Just like the Major League Baseball season is long, a seven game playoff series is also long. There is time to lose, time to regroup, and time to recover and win. But… all the evidence suggests the National League Championship Series just got shorter for the San Francisco Giants with their 6-4 loss to St. Louis in the opening game.
You can point to the Giants’ NL Division Series down 0-2 come-back against the Reds as evidence of what can happen when a team is behind. Only that had never happened before. And as Yogi Berra might have put it, “there’s only so many never-happened-befores you get before it stops happening”.
The positive spin is that the Giants need only to take the next four of the six remaining games against the St. Louis Cardinals, and you don’t need a miracle to have that happen. What you do need is to have your starting pitching go 6 or 7 damage-free innings each start.
To that end, San Franciso Manager Bruce Bochy has his starting pitching lined up perfectly and it should be formidable: Ryan Vogelsong will start Games 2 and 6, Matt Cain will start Games 3 and 7, and Madison Bumgarner gets another shot in Game 5.
The Giants’ bullpen also showed off its stuff in Game 1 with 5.1 shutdown innings, allowing no runs, no hits, 1 walk, and striking out five Cardinal hitters.
Unfortunately, there is an 800lb negative spin sitting in the room.
Throughout the 2012 post season San Francisco’s starting pitching has given every indication it simply is not up to championship standards: in two games started Bumgarner is 0-2, 11.25 ERA, 2.13 WHIP; Matt Cain is 1-1, 5.06 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, and Barry Zito lasted 2.2 innings in his only start with a 6.75 ERA. Ryan Vogelsong has a 1.80 ERA in his one start, but he lasted only 5 innings and did not get the win.
The corollary here is that St. Louis big boppers Carlos Beltran, David Freese, Alan Craig, and Matt Holliday have indicated they are capable of taking advantage of any lapses in the Giants’ starting pitching. So there’s your 2012 NLCS set-piece: will San Francisco’s starters mound-up and get it done?
I’m going to go out o a limb and put all this in the “Seriously Troubling” file folder inside my “Go Giants” file cabinet.
Today in Game 2 San Francisco will be facing the recently (and repeatedly) rebuilt Cards’ starter Chris Carpenter. Around Carpenter’s various pitching arm medical procedures in recent years he went 15-5 in 2004, 21-5 in 2005, 17-4 in 2009 and 16-9 in 2010. Facing Carpenter will be a good test for the Giants starting line-up: if they can get him out of the game early it will start to put pressure on the St. Louis bullpen and their 95+mph arms.
And then the NLCS will go to a more familiar (and recently successful) best of 5 series.