And now the Giants’ season comes down to Barry Zito

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Two years ago during the Giants’ championship run Barry Zito wasn’t even on the playoff roster, but now he’s starting Game 5 of the NLCS tonight with their season on the line.

The good news is that the Giants have won 12 straight Zito starts dating back to August 7.

The bad news is that win streak included Zito failing to make it out of the third inning against the Reds in the NLDS and his overall ERA in those 12 starts is 4.04. In other words, he hasn’t exactly been the driving force behind the dozen consecutive victories.

It will be Zito’s ninth career playoff start, but he hasn’t thrown more than four innings in a postseason outing since the ALDS in 2006, when he tossed eight innings of one-run ball versus Minnesota. To get a sense of how long ago that was, Frank Thomas was the A’s cleanup hitter and Johan Santana started for the Twins.

If the Giants can win tonight they’ll have Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain lined up for Games 6 and 7, but first they’ll need Zito to earn a big chunk of his much-maligned $127 million contract.

No one pounds the zone anymore

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“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.

Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:

Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?

There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.

As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.