The Giants are heading into the playoffs and there are still many questions about how this team will look once the games start on Saturday. The NLDS begins before the first pitch though as roster and rotation decisions still need to be made.
The first, and probably most debated question, is the post season rotation. Matt Cain is a lock for the Game 1 duties and manager Bruce Bochy has already made this announcement.
Game 2, I like seeing Zito take the mound. Since a rough outing in Houston to end August, Zito has been 5-0 in 6 starts, he’s struck out 29 in 35 2/3 innings while only walking 9. His ERA is 3.03 during that span and 3 of those runs were runners he was allowed to put on to start innings before being pulled. If Bochy just goes to the pen in those games, Zito’s ERA over that span is 2.27. The Giants have won 11 straight times when Zito has taken the mound and Zito has won in each of his last 5 starts. He’s pitching with passion and I think he deserves the ball in Game 2 in front of the San Francisco crowd.
That said, Madison Bumgarner has been the #2 on the team all season. He’s been lights out at home and scary on the road. Against the Reds, Bumgarner threw a 1-hit complete game shutout in San Francisco earlier this year. Zito has faced the Reds both at home and on the road and stymied them each time despite the Giants losing each game. While I believe Zito has earned the Game 2 start, the smart play is to put Bumgarner in front of the home crowd and hope Zito doesn’t get bit by the long ball on the road (12 HRs Allowed in 83 innings).
Game 4 is where the debate gets interesting. Time Lincecum is a 2-time Cy Young winner. He pitched one of the most amazing games I’ve ever seen when he shut down the Braves to kick-off the 2010 NLDS. Unfortunately, that Timmy is long gone. Today we have a pitcher who has failed to complete a game this season. He’s posted a Quality Start (6 innings or more, 3 runs or less) only 13 times out of 33 turns. It looked like he had turned a corner in the second half before the Diamondbacks and Padres lit him up for 12 runs (11 earned) in 10 innings over his final 2 starts. His fastball is gone, his control is erratic, and you have no idea what you’ll get when he’s on the mound.
On the other side you have Vogelsong. He’s set to take the bump tonight against the Dodgers who will likely trot their starters out for an at bat but quickly replace them with younger players. Vogelsong stumbled mightily from the m idle of August to the middle of September, watching his league leading ERA of 2.27 balloon to 3.65 over the course of 7 shaky starts. Once the Giants clinched, The Giants were able to insert a spot start and get Vogelsong a little extra rest. He’s responded with 12 solid innings, only allowing 1 earned run over his last two starts. Does shutting down the Padres mean he can tame the bats of the Nationals or Reds? We’ll see, but Vogelsong seems to be the best bet for the rotation at this point.
4 Starters – Cain, Bumgarner, Zito, Vogelsong
The Giants bullpen is a much easier call. Romo and Lopez have the back of the bullpen locked up. Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt are the tier below them. Mijares, Mota and Kontos fill in the middle. These 7 guys can finish any game as far as I’m concerned, especially if the starters can get 6 innings. Do the Giants include Hensley or Penny to provide depth? Can Lincecum help in the pen? Let’s circle back to this after the position players are determined.
7 relievers – Romo, Lopez, Casilla, Affeldt, Mijares, Mota, Kontos.
The lineup is also fairly set thanks to big performances by many of the starters down the stretch. No need to waste time when there’s no debate: Posey, Belt, Scutaro, Crawford, Sandoval, Blanco, Nady, Pagan and Pence are all in. Blanco and Nady have been a serviceable platoon in left and if that’s the big weakness on the offense, I can live with that. Hector Sanchez and Joaquin Arias are the shoe-ins as backups. Now comes the real debate as to how the roster is filled out.
11 position players – Posey, Belt, Scutaro, Crawford, Sandoval, Blanco, Nady, Pagan, Pence, Sanchez, Arias.
With three spots left, the Giants need to get the most bang for their buck. Infield depth would be a plus and Ryan Theriot has done everything he’s been asked this season, even stepping aside as Scutaro has taken a firm hold of the 2B job. A fifth outfielder is essential. Can Huff be that outfielder? Not having set foot in the field since returning, I find this to be a bit of a stretch. Justin Christian can play the field but his bat is anemic at best. Francisco Peguero has the tools to be a solid player, but does he have the experience? In the end I think it’s a risk worth taking. Peguero has speed, versatility and can swing the bat. While Huff might be more of a threat at the plate, he’s useless on the bases and in the field.
That brings it down to the final spot. Where do the Giants need the depth? Another position player helps with late inning substitutions but an extra arm in the pen can be the difference. Do the Giants keep Huff as a designated pinch hitter? Penny or Hensley could be long relievers in case a starter needs to be bailed out or simply eat innings in the case of a blowout. What about Lincecum filling that role? In the end, I think you have to go with Lincecum. He’s been tested this season but I’d still rather see him for one batter than Hensley or Penny.
3 Wild Cards – Theriot, Peguero, Lincecum.
There it is, 25 players to make a run at the World Series. I like the depth and versatility this roster provides the Giants. Late inning moves could get interesting as Bochy has the option of moving players around a bit (Belt in the OF? Posey at 1B?) and we are sure to see a lot of this bullpen.