Looking At The San Francisco Giants’ NLDS Playoff Pitching Rotation


With a magic number that now sits in the single digits, it would take a near historic collapse for the Giants to miss the playoffs – so it’s time to start looking forward.

An upcoming ten game homestand (starting tonight) against the Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks could yield the National League West crown before the Giants travel south to complete their regular season, though it appears as if the Giants will have time to set their rotation for the National League Division Series either way.

August 13, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher

Ryan Vogelsong

(32) throws a pitch against the Washington Nationals ©Ed Szczepanski-US PRESSWIRE

Skipper Bruce Bochy isn’t going to have the easiest decision as to who to put in his rotation though, especially for the NLDS as the new 2/3 format breeds only one off day in the series, with the final three in the home park. Will they pitch a full four man playoff rotation? Will they go on short rest for Game 4 and 5 if needed? Many questions loom, but few are bigger than the actual rotation which seems to currently be up in the air.

Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner are obvious locks, and despite his early season struggles, Tim Lincecum would appear to be the third starter given his solid second half. Although he’s not pitching anything like the Lincecum we’re accustom to, nor will he open a series as he’s done in the past, leaving him out of the rotation doesn’t have any sound logic behind it (though I could see Bochy starting him at AT&T). That leaves the fourth spot between Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito.

Vogelsong had a fantastic first half, an All-Star snub who was, at least for a moment quietly in conversation for the Cy Young before his recent implosion. With a 2.22 ERA going into August, Vogey’s numbers have ballooned thanks to a rough few starts – now currently sitting at 3.65 after allowing 34 runs in his last 29 2/3 innings. Some of it has certainly been bad luck, a few unfortunate bounces and broken bats, but it hasn’t been pretty no matter how you try to slice it. That all said – Vogelsong still has swing and miss stuff as he’s struck out 38 in those 29+ innings, so is it a lack of concentration? Mental fatigue? So many questions – so few answers. We’re all rooting for Vogey to return to the Vogelsong we know.

On the flip side, Barry Zito has made his displeasure of being left of the Giants’ 2010 playoff roster no secret – a displeasure aimed at himself, not the Giants and Zeets has done everything in his power to make sure it doesn’t happen again. You have to wonder if it’s enough though, even with Vogelsong’s sub-par second half. Currently holding a 4.21 ERA, you  never know what you’re going to get from Zito. Will Bad Barry appear or will Zito channel the former Cy Young winner, as he’s done recently, allowing one earned run in his past thirteen innings. The hot and cold performances aren’t reliable and if you’re Bruce Bochy, can you risk throwing Zito out there in such a crucial situation?

As expected, both Vogelsong and Zito have been far better in the comfy confines of AT&T Park this season, Zito with a 4.01 home ERA while Vogelsong’s 2.95 is one of the better on the team. The split between Vogelsong’s ERA on the road though is quite drastic, sporting a 4.38 ERA on the road while Zito’s chalks up at 4.44 – a place where their playoff start would most likely happen unless the Giants secure the second seed (currently 4.5 behind Cincinnati).

Aug 18, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Barry Zito (75) pitches during the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

More likely that not, whomever doesn’t get the nod as the fourth starter (assuming the Giants opt to go with one – which isn’t written in stone) will be delegated to the bullpen as a long relief man if one of the starters struggles or is hurt. Both Zito and Vogelsong do have experience coming in as a relief pitcher, though, Vogelsong is more accustom to doing so as he made a handful of relief appearances for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2005 and 2006.

I’m not really sure there is a wrong answer here – both Vogelsong and Zito have shown an ability to get the job done when it counts, despite their slumps. Most would probably feel more comfortable with Vogelsong in the fourth starter role (again, if needed) and I’d venture to guess most would also feel more comfortable with Vogelsong out of the ‘pen if the Giants needed an extra arm to get some tough outs in the middle innings. If one falters, the other would be there to back them up, assuming the damage wasn’t too great.

Either way, if you’re the Giants – it’s a nice problem to have, a fallback if you need one. Manager Bruce Bochy may decide to run with Cain and Bumgarner on short rest – avoiding the dilemma, but if he doesn’t – the next two starts for both pitchers will be their final auditions.