Among Game 4 intrigue: Cox's last stand?
If Braves lose, venerable manager's career could be over
ATLANTA -- Three games in, and the National League Division Series between the Giants and the Braves has classic written all over it. Three one-run games, some brilliant individual performances and late-inning dramatics have made for extremely compelling baseball.
It could end on Monday, though, if San Francisco can pick up a second straight win at Turner Field. Otherwise, this exceptional series could get the fifth game it seems to deserve.
Here are a few storylines to watch as the fourth game approaches. It gets rolling at 7:37 p.m. ET, with a 7:30 p.m. broadcast start on TBS.
Who's at second? Braves manager Bobby Cox has a decision to make on his second baseman on Monday. Brooks Conrad has provided a spark this year, but his defense has become a significant problem. And that's the issue for Cox: Does he take his chances once again with Conrad behind another ground-ball pitcher? Or does he compromise his offense to bolster the infield?
Either way, it's a tough spot for the manager and his team. And either way, whatever happens with the Braves' infielders will be one of the stories of Game 4.
Early and late: Madison Bumgarner has a very tough act to follow. Giants starters have been unbelievably dominant in the series so far, allowing a grand total of one earned run. In 23 combined innings, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez have allowed two runs, one earned, on 11 hits. They've struck out 31 against just four walks. That's Josh Beckett-in-high-school stuff.
If Bumgarner can keep that up, the Giants will be in very good shape. Even with the scuffles in the past two games, San Francisco's bullpen remains one of the best in the game. The chances are very good that if the Giants hand a lead over to the relief corps, the series will end without going back to AT&T Park for another game.
Tough series for Conrad
Where's the power? A Giants offense that has relied heavily on the home run has been looking for the long ball so far in this series. Pat Burrell has San Francisco's only dinger, and that's certainly a part of why the Giants have scuffled to put runs on the board.
They may have their chance on Monday, though. Derek Lowe tends to do a fine job of keeping the ball on the ground and in the park, averaging one homer per 12.25 innings over his Major League career. When he pitches on short rest, though, it's been a bit different. In seven career starts on short rest, Lowe has allowed five homers in 37 2/3 innings. That's not a terrible ratio, but it's a lot more manageable for an opposing offense than one every 12 innings.
If the Giants hit homers, they'll likely win.
Farewell? Finally, it would be a dereliction of duty to list things to watch on Monday without noting the primary thing for which history may remember the game. If the Giants win, it will be Cox's last game. Cox has been one of the game's great managers for the bulk of the last three decades, not to mention one of its most colorful and popular figures. He will be missed when he's gone.
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.