will be asked about his former Oakland teammate, Atlanta right-hander Tim Hudson, and vice versa. And everybody will be asked about Bobby Cox, the venerable Braves manager who's retiring after this season. "I look forward to the matchup, seeing Bobby," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
Immediately after clinching the NL West title with Sunday's 3-0 victory over the San Diego Padres, however, the Giants were celebrating themselves, not dwelling on the Braves. "Not right now," second baseman Freddy Sanchez said amid the revelry in the Giants' clubhouse. "We know they're a great team. But we don't play them until Thursday. Right now, we're just going to enjoy this." Though Bochy wouldn't announce his pitching rotation for the Atlanta series, it's reasonable to assume that Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez will pitch the first three games. Bochy likely will have to decide between Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner for Game 4 on Oct. 11. The Braves, who won the NL Wild Card, will have a considerable edge in October experience. San Francisco will appear in its first postseason since 2003; by contrast, Atlanta hasn't reached the playoffs since '05, but that ended a streak of 14 consecutive postseason appearances (excepting 1994, when a work stoppage ended the season prematurely). "They're used to being there," left-hander Jeremy Affeldt said. "Bobby Cox is a great manager and they're not going to roll over, that's for sure." The Giants will approach the NLDS in slightly less-than-ideal physical condition. Second baseman Freddy Sanchez has been bothered by a strained right shoulder, and shortstop Edgar Renteria has been nagged by a sore right elbow. Center fielder Andres Torres, the team's offensive catalyst as its leadoff hitter, apparently has recovered from an Aug. 12 appendectomy, though there's an unspoken fear that he could aggravate the tightness in his left side. Bochy also indicated that catcher Buster Posey, first baseman Aubrey Huff and left fielder Pat Burrell could use the rest. "I'm not a huge fan of three days off," Bochy said, referring to the break before Thursday's opener. "I'll say this, Buster and Huff and Burrell need two days." The Giants' brain trust will need time to select its 25-man NLDS roster. Bochy said that San Francisco likely will operate with an 11-man pitching staff, meaning that some of its capable relievers could be vulnerable to being rendered inactive. The same goes for a position player or two. Assuming the Giants use an 11-man pitching staff, five spots exist for position players other than the regulars and backup catcher Eli Whiteside. But since rosters expanded on Sept. 1, the Giants have been playing with a 10-man bench of Renteria, Travis Ishikawa, Nate Schierholtz, Mike Fontenot, Emmanuel Burriss, Eugenio Velez, Cody Ross, Ryan Rohlinger, Aaron Rowand and Darren Ford. Atlanta won the season series against the Giants, 4-3. Torres (6-for-17, .353) and Pablo Sandoval (.333, 9-for-27) were San Francisco's top offensive performers against the Braves. Others struggled, including Sanchez (2-for-17, .118), Huff (2-for-23, .087) and Posey (1-for-11, .091). Martin Prado was Atlanta's top hitter against the Giants (6-for-12, .500) during the regular season. Alex Gonzalez and Heyward each homered twice.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.