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.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.