Stable Pitching Key to Giants


The defending World Champion San Francisco Giants will be center stage this weekend as they host the Cincinnati Reds Saturday afternoon on FOX, and Sunday Night on ESPN's Game of the Week. That makes this the ideal time to check on in the surprise winners from 2010.

Things didn't start out particularly great for the Giants. There's often a post-World Series hangover for surprise winners. They have trouble getting up for regular season games. And, they've suddenly got a target on their backs because everybody wants to beat the champs. San Francisco has settled in lately though. You saw yesterday they had posted a 19-11 mark over a recent 30-game sampling. That brought them from below the .500 mark up to the top of the NL West…and in the championship mix once again.

The key, unsurprisingly, has been pitching. Look at what the starting rotation has done so far...

Tim Lincecum: 2.85 ERA in 13 starts
Madison Bumgarner: 3.23 ERA in 12 starts
Matt Cain: 3.36 in 13 starts
Jonathan Sanchez: 3.51 ERA in 13 starts
Ryan Vogelsong: 1.68 ERA in 8 starts

Sometimes injuries hurt you. Sometimes injuries help you. Barry Zito, a notoriously slow starter, was off to his usual poor beginning with a 6.23 ERA in three starts before getting sent to the disabled list. His spot went to Vogelsong…and Zito may never get it back! Instead of waiting to get some productivity from that spot in the rotation until after the All-Star Break. Vogelsong's basically become an additional ace on a staff of quality.

We've mentioned often in the past that the key to putting together a championship team is having an ace or two at the top of the rotation, and at least consistent inning munching at the back end. Too many contenders take a bad hit with their fourth and our fifth guys…and that's what ends up preventing them from making the playoffs. San Francisco currently has no back end. Maybe it's not a staff of overpowering Cy Young candidates this year. It's a group that's getting the job done.

One of our favorite indicator stats for quality is Strikeouts-Per-9-Innings. Pitchers who get a lot of K's can control their own destiny because they don't let bats decide what happens to the ball! There are occasional guys who can get by with guile and guts (though even those guys get more strikeouts than many realize). For the most part, the best hurlers are also flamethrowers…or guys with such a nasty breaking pitch that nobody can touch it when it's working.

Lincecum: 9.48
Sanchez: 9.44
Cain 7.77
Vogelsong: 7.04
Bumgarner 6.81

Lincecum is 3rd in the whole National League in this stat. Sanchez is fourth. Cain is top 20. Vogelsonng doesn't have enough innings to qualify for the rankings but he'd be top 30 with that mark. Bumgarner just misses top 30.

This is a staff that challenges opponents, and generally shuts them down.

Oh, we can't forget about the bullpen ace either:

Brian Wilson: 2.89 ERA, 9.32 K/9, 17 saves and 4 wins in 28 appearances

The Giants typically get seven good innings from their starters…then a solid bridge from the rest of the staff gets them to Wilson in the 9th inning.

Let's compare that to what's been happening with the Cincinnati Reds this season. Cincinnati won the NL Central last year before falling to Philadelphia in the opening round of the playoffs. They were supposed to contend again this year, but have fallen on hard times lately.

Bronson Arroyo: 5.28 ERA in 13 starts
Travis Wood: 5.72 ERA in 13 starts
Edinson Volquez: 5.74 ERA in 11 starts

These are the only three pitchers with double digits in starts. The Reds have been ravaged by injuries. And, Arroyo has been pitching through a bad back himself. Others with more than five starts:

Johnny Cueto: 1.93 ERA in 7 starts
Homer Bailey: 3.00 ERA in 5 starts
Mike Leake: 4.63 ERA in 9 starts

Three other pitchers have received starts as well as the Reds try to deal with their M*A*S*H* unit roster.

Notice how the K-rates aren't particularly scary once you get past Volquez:

Volquez: 9.00
Bailey: 6.60
Wood: 6.59
Leake: 6.39
Cueto: 5.98
Arroyo: 5.64

Everyone after Volquez would ranks behind Bumgarner of the Giants…and Bumgarner was the bottom guy on the Giants list.

Ace reliever Francisco Cordero has a stellar 1.48 ERA, so he's been getting the done. He is vulnerable to late game contact though with a K-Rate of just 6.53.

Here are the pitching matchups for this weekend's TV games:

*Saturday afternoon: Leake (Cincy) vs. Lincecum (SF)
*Sunday Night: Volquez (Cincy) vs. Sanchez (SF)

Note that “night” is a relative term. It will be a late afternoon start local time in San Francisco for the prime time national telecast on ESPN. Twilight should help both of those pitchers in the early innings.

Clearly San Francisco will be favorites in both games with home field, a pitching advantage, and much better form entering the series. Will Vegas have the prices in the right places? Or, will the Giants still have an edge as a favorite because oddsmakers have missed this recent surge? San Francisco has made money for Vegas bettors in each of their last three series…2-1 vs. Washington, 2-1 vs. Colorado, and 3-1 at St. Louis. (Note, they did lose the Thursday opener in this series when Bumgarner was barely outpitched by Reds ace Cueto).

JIM HURLEY may or may not have Reds/Giants as part of his final mix today. The slate you purchase here at the website with your credit card will offer the very best bets on the board as determined by our scouts, our sources, our stat handicappers, our trend guys, our computer programmers, and our Wise Guy connections. Other possibilities include Cleveland at the NY Yankees (Talbot vs. Colon), Boston at Toronto (Lackey vs. Morrow), Chicago Cubs at Philadelphia (Garza vs. Lee), and St. Louis at Milwaukee (Carpenter vs. Greinke in a great pitching matchup!).

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The NBA PLAYOFFS resume Sunday Night with Game Six in Miami. We'll run our stat preview for you right here tomorrow in the NOTEBOOK. A major release on either the side or the total will go up Sunday morning so you can pick it up along with your game day baseball. Will Dallas pull off a series stunner and take the trophy back to Big D after six games? Will Miami pull even and force a Game Seven on Tuesday Night? You know who has the answers!

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This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by and For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.


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