San Francisco Giants: How Should They Arrange Their Playoff Rotation?
The San Francisco Giants have been known for their pitching for a long time. But this year, the staff has regressed a bit.
All five pitchers have gone through rough patches this year, some longer than others. Even Matt Cain, he of the perfect game, 15-5 record and 2.86 ERA, has had his struggles. Madison Bumgarner has too, and Tim Lincecum has had a rough year overall.
However, despite all of that, the Giants are still 10 games ahead of the second-place Dodgers in the NL West and 25 games over .500. And, their pitching rotation is still dangerous. But what would make it more dangerous?
Arranging the postseason rotation the right way.
Here is my blueprint for what the Giants' playoff rotation should look like.
Matt Cain: NLDS Games 1, 4, NLCS Games 1, 5, World Series Games 1, 5
Cain has been phenomenal this year, and in my mind there's no doubt that he's the ace of the team. To reward him, he should start Game 1 of every postseason series (depending on how many playoff series the Giants play).
He leads the team with 15 wins, a 2.86 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP. He has a respectable 3.3 WAR, meaning he's definitely helping the team win. Cain has been the most consistent pitcher this year, and he has shown the ability to consistently log a giant amount of innings.
Even when he's not at his best, he manages to keep the damage to a minimum. Against the Diamondbacks on September 14, Cain was pitching horribly. But, by getting out of jams multiple times, he logged five innings and allowed only one run while getting the win.
His ability to do that should help the team, especially in spacious AT&T Park. If the Giants can't finish with a better record than the Nationals and Reds (the likely NL East and NL Central champions, respectively), then they will host Game 1.
Cain will be fully rested for the opener, and he'll be fired up. With the crowd on his side, it seems like there's no way he'll let the team down. Factor in his 2010 postseason success, and Cain is a lock to start Game 1 of each series.
Madison Bumgarner: NLDS Games 2, 5, NLCS Games 3, 7, World Series Games 2, 6
Bumgarner has struggled a bit lately, but he has always found a way to help the Giants.
The southpaw has impressive numbers this year; he is the proud owner of 15 wins and a 3.26 ERA. Opponents are hitting a meager .234 off him, and he boasts an impressive 1.11 WHIP. Oh, and he has also retired 181 batters by way of the strikeout, giving him an impressive K/9 rate of 8.20.
He hasn't done as good of a job as Cain when it comes to keeping damage to a minimum, and he has struggled on the road. However, at AT&T Park, he's been dominant. So, assuming that the Giants would be the lower-seeded team in the NLDS and NLCS, I strategically planned Bumgarner's starts.
Bumgarner would take the ball at home in Game 2, as he would either try to push the opponent to the brink of elimination or try to even the series. He would have the spacious ballpark to work with, obviously, so that would help. In Game 3 of the NLDS, he would have the home-field advantage as well.
If the Giants went five games in the NLDS, he would start that game on the road. However, he has proven to be capable of pitching well on the road, and he knows how to handle the playoff pressure.
He would take the ball at home for Game 3 of the NLCS, and at home for Game 2 of the World Series. With the fans on his side and the stakes high, Bumgarner always succeeds. So there's no reason why the Giants shouldn't let him take the ball in Game 2 of the NLDS at home.
Tim Lincecum: NLDS Game 3, NLCS Games 2, 6, World Series Games 3, 7
Tim Lincecum hasn't done well this year, but he seems to be a lock for the Giants' playoff rotation now. Why? Because he's dominated lately.
In four September starts, Lincecum is 3-0 with a 2.52 ERA, and 7-4 with a 3.06 ERA after the All-Star break. He has 183 strikeouts despite having a 10-14 record and 4.91 ERA, and he has looked dominant at times. His 9.36 K/9 rate is encouraging, especially because Lincecum will probably pitch in Cincinnati and/or Washington, both hitter-friendly ballparks.
However, his struggles have elevated Cain to the status of ace, and pushed Bumgarner past Lincecum to the No. 2 spot. Bumgarner's been great at home, so he would start Game 2 of the NLDS. Lincecum has won his last five road starts, and he's been able to put up great numbers away from the friendly confines of AT&T Park.
In fact, he has posted a 2-0 record and a 3.00 ERA in two second-half starts at Coors Field, probably the most hitter-friendly ballpark in the MLB. So, he would be ready to pitch in Washington or Cincinnati, both of which are paradise for hitters.
Lincecum has playoff experience, as he is 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA in five playoff starts and six playoff appearances. He will definitely be ready for the challenge, and I would expect him to have success. So, there's no reason why Lincecum shouldn't be in the Giants' playoff rotation, winning key games on the road.
Barry Zito: NLCS Game 4, World Series Game 4
Some Giants fans would have a problem with Barry Zito pitching in the playoffs. Others would love it.
Zito has done everything in his power to earn a spot in the Giants' playoff rotation, as he is 13-8 with a 4.18 ERA. He's been at his best in September, and the Giants have won his last nine starts. During that span, he is 5-0 with a 3.96 ERA.
He has playoff experience, and he is a former Cy Young winner. So, he should have Bochy's trust.
Unlike Ryan Vogelsong, the other competitor for the final spot in the playoff rotation, Zito has been at his best with the pressure elevated. Vogelsong has folded and lumbered through innings, while Zito has been consistent.
It's hard to leave a guy with as good of a story as Vogelsong out of the rotation, but it's even harder to leave a guy who has won his last five decisions and guided his team to wins in his last nine starts out. And there's no way Cain, Lincecum or Bumgarner will be left out.
Vogelsong has decent stuff, but when Zito is effectively using and locating his curveball, he is unhittable, especially to left-handed hitters. He is filthy when he's on his game, and his consistency is much improved. Because of his recent success, I see Zito as an easy choice to fill out the Giants' playoff rotation.
He would probably start one game at home and one on the road if the Giants make it to the World Series. Zito has shown that he can pitch well in any ballpark, although I'm sure he would love pitching at home. However, he is capable of winning a game for the Giants anywhere.
This article was originally posted on Golden Gate Sports.