Braves-Giants Preview

The Associated Press

Though the Atlanta Braves have enjoyed some recent success in San Francisco, they understand their key four-game series against the surging Giants won't be an easy one.

While the Braves try for a fifth consecutive win at AT&T Park, Barry Zito looks to continue his career success against them and help the NL West-leading Giants to a fourth straight victory overall Thursday night.

Atlanta (71-53) is atop the NL wild-card standings, but needed a 5-1 win Wednesday at East-leading Washington to snap a four-game skid. The victory could provide a huge boost for the Braves, who head to San Francisco, where the Giants return after sweeping Los Angeles to complete a 5-1 trip and take a 2 1/2-game lead in the West.

"I think if we were heading out to the Left Coast having lost five in a row, there's always that little check in your spirit in the back of your mind," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "This win allows us to take a deep breath and hopefully build some momentum going out West.''

Though the Braves were outscored 20-7 while dropping two of three at home to the Giants (69-55) from July 17-19, they swept a three-game set at San Francisco last year after winning Game 2 of the NL division series there in 2010. Right fielder Jason Heyward, 7 for 14 with a homer and three RBIs at Washington, went 7 for 12 with a home run and four RBIs at AT&T Park in 2011.

Heyward, however, is 0 for 6 and Jones is 2 for 12 against Zito (9-8, 4.42 ERA), who is 4-1 with a 2.03 ERA in six starts versus Atlanta. The left-hander allowed three hits in seven innings of a 9-0 win at Turner Field on July 17.

Zito, though, will make his first appearance against the Braves at AT&T Park, where he is 0-3 with a 6.86 ERA in four starts since beating the Dodgers on June 25. His latest outing came at San Diego on Saturday when he gave up four runs in four innings of an 8-7 win.

Manager Bruce Bochy, however, has been happy with Zito, and is confident based on the veteran's track record against the Braves.

"He's tough. I mean mentally tough," Bochy told the Giants' official website after Zito's start at Atlanta last month. "He's done a great job for us."

Joaquin Arias had three hits and five RBIs in San Francisco's 8-4 win over the Dodgers on Wednesday.

"We came here with the mindset we needed to win,'' said third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who had two RBIs. "(There are) a lot of games coming up so we need to keep fighting.''

Arias is 9 for 16 with two homers and eight RBIs in his last five games.

It's uncertain if All-Star catcher Buster Posey will be in the lineup after he was scratched Wednesday with tightness in his right hamstring. Posey is 1 for 11 in his last three games but 7 for 12 with three doubles and six RBIs against the Braves in 2012.

He's just 1 for 7 against scheduled starter Tommy Hanson (12-5, 4.27), who allowed three runs in 6 2-3 innings of a 4-3, 11-inning win over the Dodgers on Friday in his first start since missing more than two weeks with a lower back strain.

"I was happy with how I threw, but I know I can throw better," the right-hander told the Braves' official website.

Hanson, who has gone 3-0 in his last six starts despite a 6.00 ERA, is 2-0 with a 3.24 ERA in four starts - including the postseason - against the Giants.

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