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.

2017 Preview: The American League Central

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For the past few weeks we’ve been previewing the 2017 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the American League Central

Do the Indians have a weakness? Do the Tigers and Royals have one more playoff push in them or do they have to start contemplating rebuilds? The White Sox and Twins are rebuilding, but do either of them have a chance to be remotely competitive?

As we sit here in March, the answers are “not really,” “possibly,” and “not a chance.” There are no games that count this March, however, so they’re just guesses. But educated ones! Here are the links to our guesses and our education for all of the clubs of the AL Central:

Cleveland Indians
Detroit Tigers
Kansas City Royals
Chicago White Sox
Minnesota Twins

2017 Preview: The National League East

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For the past few weeks we’ve been previewing the 2017 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the National League East

The Washington Nationals crave a playoff run that doesn’t end at the division series. The Mets crave a season in which they don’t have a press conference about an injured pitcher. The Marlins are trying to put the nightmare of the end of the 2016 behind them. The Phillies and Braves are hoping to move on from the “lose tons of games” phase of their rebuilds and move on to the “hey, these kids can play!” phase.

There is a ton of star power in the NL East — Harper, Scherzer, Cespedes, Syndergaard, Stanton, Freeman — some great young talent on ever roster and, in Ichiro and Bartolo, the two oldest players in the game. Maybe the division can’t lay claim to the best team in baseball, but there will certainly be some interesting baseball in the division.

Here’s how each team breaks down:

Washington Nationals
New York Mets
Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves