Focus quickly shifts to Braves

The Giants’ white-knuckle, hair-raising, ulcer-inducing season will extend to the playoffs after the team once again tested the resolve of its followers by making things as dramatic as possible with a final-game victory over the San Diego Padres on Sunday.

Now that a spot in the postseason has been wrapped up — the team’s first appearance since 2003 — the Giants’ focus will have to quickly shift from celebration to preparation for their upcoming divisional playoff series against the Atlanta Braves.

By virtue of its victory on Sunday, San Francisco not only avoided a three-team quagmire for the National League’s final playoff spot, it also established home-field advantage for the first round against the Braves, who qualified for the postseason Sunday via the wild card.

Making matters even rosier for the Giants, two-time NL Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum is expected to take the hill for
Game 1 of the series on Thursday night at AT&T Park. Lincecum, who endured a nightmarish August, was dominant in his six September starts, racking up a 5-1 record with a 1.94 ERA.

The Braves will send veteran starter Derek Lowe to the mound to face the Giants in Game 1, which is slated to start at 6:37 p.m. Game 2 will be at the same time on Friday at AT&T Park. The Giants’ Matt Cain is expected to oppose the Braves’ Tommy Hanson. For Game 3, the series will shift back to Atlanta on Sunday where Jonathan Sanchez will take the mound for the Giants against Braves ace Tim Hudson. Game 4, if necessary, will take place Monday in Atlanta.

If the Giants had lost Sunday, they would have been forced to travel to San Diego for a one-game playoff. By virtue of their win, the team wrapped up the No. 2 seed in the National League playoffs. The Phillies, who captured the NL East with a 97-65 record, will host the Cincinnati Reds, winners of the NL Central with a 91-71 mark.

Now that their spot in the playoffs is secure, the Giants will focus on winning the World Series for the first time in 56 years. The franchise has yet to capture a championship since moving to San Francisco in 1957.

With their starting pitching humming along and their bullpen consistently shutting down opposing bats, there is no reason the 2010 Giants can’t end the franchise’s lengthy title drought, said Giants’ closer Brian Wilson.

“Now that we’re in the postseason, you don’t want to face us,” said Wilson, who recorded his 48th save on Sunday, tying Rod Beck’s team record. “Because we’re nasty right now.”

Sunday’s victory not only broke the franchise’s six-year playoff absence, but it also ended the personal droughts for several Giants players, most notably Aubrey Huff, an 11-year veteran who will play in the postseason for the first time on Thursday.

“I can’t really find the words right now,” said Huff, who played 1,478 regular-season games before making the playoffs, the third-longest active streak in the majors. “This place is exactly where I want to be.”

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

National League Division Series

Thursday
Atlanta (Derek Lowe 16-12) at Giants (Tim Lincecum 16-10), 6:37 p.m.

Friday
Atlanta (Tommy Hanson 10-11) at Giants (Matt Cain 13-11), 6:37 p.m.

Sunday
Giants (Jonathan Sanchez 13-9) at Atlanta (Tim Hudson 17-9), time TBA

Monday
Giants at Atlanta, time TBA (if necessary)

Oct. 13
Atlanta at Giants, time TBA (if necessary)

Atlanta BravesOther SportsSan Francisco Giantssports

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