Matt Kemp is off to an MVP caliber start
The San Francisco Giants travel to Los Angeles to face the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers lead the Giants by four games and this will be the first time the Giants' pitchers will face Dodgers' superstar Matt Kemp.
The Giants have some momentum, as they have won two straight, including a thrilling extra inning victory on Sunday, against the Brewers.
The Dodgers, on the other hand, endured a lengthy rain-delay in Chicago, then proceeded to lose a tough extra inning battle against the Cubs, as Javy Guerra blew a ninth-inning lead.
We will see how the Giants' pitchers attack Kemp, who is off to a monster start in 2012. Kemp leads the league in home runs with 12 and runs scored with 28. He also has 27 RBI, which is 12 more than the nearest Giant, Pablo Sandoval, who is on the disabled list due to hand surgery.
Kemp is also leading the league with an .816 SLG and an incredible 1.286 OPS. This tells you that when Kemp hits the ball, he is hitting it with authority and doing major damage to the opposition.
Starting the three games for the Giants in Los Angeles will be Barry Zito, Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum. Let's take a look at how each pitcher could attack Matt Kemp.
Barry Zito is off to his best start as a Giant
Throw all the previous stats out the window, as Giants' starter Barry Zito is off to a better start than at any time in his previous five seasons in San Francisco.
Zito has thrown 30.2 innings and allowed only 21 hits. His ERA of 1.76 and WHIP of 1.11 are excellent. Zito has walked 13 batters, which includes seven in his last outing against the Marlins.
Against Matt Kemp, Zito must keep the ball in the ballpark, which means spotting his pitches and keeping them down and away to the right-handed hitting slugger.
Zito has had better command of his fastball thus far this season, which is critical, as his average velocity of 84-85 mph is not going to scare anybody.
Zito's breaking pitches are the key to his success. When he throws them for quality strikes, he can get people out. When he misses with these pitches, he falls behind hitters and will get rocked.
Zito must try to keep Kemp off balance by varying his speeds and locating his pitches effectively. The other thing he needs to remember is that walking Kemp is not a bad thing. If this happens, Zito simply must concentrate on getting the next hitters, usually Ethier and Rivera, out.
Ryan Vogelsong looks to duplicate his 2011 season
Ryan Vogelsong was the surprise of the 2011 season for the Giants. The journeyman pitcher came out of nowhere and emerged as an All-Star.
Vogelsong went 13-7, with a 2.71 ERA and 1.252 WHIP, last year. In 179.2 innings pitched, he allowed only 164 hits, while striking out 139 and walking 67.
In 2012, Vogelsong began the season on the DL, due to a back injury suffered while lifting weights at the start of spring training. His season is not off to a great start, but by the same token, Vogelsong has not been awful, either.
Thus far, in 26.1 innings, Vogelsong has allowed 24 hits, while striking out 25 and walking 12. The walks have hurt Vogelsong and he must do a better job pitching to contact if he is to be successful.
When Vogelsong is right, his pitches have a lot of movement and downward bite. He has allowed an average of less than one home run every nine innings, which is good for a pitcher without an over-powering fastball.
Against Kemp, Vogelsong must run his fastball in on the hands of Kemp and keep his breaking pitches down and away. The only worry here is if he allows one of those fastballs to leak out over the plate or hangs a curveball, Kemp will hit it a long way.
It will be important for Vogelsong to get ahead of Kemp so he cannot sit on a pitch or a location. If he falls behind, like in the case of Zito, there is no sense challenging Kemp, just put him on.
Vogelsong has the stuff to get Kemp out, but if he makes any mistakes, Kemp will make him pay.
Tim Lincecum has not pitched up to his usual standards
Tim Lincecum will pitch the third and final game of this series. He needs to get off to a good start, as he has been susceptible to giving up a lot of runs in the first inning of his outings.
It has been the norm to see Lincecum allow three runs in the first inning of his early season starts. He then settles in and pitches better, but he must focus on getting off to a better start against all of his opponents. You just cannot spot a team a big lead and expect to win many games.
The main issue with Lincecum this year has been his decrease in velocity and the sporadic command of his fastball. Lincecum has been averaging about 89 mph on his fastball and only occasionally reaching 91 or 92.
In addition, Lincecum has not been able to command his fastball down in the strike zone, often sailing high and wide. This allows hitters to sit on his change-up and be more selective on when to swing at it.
Lincecum is currently 2-2 with an ERA of 5.68 and WHIP of 1.516. In 31.2 innings of work, Lincecum has 33 strike outs, but has also allowed 31 hits and 17 walks.
The drop in velocity is somewhat alarming, as Lincecum now must have even better command of his pitches to get people out. With hitters doing a better job of fouling off pitches because of the decrease in fastball velocity, Lincecum is also going deeper in counts and his pitch-counts are going up very quickly.
When facing the Dodgers and Matt Kemp, Lincecum will need to recapture the command of his fastball and hopefully find his mechanics than enable him to throw it with better velocity. If he fails to have an upgrade in velocity, then spotting the fastball down in the strike zone will be critical to his success.
Against Kemp, Lincecum needs to be able to throw his fastball for quality strikes. If he can do that, then his devastating changeup, curve and slider become much more effective.
If Lincecum is unable to command his fastball, then Kemp will sit on the off-speed stuff and that spells doom. Lincecum is a big-time pitcher and we'll see if he can rise to this occasion.
The Giants need Buster Posey to drive in more runs
The Giants-Dodgers rivalry dates back to New York and was one of the fiercest in all of sports. When both teams moved to the west coast in 1958, the rivalry continued in earnest.
We have seen some great games and incredible players grace this rivalry over the years, but for the past couple of seasons, some of the lustre has come off.
The Dodgers were struggling and their ownership was a mess. As they floundered, the rivalry also lost some of its intensity. The Giants vs. Dodgers is always at it's peak when both teams are doing well.
That is now the case. The Dodgers lead the NL West and look to be legitimate competitors. The new ownership in Los Angeles will also be aggressive to spend money to help ensure the Dodgers will be contenders for years to come.
With both teams being solid contenders for the division crown, this rivalry is heating up once again. This is one of the things that makes baseball fun.
I'm looking forward to the series and these two teams battling it out for the NL West title.