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What the San Francisco Giants should expect from Mike Leake down the stretch

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If the San Francisco Giants hope to make a serious run at the playoffs this season, they’re going to need a strong stretch performance from newly acquired pitcher—and Friday’s starter against the Cardinals—Mike Leake. Leake was solid in his last start against the Pirates, going six innings and giving up just one earned run on a solo home run.

With Matt Cain struggling and Jeremy Affeldt back on the DL (from swimming with his kids, no less), the Giants are counting on Leake to continue making deep, quality starts through September.

So, how will Leake fit in with the 2015 Giants and what can they realistically expect from him down the stretch?

Like Tim Hudson, Leake is a sinkerballer who relies on control and keeping the ball down in the zone to get hitters out. He’s a classic groundball pitcher, inducing grounders on 50.1% of balls put in play. This means he should benefit from the Giant’s stellar defensive infield, which has ranked near the top of the league in fielding percentage this year.

Leake also has the reputation of being an innings eater, something the Giants desperately need in a rotation that often struggles to make it past the sixth. In 2014, he gave the Reds 214 innings over 33 starts, averaging almost 6.5 innings per appearance.

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Giant’s fans have been anticipating Leake’s first home start for what feels like months now, and when looking into his career splits at AT&T Park, it’s clear Leake should be as well. In five appearances in San Francisco (one in relief), Leake is 4-0 with a 2.59 ERA. AT&T is an extreme pitcher’s park by any metric, but Leake should feel especially at home at 24 Willie Mays Plaza.

Leake is currently scheduled to make around six starts the rest of the season, most of which will be against the NL West. He’s 7-7 in his career against the rest of the West but has particularly struggled against the first-place Dodgers, posting a 5.35 ERA.

Looking at his previous September playoff pushes with the Reds in 2012 and 2013, Leake was mostly solid but suffered a disastrous performance at the end of each season, in which he failed to get out of the second inning. Setting aside these two outliers, Leake gave the Reds deep appearances and nearly five quality starts (one outing was 5.2 innings) in seven combined appearances in September of ’12 and ’13.

With the Giants just 2.5 games behind the Dodgers heading into the final month of the season, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic that Leake can be a quality number two or three starter down the stretch. He’s shown an ability to go deep into games in the middle of a playoff race, and while his starts against L.A. may prove a bit nerve-racking, Giants fans should be excited for Leake’s upcoming starts during the team’s push to repeat.

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