San Francisco Giants Should Go with Barry Zito over Madison Bumgarner in Game 5

Ben LaymanCorrespondent IOctober 17, 2012

Oct 10, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Barry Zito (75) pitches in the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds in game four of the 2012 NLDS at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

The San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals split the first two games of the NLCS, and the series looks as if it could easily go seven games.

The Giants fought through controversy in Game 2 and appear to have what it takes to challenge the defending World Series champs.

San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy faces a difficult decision regarding whom his starting pitcher will be for Game 5, as he leans toward going with Tim Lincecum for Game 4 (h/t the San Francisco Chronicle).

Madison Bumgarner's recent struggles with effectiveness and velocity have Bochy second-guessing starting the young lefty. Barry Zito on the other hand has been the better play lately, and his postseason experience has to have Bochy leaning in his direction.

It might surprise fans to hear the Giants are even considering sitting one of the best young pitchers in Major League Baseball. However, Bumgarner has given plenty of reasons for his manager to hesitate giving him another start.

Here are a few reasons why Barry Zito should start over Madison Bumgarner in Game 5:

Bumgarner's Stuff Is Off

For a pitcher who normally features some of the best stuff in the game, Bumgarner's pitches have lacked the normal bite and velocity, and it's showing in his results. His 10 runs allowed in eight innings of work this postseason are uncharacteristic for a pitcher who is used to dominating lineups.

Bochy spoke about Bumgarner's stuff to Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle:

"If I thought his stuff had dropped that dramatically, I'd be worried about it," Bochy said. "He still has good stuff, but he's making mistakes. He still has the stuff to execute pitches. It's not like he's throwing 85, 86. His stuff is still good. His delivery is off sometimes. That concerns you a little bit."

Bochy is downplaying the concerns, but the team can't forget how young Bumgarner's arm is. Forcing a young starter to pitch through dead arm can lead to serious problems down the road.

Zito Is the Hot Play

If this was a fantasy baseball draft in March, then going with Bumgarner over Zito would be a no-brainer. However, over the past month Zito has been the more effective pitcher.

Zito had one of the best months of September for any starter in baseball, going 4-0 with a 3.03 ERA in 29.2 innings. How did Bumgarner fare over that same span? In five September starts, he was 2-2 with a 5.47 ERA in 26.1 innings.

Zito is unquestionably the hot hand to play right now. In the crazy world of October baseball, that's often more important than anything else.

Experience Counts in October

Beyond stuff and hot streaks, Zito brings more playoff experience to the mound than Bumgarner. His 3.45 ERA in 47 career postseason innings trumps Bumgarner's 4.71 ERA in 28.2 innings pitched.

When a decision is this close, the numbers can often make the decision for you. Zito is both the more effective pitcher now, and the better postseason pitcher. The Giants need to take care of Bumgarner and allow the stud to rest his golden arm.

The last time Zito faced the Cardinals he turned in a quality start. Zito's experience in October and recent success against St. Louis should tip the scales in his favor.

Considering all of these factors, the Giants would be wise to start Zito over Bumgarner in Game 5.