San Francisco Giants Should Stick With Plan: Start Zito, Pitch Lincecum Thursday
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Don't ask. It's a bad idea.
The only reason the suggestion even need be entertained is because it's already been put forward. People who over-analyze everything and think they know which of the final six games of the season will be most important are calling for the Giants to pull Barry Zito from the starting rotation and get Tim Lincecum two starts this week.
Some folks want manager Bruce Bochy to start the final week of the season by virtually announcing that Sunday's regular season finale against the Padres will be for all of the playoff marbles—thus, he absolutely needs Lincecum to pitch it.
Thank heavens panic-driven keyboard jockeys or armchair pitching coaches aren't calling the shots for San Francisco.
The Giants shouldn't alter their starting rotation in the final week of the season in order to get Lincecum two starts, including one on Sunday.
Monday's off day gives the Giants the opportunity to rejigger the rotation to pitch Lincecum on regular rest Wednesday against the Diamondbacks, then again on Sunday against the Padres to end the season. It also allows them to keep Zito from starting even one of the regular season's final six games.
The Giants have a young pitching staff that has bounced back from a horrible August. Fans insisting that Lincecum pitch Wednesday so that he can pitch again on short rest Sunday are assuming they know that the NL West race will come down to the last day of the regular season. They're also forgetting how poorly an apparently worn-out Lincecum pitched in August.
Lincecum's on track and he's pitching as well as he ever has. So, fans who believe that a sure-thing exists in the final week of the season are better off agreeing that Lincecum should pitch Wednesday against the Diamondbacks when his regular spot in the rotation comes around.
There are no sure things in the National League playoff race, obviously, but one can reasonably expect a strong outing by Lincecum against Arizona on Wednesday.
Mess around with the rotation to get Lincecum an extra start and suddenly the Giants are taking a starting rotation that has carried them to first place with six games left and turning it into a panic-induced hodge podge.
Jonathan Sanchez starts on Tuesday against the Diamondbacks, followed by Madison Bumgarner on Wednesday. Lincecum is due to start on Thursday. That leaves Matt Cain to open the San Diego series, followed by Zito on Saturday and Sanchez on Sunday.
The case can be made for keeping Zito out of the rotation, sure. But, that would be to overlook that the veteran left-hander has come within one out of three quality starts in his last four outings.
Quality starts? Zito? Three in his last four games?
Yep. A quality start only requires that a starter pitch six innings and give up three runs or fewer.
Zito got hit around in Saturday's loss to Colorado—that turned out to be a game the Giants should've won long after he was gone. Before that, though, Zito gave up two runs in six innings against the Brewers and just one unearned run in 5 2/3 in a 1-0 loss to the Dodgers. The lefty gave up two runs in six innings in a 3-1 loss to the Diamondbacks on Sept. 8. In fact, Zito struck out seven and walked just three versus Arizona.
Take a deep breath and admit that the Giants should've won Zito's start against the Rockies. And, really, could've won with two measly runs when he faced the Dodgers. Wins in those games and, all of a sudden, nobody's talking about re-working the rotation right now.
No one really wants the Giants' playoff fate to come down to Lincecum pitching on three days rest on Sunday. At least, no one in their right mind wants it to come to that. The fear that Zito will pitch poorly on Wednesday and that Sanchez will wind up pitching with a playoff spot on the line Sunday is what drives the notion to move Lincecum up one game to start on Thursday.
Oh, fans are also hoping Bochy is planning to manage for seven shutout innings from just four starters in every game this week.
The guy's a big league manager and he's going to manage under the assumption that the Giants will score runs on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday—enough, at least, that three well-pitched games will enable the club to sweep Arizona and keep the pressure on San Diego.
Then, Bochy will count on his team getting another strong performance from Cain against the Padres on Friday, followed by the club scoring enough runs Saturday and Sunday so that solid outings by Zito and Sanchez will vault the Giants into the playoffs. (It'll be all hands on deck Sunday if the playoff spot is on the line, so Sanchez will have every starter waiting to work if he or the bullpen needs help.)
It wasn't that long ago that some of the folks calling for Lincecum to pitch twice this week, once on three days rest, were saying he was done. Finished. Kaput.
They were even suggesting he rework his offseason conditioning program because, after that horrid August, it was clear that the two-time Cy Young winner needs to be stronger to pitch better down the stretch.
Now, those same people want Lincecum to pitch Wednesday, just so he can hump up and trot out again on Sunday in what they seem oddly certain will be a must-win game against San Diego?
When a pitcher is pitching as well as Lincecum is, the last thing he needs is to have his schedule changed. Can he pitch on regular rest Wednesday and, in theory, pitch well on short rest Sunday? Yeah, sure.
Can Bochy be certain that Lincecum won't pitch eight shutout innings and lose 1-0 when the bullpen yields an unearned run on Wednesday? No. If that were to happen and the Padres were to win on Wednesday, it would only increase the chances that the Giants entire season will rest on what happens on Sunday.
Big league managers in Bochy's position plan to make the next game a must-win affair. There's no more important game on the schedule than Tuesday's against Arizona.
It's foolish to think that the Giants can plan to earn a playoff spot by getting optimum performances from Sanchez, Bumgarner, Lincecum, and Cain in the final six games of the seasons. They might get six great starts from those four...or they might need six runs to even stay in the game on Thursday or Friday.
Build the rotation solely to get to a one-game season with Lincecum on three days rest on Sunday and the Giants are begging to find their season rest on the shoulders of Ramon Ramirez, Dan Runzler, or Santiago Casilla...on the season's final day.
Do the Giants want Zito and, at some point, the bullpen on Wednesday against the Diamondbacks?
Or, do they want to risk the chance that the Giants' fate will be determined on the last day of the season and rely on Lincecum, on short rest, and the bullpen against the Padres?
The five guys in the starting rotation have gotten this team to the brink of a playoff spot. Bochy's done a pretty nice job ignoring the media and fans who keep insisting he's a bonehead who just happens to have his club in first place.
Bochy and the Giants enter Tuesday's game one game up in the NL West. The most important game of the season, so far, was the Padres Monday night loss to the Cubs
If the Giants win the next most important game of the season Tuesday, while maybe the Padres lose, San Francisco's two games on top with five to go. Clearly, every game is important now. If the Giants win all six -- they win the NL West. No need to play for a must-win on Sunday.
Thursday's game against Arizona is a thousand miles away. Only someone who doesn't pay close attention to how the unexpected is the norm in a baseball playoff race can even see Sunday from here.
Stay with the rotation that's gotten the Giants to this point—and count on the offense and the bullpen that's done enough to put the Giants on the brink of a playoff spot.
Ted Sillanpaa is a Northern California sports writer and columnist. Reach Ted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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