NLCS: San Francisco Giants Pitching Preview

San Francisco’s season goes on. After a tremendous history-making comeback, the Giants are locked in for a league showdown against the St. Louis Cardinals (a team the Giants have some important history against), much to the chagrin of just about every person in Cincinnati.

But what did the Giants’ pitching teach us during the NLDS?

We had some amazing performances from a few unlikely candidates, and those pegged to dominate, weren’t really that dominant (besides Matt Cain’s stellar performance in Game 5).

The bad:

  • Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner combined to allow seven earned runs in the first two games, which isn’t that bad if you think about it. The thing is, in those two games, the Giants only scored two runs themselves, which all came in Game 1, thanks to a 9-0 shutout at the hands of a terrific Bronson Arroyo in Game 2.
  • Barry Zito’s resurrected career with the Giants this past regular season was just a feel good story. I mean the guy went 15-8, by far his best performance as a Giant since his inaugural season with the club. Though he more than made a case for his deserved spot in the postseason rotation, his performance in Game 4 didn’t go as well as expected. It wasn’t his worst start, however: He only gave up two earned runs off four hits, but you just cannot load the bases, and then walk the next batter in for a run. Not in a post-season game, especially when you‘re staring elimination right in the face. He walked four in just 2.2 innings, though he had a healthy four strikeouts as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if they left him out of the rotation for the Championship Series.
  • Jose Mijares might have gotten the most important strikeout of the series in Game 4, where he got the scary Joey Votto to swing and miss with two men on. That allowed Tim Lincecum to come in and record the last out of the inning, striking out the red-hot Ryan Ludwick, and preventing the Reds from taking the lead in the bottom of the 4th. But the one batter he faced in Game 4 doesn’t give his Game 2 performance a wash (it almost does), where he allowed three earned runs off two hits and a walk, not even able to record an out. Needless to say, we lost that game 9-0, so it wasn’t all his fault. But he will really need to bounce back the next time he’s called upon.
  • Guillermo Mota came in and did his job in Game 1, allowing one hit and striking out one batter. But it was Game 2 where he really did not help things at all, allowing two earned runs off three hits, while retiring only two batters on the teams way to being shutout 9-0. He’s been pretty effective since being re-instated from his suspension, so Bruce Bochy will probably be willing to give him more opportunities.

The good:

  • Tim Lincecum was awe-inspiring, and looked like the Lincecum of old. He completely understood his role, and ran away with the job. In just 6.1 innings of relief work between Games 2 and Game 4, he allowed only one earned run off three hits, walking none and striking out eight Reds. His efforts are extremely important, and have given Bruce Bochy some extra depth in the bullpen, something this team still needs. It also shows that he has been able to correct many of the mechanical problems he’d been struggling with all season. He had movement on all of his pitches, and the velocity was there. Also worth noting, is the fact that he seems to have his Lincecum swagger back, which is pivotal in keeping up performance and staying out of his head.
  • Ryan Vogelsong delivered, I think, beyond expectations. After a rough end of August and September, he bounced back in his final two performances in the regular season, finishing with a more than respectable 14-9 record to earn him a spot on the post-season roster. In Game 3, he was amazing. He was the first Giants pitcher to give us a shot at a win, tossing five quality innings of one-run ball off three hits and three walks, while striking out five. His performance in Game 3 was important in setting the tone for the rest of the game, as his counter-part Homer Bailey was almost perfect in keeping the Giants’ bats silent for a second consecutive game. He wouldn’t get the win, but in his first post-season pitching performance, he delivered just what the Giants needed to win.
  • Jeremy Affeldt, George Kontos, Javier Lopez, and Santiago Casilla have all been very effective so far. Between the four, they have allowed only twelve hits (six of them from Casilla), and one earned run, while walking only two. One earned run between four different relievers scattered between all five games? That is impressive, especially with how their team’s offense let them down in the first two games. These guys have really stepped up to give their team a shot at winning, and the nine strikeouts between the four helps as well.
  • Sergio Romo has blossomed from setup man, into a full-fledged closer. In three post-season appearances (Games two, three, and five) , he’s allowed only one earned run in 4.1 innings of work. Though he was only able to strikeout one, his one win and one save are tremendous, and are a testament to what this guy is able to do. That one strikeout, as it turns out, was the last pitch of Game 5, where Romo was able to battle off Jay Bruce with a twelve pitch frenzy, to get to Scot Rolen to end the game and close the door on Cincinnati. And funny enough, that lone run also came in Game 5, where he seemingly took on Brian Wilson’s persona and made it a very strenuous two innings, where runners were threatening to score from first and second both times. Now Santiago Casilla has been pretty good so far, allowing only one run in five appearances, but it has been Sergio Romo who has emerged as the new closer. Look for him to relish in his dual roles as setup man, and closer.

What does all of this mean as the team moves on into the next round?

Well for one, it shows the resilience of the bullpen and starting rotation. As it’s true during the regular season as well, one crack of the bat in October can mean the game, so for the bullpen (for the most part) to show they can keep batters unhinged late in games as we go into the Championship Series, is tremendous. It also gives Bochy extra confidence when he goes to pen.

Surely the Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals will be both different and difficult, but I have a feeling Bruce Bochy might not mix up the rotation too much. With Bumgarner and Vogelsong already named Game 1 and Game 2 starters, here’s the spin on why each pitcher will go where:

-Game 1 starter:

  • Madison Bumgarner- Though he does not have very good numbers against the Cardinals (0-2 with a 4.73 ERA in two starts this season), it would make sense to start Bumgarner for Game 1, as he would be pitching with the most rest, and gives Bochy an option to use Lincecum in long-relief if need be (and would still give Timmy time to rest should he make a Game 4 start).

-Game 2 starter:

  • Ryan Vogelsong- With the way he pitched in Game 3, I think he deserves to move up a spot in the rotation. He has great numbers against St. Louis, as he is 1-0 with no ERA, and pitched seven strong innings of three-hit ball for a shutout victory against the red birds this season.

-Game 3 starter:

  • Matt Cain- Though he wasn’t nearly as sharp in the NLDS Game 1 as he was in Game 5, he was still pretty good. Against St. Louis, he is 1-1 with a 6.94 ERA in two games, where he’d given up nine earned runs in just 11.2 innings of work. They will need their ace to start resembling his 2010 incarnation, where he didn’t allow a single earned run in 21.1 innings over three starts, if they are going to make a deep run into the World Series.

-Game 4 starter:

  • Tim Lincecum- I honestly think “the Freak” has forced Bochy to promote him from the bullpen. At this point, the way he’s pitched has been nothing short of phenomenal, and unfortunately would leave Barry Zito as the odd man out. It is definitely a possibility, but that’s just my take. Why wouldn’t you want Lincecum as an option as a long reliever? After all, Barry Zito does have good numbers against St. Louis this season: 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA in his lone start against them. But Zito might be out of luck because Game 4 could potentially mean elimination for either team, and I don’t think the team trusts him to be the starter in that situation, and at this point, Lincecum has proven to be far more effective in the postseason than Zito has.

No matter who starts what slot, the St. Louis Cardinals are a scary offensive team. Their starters (besides Adam Wainwright, who gave up seven earned runs in just eight innings of work this postseason), have been very conservative in giving up runs, surrendering only nine earned runs (eleven if you count Lance Lynn’s long relief performance in game 2) in the NLDS. In fact, their bullpen gave up almost half of that amount (five) during the same span, so the Giants will again need to continue to score relatively early.

The Cardinals’ projected 1-4 starters for the up-coming series goes:

-Game 1- Lance Lynn.

-Game 2- Chris Carpenter.

-Game 3- Kyle Lohse (who shut down the Braves for 5.2 innings to win the one-game make it or break it Wild Card match).

-Game 4- Adam Wainwright.

Rookie Shelby Miller has replaced injured Jaime Garcia in the rotation.

Now Jason Motte is scary, but so was Aroldis Chapman, and I think we all know how that turned out.

These shouldn’t be problems for the Giants, however, as they are 3-3 (including a monumental 15-0 rout back on August 8th), and are batting .281 as a team against St. Louis. Buster Posey, Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, Brandon Belt, and even Brandon Crawford all have excellent numbers individually against the red birds.

Not having to face Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman are also a huge plus in my book.

As long as our pitchers can hold down their potent lineup, the Giants’ scrappy offense, amazing defense, and October magic will get the rest of the job done.

It will by no means be easy, but this team is hungry for the pennant, and seem to have the Cardinals’ number. At least during the regular season, despite having an equal win/loss record against them.

Look for Hunter Pence to continue his rallying cries to ignite San Francisco’s bats and arms, on their way to further postseason glory.

Tags: Madison Bumgarner Matt Cain Ryan Vogelsong San Francisco Giants Sergio Romo St. Louis Cardinals Tim Lincecum

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