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Are the S.F. Giants Making a Mistake Starting Tim Lincecum in the Playoffs?

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Are the S.F. Giants Making a Mistake Starting Tim Lincecum in the Playoffs?
Denis Poroy/Getty Images
Tim Lincecum has allowed 11 earned runs in his past two starts.

Tim Lincecum has been the worst of the San Francisco Giants starting pitchers this season. 

After giving up five runs (four earned) with three homers in a 7-5 win over the San Diego Padres on Sunday (Sept. 30), Lincecum finished the regular season with a 10-15 record and 5.18 ERA. His 15 losses are tied for the third-highest total in MLB, while that 5.18 ERA ranks No. 88 out of 91 pitchers who have thrown at least 154 innings. 

Following Sunday's game, according to CSN Bay Area's Andrew Baggarly, Lincecum told reporters that the Giants said he will be part of the team's playoff starting rotation.

Is Giants manager Bruce Bochy making a big mistake by giving Lincecum a postseason start when he's had such a poor season? Lincecum allowed 11 earned runs over his past two starts, so he's not exactly going into the playoffs strong. Is Bochy making a decision based on loyalty rather than performance? 

Where exactly Lincecum will slot in to the rotation wasn't revealed, but he would likely be no better than the third starter after Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. Lincecum could even be the No. 4 starter if Bochy decides Ryan Vogelsong or Barry Zito is a better option for that third spot. 

Bochy might also opt for Lincecum's recent postseason experience—and success—over his other two choices. During the 2010 playoff run that ended with a World Series championship, Lincecum went 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA in five starts (six appearances). That includes a 2-0 record and 3.29 ERA vs. the Texas Rangers in the World Series.

Meanwhile, Vogelsong has never pitched in the postseason. Remember, his major league career wasn't very impressive until his breakout performance last season.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Will Ryan Vogelsong be in the Giants' playoff starting rotation?

Also likely factoring into Bochy's decision will be how poorly Vogelsong pitched during the second half of the season. In 14 starts, Vogelsong has compiled a 5.11 ERA. His September ERA was 6.46. 

However, Vogelsong may have corrected himself as the season nears its end. In his past two starts—both against the San Diego Padres—he allowed a total of one earned run over 12 innings. How Vogelsong looks in his final start of the regular season, scheduled for Wednesday (Oct. 3), might determine whether or not he makes the rotation. 

Zito hasn't pitched in the playoffs since 2006, when he was with the Oakland Athletics. In 2010, he was kept off the postseason roster, making him an expensive and somewhat surreal spectator while his teammates shocked baseball by beating the Rangers in five games.

While he pitched well in September, posting a 4-0 record and 3.03 ERA, Zito did allow 16 total hits over 11.2 innings in his final two starts.

Perhaps the Giants' NLDS opponent will factor into the decision to put Zito in the playoff rotation. A left-hander might prove more effective against the Cincinnati Reds, who have southpaw sluggers like Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. 

Had Lincecum pitched consistently terribly throughout the regular season, perhaps Bochy would have been more reluctant to put him in the playoff rotation. However, Lincecum was a far better pitcher after the All-Star break, going 7-5 with a 3.83 ERA. 

Before struggling in his final two starts, Lincecum had allowed more than three runs only once in his past 10 appearances, averaging six innings per outing.  

Could the Giants' NLDS opponent influence where Lincecum slots in the rotation? He faced the Washington Nationals twice this season, pitching only 7.1 innings and compiling a 13.50 ERA.

Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE
Tim Lincecum had more to smile about in the season's second half.

His start against the Nats at Nationals Park was particularly disastrous. Lincecum lasted 3.1 innings, giving up eight runs (seven earned) and nine hits. The results when he faced Washington at AT&T Park were improved, but still not terribly impressive. Lincecum pitched four innings, allowing four runs and eight hits. 

Lincecum didn't face the Reds this year, so there's little to go on. (Not that two starts vs. the Nationals constitutes much of a sample to judge either.) He pitched against Cincinnati once last season, giving up seven runs, seven hits and four walks in just four innings of work.  

With so little information to look over, Bochy will likely make his decision based on how he thinks Lincecum looks (and how Vogelsong and Zito pitch in their final starts). He seemed to like what he saw from him on Sunday.

"I thought Timmy had good stuff today," Bochy said to Baggarly. "Sure, he made a couple mistakes. But his command overall was better. He made some great pitches and he was around the zone for the most part with a good slider and breaking ball."

It's worth noting that Bochy stuck with Lincecum all season long, even as his performance nearly demanded that he be taken out of the starting rotation. If he didn't bail on Lincecum when he had justification to do so, Bochy probably won't do it during the playoffs. 

Still, the Giants skipper is surely hoping to be rewarded for his loyalty and persistence with some good pitching from Lincecum this postseason. Can he make his manager look good? 

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