Giants will have to weigh Tim Lincecum start in Game 2

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After beating the Reds in Thursday’s dramatic Game 5 to advance, the Giants can’t wait too long to start thinking ahead to their NLCS rotation. Whether they face the Cardinals or Nationals, it seems pretty certain that they’ll set it up so that Madison Bumgarner pitches Games 1 and 5 and Matt Cain goes in Games 3 and 7. That leaves three starts open for Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito.

After being passed over for the NLDS rotation, Lincecum pitched his way back into the picture by allowing one run and amassing an 8/0 K/BB ratio in 6 1/3 innings out of the pen against the Reds. He earned the win in Game 4.

Of course, the Giants also won both of the starts from Vogelsong and Zito in the series. Vogelsong bounced back from a shaky first to allow one run in five innings in Game 3. Zito was pulled after just 2 2/3 innings in Game 4. He walked four and was charged with two runs. Still, he’s the team’s good luck charm: the Giants have won each of his last 12 starts.

The matchups could play a role in the Giants’ thinking. The Cardinals were significantly better against lefties than righties this season, while the Nationals were pretty much neutral  Vogelsong, for what it’s worth, was outstanding in his one start against St. Louis and terrible in his one start against Washington this year. Lincecum struggled twice against the Nats and never faced the Cards. Zito had one quality start against the Cards and never faced the Nats.

The least likely scenario has the Giants giving Zito two starts in the NLCS. My guess is they’ll pick between Vogelsong and Lincecum in Game 2 and then weigh the other against Zito in Game 4. One would think Lincecum is worthy of the second chance to start. However, the Giants could hold him back and use him in middle relief initially, postponing a decision on whether to start him in Game 4.

Marcus Stroman named World Baseball Classic MVP

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United States starter Marcus Stroman was named Most Valuable Player of the World Baseball Classic after helping lead the U.S. to its first ever WBC title on Wednesday night in an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico. Stroman flirted with a no-hitter through six innings, but gave up a double to lead off the seventh before being relieved by Sam Dyson.

Stroman also pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic in Pool C play on March 11. He struggled in Pool F play against Puerto Rico last Friday, surrendering four runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The WBC MVP award understandably goes to a player of the winning team. However, Wladimir Balentien of the Netherlands deserves special mention. In 26 at-bats during the WBC, he hit a double and had a WBC-high four home runs, 12 RBI, and 12 runs scored while putting up a .615/.677/.1.115 batting line. That’s MVP-esque as far as this tournament is concerned.

U.S. blanks Puerto Rico 8-0 to win first World Baseball Classic title

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The United States handed Puerto Rico its first loss in the World Baseball Classic, winning 8-0 for its first title in the fourth iteration of the tournament.

Puerto Rico starter Seth Lugo was matching Marcus Stroman zero-for-zero through the first two innings, but the U.S. broke out for a pair of runs when Ian Kinsler deposited a two-run home run just beyond the fence in left-center at Dodger Stadium. The U.S. tacked on two more in the fifth on RBI singles from Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen, pushing the lead to 4-0.

Meanwhile, Stroman was dealing. The right-hander, normally seen in a Blue Jays uniform, held Puerto Rico hitless through his first six innings, giving up just a lone walk. The U.S. put together a long rally in the top of the seventh, scoring three runs on three hits, two walks, and a hit batter. Stroman came back out for the seventh but immediately served up a double down the left field line to Angel Pagan. U.S. manager Jim Leyland immediately lifted Stroman from the game, bringing in Sam Dyson who escaped the inning without any further damage.

Pat Neshek allowed a leadoff single to Yadier Molina to begin the eighth, but induced a double-play, then worked around a two-out walk by striking out Kenny Vargas to end the frame.

In the ninth, David Robertson took over. He induced an infield pop-up from Enrique Hernandez. After Pagan singled up the middle, Francisco Lindor sharply grounded out to Eric Hosmer at first base for the second out. Finally, Robertson closed it out, inducing Carlos Correa to ground out to third base, making the U.S. 8-0 victors over Puerto Rico to win the World Baseball Classic.

Puerto Rico had an admirable run, defeating Venezuela, Mexico, and Italy to get out of Pool D undefeated. Then, in Pool F, it beat Venezuela again as well as the U.S. and the Dominican Republic to move to the semifinals. It narrowly edged Netherlands 4-3 in the semifinals to get into the finals.

The U.S. lost to the D.R. but beat Canada and Colombia to get out of Pool C. In Pool F, the U.S. lost to Puerto Rico and defeated the D.R again as well as Venezuela. The U.S. took down Japan in the semifinals to advance to the finals to play Puerto Rico.

The U.S. joins Japan (twice, 2006 and ’09) and the Dominican Republic (2013) as countries to win the World Baseball Classic. The 2017 tournament was a rousing success, setting attendance records, drawing over one million fans to ballparks to take in the games. It will hopefully encourage commissioner Rob Manfred and others to make a concerted effort to make the 2021 tournament bigger and better.