San Francisco has won 12 straight starts with Barry Zito on the mound.
UPDATE (Oct. 18): San Francisco has made a pitching change for NLCS Game 4 with Tim Lincecum taking the mound in St. Louis. Giants manager Bruce Bochy will reportedly follow Lincecum with Barry Zito in Game 5.
Thus far in the postseason, one of San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy’s biggest gambles has paid off.
But it’s time for the Giants to roll the dice one more time against St. Louis.
The pivotal Game 4 of the NLCS takes place on Thursday night at Busch Stadium, with the Cardinals playing host to San Francisco. First pitch will be at 8:05 p.m. (ET).
The gamble for Bochy? Starting lefty Barry Zito (15-8, 4.15 ERA) once again, with Tim Lincecum at the ready out of the bullpen. Meanwhile, Redbird skipper Mike Matheny will go with Adam Wainwright (14-13, 3.94 ERA), himself a bit shaky in last Friday’s deciding Game 5 of the NLDS vs. the Nationals.
It’s the Zito factor, however, that continues to intrigue on so many levels for the Giants. Remember, San Francisco has won an astounding 12 straight games started by the vet lefty, who, nonetheless, has rarely been dominant in that stretch. Instead, the Giants offense has been perking up considerably in games started by Zito, who has been aided by almost six runs per game of support over that stretch of wins.
Zito’s success over the past two months, however, prompted Bochy into including him on the postseason roster after the southpaw was left off of the active playoff list two years ago, when the Giants won the World Series. But Zito has only been part of the San Francisco postseason equation. Another intriguing element has been former two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, whose inconsistent efforts over the course of the regular season prompted Bochy to exclude him from the playoff rotation, relegated to the bullpen instead.
So far, at least, that has worked like a charm for Bochy, as Lincecum has seemed relaxed and focused in his new role, and absent many of the control problems that recurred – especially in the early innings – throughout the regular season. In eight innings of postseason work, Lincecum has issued just one walk, as well as a mere two hits and one run, along with nine strikeouts. Moreover, he proved a lifesaver in Game 4 of the NLDS at Cincinnati, when a shaky Zito was pulled by Bochy after just 2 2/3 IP. Enter Lincecum, who kept the Reds in check over the next 4 1/3 innings while the Giants rolled to an 8-3 win.
As for Zito, he might nonetheless feel confident heading into Game 4 after beginning the 12-game win streak in his starts with a 4-2 success at Busch Stadium back on August 7, scattering eight hits and two runs over 6 2/3 IP. His career numbers at Busch Stadium include a 1-3 record with an 8.20 ERA in four starts. Overall vs. St. Louis, he’s 2-6 in nine starts, with a 4.89 ERA.
Bochy, who reportedly toyed with the idea of putting Lincecum back into the rotation for Game 4, eventually decided against it, instead playing the same postseason hand with Lincecum out of the bullpen, even if means risking Zito against a Cardinal lineup that can be tough on lefties at Busch. But with Lincecum at the ready, Bochy won’t leave Zito in the game for too long if he’s getting cuffed around, as was the case last week at Cincinanti.
Speaking of getting cuffed around, that’s exactly what happened to Cards starter Wainwright last Friday at Washington, when he helped dig the Redbirds a huge hole when allowing six runs and seven hits over just 2 1/3 IP, although his teammates would eventually stage a remarkable rally that turned that 6-0 deficit into a 9-7 win.
That shaky effort has been part of a disturbing St. Louis narrative in recent games, as none of Matheny’s starters had recorded as much as an out in the fifth inning before getting pulled in the three outings prior to Tuesday’s Game 3.
Wainwright, however, was on the mark against the Giants at Busch back on August 9, allowing one run and five hits, with nine Ks through a solid seven innings of work in a 3-1 St. Louis win. He’s only 2-4 in six career starts vs. the Giants, although he has fashioned a solid 3.04 ERA in those outings.
Another important angle to consider has been San Francisco’s ongoing success on the road, where, with its backs against the wall, swept the Reds last week and improved to 49-35 this season on the road (including 20-7 the last 27) entering Tuesday’s Game 3. As for the Cards, they’re 51-32 at home.
Also note that over the course of the season, Zito has been the most-profitable pitcher in the NL, with the Giants 22-11 in his starts and +1525 units. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are -567 units in games started by Wainwright.