The Thursday Takeaway
Sixteen days ago, Matt Cain found his way into the Giants’ record books by throwing the first perfect game in team history. Now, his four rotation colleagues—Barry Zito, Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Lincecum, and Madison Bumgarner—have joined him by spearheading the team’s first-ever of run four consecutive shutouts.
The Giants’ 5-0 victory over the Reds last night marked their seventh win in 10 games, and it came on the heels of a three-game blanking of the rival Dodgers that left the teams tied atop the division. Combined with the Dodgers’ 3-2 loss to the Mets on Thursday, it put San Francisco alone atop the NL West for the first time this season.
The Giants have a lot of misplaced faith in the depth of their starting rotation.
Barry Zito is going through deliveries like frat houses go through 30-racks of beer. The latest version is supposed to add drop and drive to his delivery, giving him more momentum toward the plate, and perhaps putting some extra gas on his mediocre fastball.
Unfortunately for the Giants, their $126 million man is not an old dog up to new tricks. Zito has been using this trick—claiming he has altered his mechanics—for five years, giving fans futile hope that he might finally reinvent himself. It has not worked to date, and it probably will not work in 2012.
Rookie Madison Bumgarner pitches the Giants to the brink of a world championship.
ARLINGTON—Madison Bumgarner has just turned in the kind of performance that very few pitchers who have ever put on a major-league uniform have matched. Yet at game's end, it was hard to tell he had even been the winning pitcher.
The Giants outexecute and outmanage the Phillies in a nailbiter.
Well, that was fun. After a back-and-forth affair that took nearly four hours to christen a winner, the reputedly invincible Phillies find themselves one Giants win away from reserving tee times (or studying agriculture, or however players spend their off months these days) after a 6-5 loss in Game Four of the National League Championship Series on Wednesday night. In the first game of the series that didn’t feature a standout pitching performance, the Phillies’ bats didn’t roll over and play dead as they had in their previous losses, but their owners were left holding the short ends of the lumber nonetheless. What’s more, the victorious manager had a better game than his counterpart, and received a resounding assist from his most talented position player. However, before we can recount out how it all unfolded, we should rewind a few hours.
A breakdown of the pitchers taking to the mound for the day's slate of games.
NLCS Game Four: Phillies at Giants Joe Blanton: 4.82 ERA, 4.01 SIERA Blanton gets his first start of the 2010 postseason, and at first glance, he would appear to be a liability for the Phillies after struggling to get his ERA below 5.00 all season. However, with a 4.01 SIERA, Blanton gives the Phillies one of the best fourth starters in baseball to carry them in Game Four. His 2009 SIERA was even stronger at 3.92. The story that people tell about Blanton is that he is a mediocre, hittable pitcher, but that was before he increased his strikeout rate. In 2008, he had punched out only 11.3 percent of batters when the Athletics traded him to the Phillie then he increase that to 16.1 after moving to the National League. However, Blanton also walked more batters as a 2008 Phillie as well. In 2009, Blanton suddenly began punching hitters out—19.5 percent struck out against him, the best rate in his career. In 2010, he did not fall back much, continuing to strike out 17.6 percent of hitters faced. Unfortunately, Blanton had already allowed a lot of hits, and also struggled early when returning from an oblique injury, so he spent the rest of 2010 trying to bring down his ERA. However, the reality told by SIERA is pretty clear—the control pitcher from the A’s has become a well-rounded pitcher with the Phillies who can also strike hitters out. He even lowered his walk rate in 2010 as well, from 7.1 in 2009 to just 4.8. The Giants will have an easier opponent in Game Four than any other game in this series, but seeing Blanton as a soft spot would be a mistake. This pitching matchup is not decisive either way, and the Giants could be in for a surprise from Kentucky Joe.
In his final game as a manager, Bobby Cox went with his gut, and it steered him wrong.
Five-game series have a different dynamic when compared to their seven-game brethren, in particular when it comes to stress management. One loss represents 50 percent of your series-recommended allowance, so teams find themselves in desperation mode much quicker. After getting a gift win in Game Two to tie the National League Division Series, the Braves gave one right back to the Giants on Sunday in equally, if not more heart-breaking fashion. With his season (and career) on the line, manager Bobby Cox did not hesitate to make major overhauls to his Game Four approach on Monday night.
Two teams that took interesting rides to the postseason meet in the first round.
Those of you who root for chaos and the eventual heat death of the universe were no doubt disappointed that the season did not end with a series of one-game playoffs. To the Braves and the Giants, however, the outcomes of Sunday’s games were more than welcome. Their starters will receive an additional day of rest each, and they won’t entirely foreclose the possibility of pitching their Game One starters on short rest in Game Four. The condensed schedule of this series (potentially five games in seven days, rather than the eight allotted to the other NLDS) means Bobby Cox and Bruce Bochy will have tough decisions to make should the series go to four or five games.
What should you look for in the #5 battles in Tampa Bay and San Francisco?
The Tampa Bay Rays have three young pitchers in the mix for the #5 spot in the rotation. Wade Davis, 24, is the favorite according to HEATER Magazine's Ricky Zanker. 27-year-old Andy Sonnanstine, who started Game 4 of the 2008 World Series, is on the outside looking in, and the 23-year-old Jeremy Hellickson is on the outer rim as well.
Davis has impressed both in his 767 innings accumulated in six seasons in the Minors as well as in the 36 innings he pitched at the Major League level last year. In the Minors, he averaged nearly a strikeout per inning and finished with an aggregate ERA of 3.47 or lower every year since 2005.