The Giants ideally sweep LA like SD did last week, to separate some from the D-Rox and/or 'Dres, who are playing each other. However, it won't be easy to even win the series, which the Giants need to at least do, to keep up in the standings, as they face LA's top three starters, Kershaw (they juggled the rotation to put him in this series), Billingsley, and Lilly. If they should win the series, they would win the season's series from LA, as they currently stand 8-7 against their hated rivals, who has faded fast in the second half: as I noted in the last series, they have not won one series against a playoff contender in the second half so far and have continued that streak. Hopefully the Giants will continue that streak.
Game 1: Clayton Kershaw vs. Zito
D-gers: Kershaw opens a three-game set with the Giants. Originally scheduled to pitch Saturday at Houston, he had his start pushed back to Wednesday and was a tough-luck loser to San Diego. He limited the Padres to two runs but was outdueled by Mat Latos.
Giants: Zito hasn't won in 10 starts, but it hasn't been all his fault. Take Wednesday: He allowed two D-backs runs in six innings and even struck out seven but lost, 3-1. If he keeps it up, winning should take care of itself.Amazingly, he has faced the Giants only once before as a starter in SF and he did pretty well, 2 ER in 7 IP, and that was earlier this season. And as noted, he did very well in his last start, and has been the staff ace this season, with a 2.99 ERA this season.
Meanwhile, Zito has not had a good start in ages, though he has been better in his latest outings, because when he strikes out a lot, that is a good sign. Unfortunately, the baseball gods been making his batted balls fall in for hits lately, probably to even up his earlier performance in April, so his outings have been short.
Have to say that the D-gers probably got this one, unless Zito can actually deliver a DOM PQS game instead of coming close but no dice. He will need to step up in this game, but he appears to have regressed to his 2007-2008 level of performance where he's thinking too much about his results, about delivering, instead of just throwing strikes and hitting the target, unlike early in this season when he said he finally got to the point where he didn't care how the fans felt, he was going to have fun and not care as much. But he appears to be caring again, too bad, because we need him to return to his April form, much like Lincecum has returned to his April form.
This shows how crucial to have multiple aces in your rotation in the playoffs and a strong rotation top to bottom. If we lose this first game with Zito, then we need to win the next two to win the series, against tough starters. Anytime in the playoffs, we could throw Lincecum or Cain, and put us in excellent spot to win the series by winning that first game. Then you only need to win two out of four, while the loser has to win three out of four, which is daunting when the four is probably Cain, Sanchez, Zito, Lincecum. Or three out of six, while the loser has to win four out of six.
Game 2: Chad Billingsley vs. Cain
D-gers: Billingsley opposes Matt Cain in a battle of 11-game winners. He lost to the Padres, 4-0, in his last start, allowing four earned runs on six hits and five walks in 5 1/3 innings. It was his second five-walk game in three starts. He struck out six.
Giants: Cain got the Giants started in their successful series at San Diego, working two batters into the ninth inning last Thursday. With a 5-2 record and a 2.96 ERA in 11 starts since the All-Star break, Cain has been the team's most effective starter.
D-gers: Lilly, who was acquired from the Cubs on July 31, is 5-2 for the Dodgers but has lost his last two decisions. In Houston last Thursday, he took the 3-2 loss to the Astros, snapping his seven-game winning streak against Houston.
Giants: Sanchez has been on a roll, recording a 1.95 ERA over his past five starts. He has surrendered just 17 hits in 32 1/3 innings in that span, helping lower his opponents' batting average to .208.
Sanchez has been great recently. And he is basically tied with Bumgarner for the second best ERA on the team (3.29 vs. Bumgarner's 3.28), which most people don't realize, it seems, because so many people want to trade him. Sure, he has been up and down, but he has the stuff that makes hitters swing and miss or not hit as hard, he has no-hit stuff.
Not that he is as good as Sandy Koufax, but it took Koufax a number of years before he figured out how to harness his no-hit stuff regularly and consistently. Sanchez has a 3.29 ERA even though he's been erratic, so people obviously are remembering his problem starts and not when he has done very well. However, he has not done well against LA previously in his career: but more importantly, in his last start against them on September 5th, he totally dominated LA, 7 IP, 3 hits, 1 walk, 9 K's, in LA.
Both can be good, so I will have to call this even. But if Sanchez can get ahold of his talent and dominate, I would like the Giants chances to win. And based on recent performances, Sanchez looks like he could pull off the win. He has shown advancement this season, even his last start, even though it was short and wild, he was able to keep the scoring down to a minimum, and that is all you can ask of your starters when they just don't have it. He needs to step up in this start - again - and take out LA. But overall, have to call it even.
Like the series in LA, it is looking like LA should win this series based on the pitching matchups, as they send out their three best against the Giants, like SD, switching Kershaw so that he could pitch against the Giants. But they played just bad enough to lose at home, and now they are on the road, where they are a horrible 30-42, as well as continuing their streak of losing every series against a playoff contending team in the second half. They are just sinking and waiting to hit bottom. I expect them to play just well enough to lose the series to the Giants and continue to sink in the NL West. But with SD winning against COL Monday, the Giants look like they need to sweep to keep up and/or get ahead of both SD and COL.
But I think a series win will be enough. As DrB noted, the Giants look like they need to just stay steady and win every series if they want to make the playoffs. They look ready to do that in each series except for the one in Colorado, that will now be on par with their two series in the past month with SD, with the two teams battling it out to claim first place in the division.
The Giants have been pretty amazing this season. They have come back from games where they had no business winning. They have come back from bad losing streaks and bad pitching streaks and bad hitting streaks. Bad slumps from all players, including Posey. They were monster hot in July and so far so good in September. The starting pitching has been pretty good this month, and if Zito can join them in producing, the rotation would become great, not just good. The bullpen, as Baggarley noted today in the newspaper, has been great too. If they can maintain the heat, they should get into the playoffs over somebody.
Go Giants! Beat LA!
One topic I've been opining around is about how to handle Bumgarner. He is over his top IP from previous seasons now. When do the Giants pull him out of the rotation to protect his arm?
Some just want to shut him down because he is over. The Giants have already addressed this in an interview, they are going to monitor Madison closely, see how he is doing, game to game. I like that approach more than going by a set number. Both Cain and Lincecum went way over their previous IP highs in their first full season and it hasn't affected either. And the Giants sat down Lincecum when they thought he was done, though that wasn't in a pennant race, while now we are.
Bumgarner has three starts left, Brewers, Cubs, and then D-backs. Given that he was throwing 95 in his last start, late in the game, he seems to be strong still, so he's definitely pitching in the Brewers game. At worse, we could make the Cubs start a bullpen start where we just went out a bunch of relievers to eat up innings, which should be OK since the Cubs is now looking strongly at youngsters. Then with 9-10 days rest, he should be able to take the D-backs start.
I think Bumgarner is a horse. He is what I call "farm strong" and those pitchers just seem to have great strength and stamina. I think the Giants will go right by him, and I don't think he would continue to pitch if his body is telling him something is up, being a man of nature.
Also, he mentioned during the off-season that he threw a lot in between starts and theorized that this caused his loss of velocity. We now know that it appears more a problem with mechanics than tiredness from overuse. But he said that he would lay off throwing so much between starts, so we don't really know if he has actually thrown more pitches in 2010 so far than he did in 2009 because there is that iceberg of throwing that he did between starts in 2009 that we do not have a number for.
It would be interesting if a reporter would ask him to estimate 2009 vs. 2010 in terms of pitches and see where he thinks he is. I would pose the question myself to a reporter, but for some reason they have never been receptive to my list of questions (of course, part of it could be the length of the list, but the way I see it, they can pick and chose what they think are good questions to answer, I don't expect every question to be answered).
How to handle Bumgarner also affects another big question: the pitching rotation. According to Baggarley, if the rotation continues as is, the Giants would throw Zito, Cain, and Sanchez against SD in the final three games of the season, but with the off-day on Monday, they could push Zito to Friday to pitch against the D-backs, and push back Lincecum so that we have Lincecum, Cain, and Sanchez going against SD in the final games. Obviously, skipping Bumgarner and moving up the starters would make it harder to adjust the rotation to have Licnecum, Cain, Sanchez going against SD.
In addition, skipping Bumgarner would result in our starters having to start more games and putting more stress and work on the other starters' arms. That could tired them out for the playoffs, though of course one could argue the Giant won't make it unless they did that. I would not agree, I think having Bumgarner in the rotation gives us best chance to make playoffs, as it puts less games on arms plus means less starts for Zito.
I think it's best to keep rotation as is, but if Bumgarner needs to skip a start, bring up Pucetas to eat innings and hopefully not give up too many runs, then treat it as a bullpen game, bringing in the relievers to finish the game. Then we can adjust, having Zito face the D-backs, against whom he should be better able to handle and win against, while we then throw Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez at SD, make it tough for them.
Replacement of Torres: Multi-Dimensional Hole
Rowand and Ross are probably the main replacements, with Schierholtz perhaps getting a look if neither is working. Ross is clearly the guy to play versus LHP, he's excellent against them, then mix and match against RHP. That probably works OK offensively and defensively because Torres hasn't been hitting this month, so the upgrade offensively should match the drop-off on defense. Plus maybe play Guillen less and Schierholtz more in RF, to offset the defensive loss, particularly since Guillen has not heated up yet.
But the big question is who leads off? Rowand is the obvious choice only because he has done it, but he's not the ideal choice. Darren Ford would be if he were able to get on base OK, but he's not, he is not even that good in AA, how is he going to do it in the majors? Someone suggested batting Sanchez leadoff.
One choice, if Schierholtz plays more, is to use him in leadoff. He has some good speed, he had stolen double digits annually in the minors. The main problem is his lack of OBP. But the team was winning with Torres basically contributing nothing in the leadoff spot, so anything Schierholtz can provide would be a great improvement likely.
A radical choice would be to bat Huff at leadoff. His OBP is off the charts. And as a runner on the bases, in 2008, he actually generated plus value as a baserunner, unlike last season, where a lot of the negatives were because of hit and runs where he ran into a CS. He appears to be a smart baserunner when allowed to do that.
I don't know what the answer is. I would go with Schierholtz because if he can get hot, that would be another hot bat to carry us to the end of the season, plus he would provide some speed up top and good baserunning (at least according to Bill James Handbook on baserunning effectiveness). I would also be OK with going with Rowand, mainly because when he is hot, he can carry a team, unlike Schierholtz, who would still be complementary to the team's offense, not the instigator. Ross would be OK too, against LHP, where he just mashes and is great against.