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Giants face tough call on playoff rotation

Also on SFBay: Giants edge Rockies, inch toward October

The Giants’ run to the postseason lacks the drama of 2010. It doesn’t look like the division race is going to come down to the last game of the season. And that’s just fine with Giants fans.

With an eight-game lead and magic number over the Dodgers clinch the West, the Giants could be celebrating before the end of this homestead next Thursday. If they don’t wrap it up over the next 10 games, you can blame me for jinxing it.

With such a big lead, it’s safe to start looking ahead to potential matchups in the Division Series. I know fans like to think their team can defeat any other team, and don’t want to worry about who they might play.

For the Giants, though, who they play first may be a big deal.

Right now, the Giants are the division leader with the third best record, 4-1/2 games behind Cincinnati and six behind Washington. Unless something dramatic happens, they won’t have home-field advantage in the Division Series.

Right now, the Giants would have to play Cincinnati. But the Reds are hot on the tail of the Washington Nationals for the best record in the National League.

If you’re a Giants fan, you should be rooting for the Nationals to hang on to the top record. The Giants match up better against the Reds. They went 3-4 against Dusty Baker’s boys, while they managed to win just one game in six meetings with the Nationals this season.

Over the weekend, there was a bit of chatter about how the Giants should handle their postseason rotation. Two years ago, Barry Zito was the obvious choice to omit and he was left completely off the postseason roster.

This year, it’s not so simple. No single starter has pitched so poorly to warrant the same treatment. But it’s highly unlikely that Bruce Bochy and Dave Righetti would decide to use a five-man rotation in the postseason.

Starting with tonight’s game, which Madison Bumgarner will start, I projected the rotation for the Giants for the rest of the season, assuming that no starter is skipped due to an off-day or an injury. I’m also assuming that Bochy won’t rest Matt Cain or Bumgarner once the Giants have clinched the Division.

  • Sept 17 vs Colorado – Bumgarner
  • Sept 18 vs Colorado – Lincecum
  • Sept 19 vs Colorado – Cain
  • Sept 20 vs Colorado – Zito
  • Sept 21 vs San Diego – Vogelsong
  • Sept 22 vs San Diego – Bumgarner
  • Sept 23 vs San Diego – Lincecum
  • Sept 24 Off Day
  • Sept 25 vs Arizona – Cain
  • Sept 26 vs Arizona – Zito
  • Sept 27 vs Arizona – Vogelsong
  • Sept 28 at San Diego – Bumgarner
  • Sept 29 at San Diego – Lincecum
  • Sept 30 at San Diego – Cain
  • Oct 1 at Los Angeles – Zito
  • Oct 2 at Los Angeles – Vogelsong
  • Oct 3 at Los Angeles – Bumgarner

With all that being said, the Giants rotation plays out pretty favorably if you’re looking ahead to the playoffs, which is what I’m doing in this exercise.

Keep in mind that there is a big tweak to the Division Series just for this year. The first two games of the series will be hosted by the team with the worst record. The final three games will be played at the team’s park for home-field in the series. This is due to a weird scheduling snafu caused by the new Wild-Card format. Scheduling to revert back to 2-2-1 next year.

If the positioning stays the same, the Giants-Reds series would start in San Francisco.

I don’t think anyone will argue that Cain is the Giants No. 1 starter right now. Cain isn’t scheduled to start during the last series of the year, which means he’ll be ready for Game 1 of the Division Series.

Based on the projection below, Bumgarner would be scheduled to pitch the final game of the season, but if the Giants have nothing to play for in that game, they can very easily skip his start and save him for Game 2. He would then pitch on eight days of rest.

Or, the Giants could let Bumgarner pitch the final game of the year, and go with Zito in Game 2 at home. Based on his success against Cincinnati this season, it’s not the worst idea in the world. Plus, you give Zito the comfort of pitching at home.

Bumgarner could take the ball in Game 3 in Cincinnati on just one extra day of rest. But Zito is the only one of the two that made a start in Great American Ballpark this season and he gave up just one run over six innings.

The big decision this year comes down to who starts Game 4: Ryan Vogelsong or Tim Lincecum?

Right now, based on the way they are pitching at the moment, I’d go with Lincecum. Over their last five starts each, Lincecum has a 3.38 ERA while Vogelsong has a 8.63 ERA. It’s going to be painful for the Giants brass to leave Vogelsong out of the postseason rotation, but with the way he’s pitched over the last month, he’s not giving them a reason to make any other decision.

But unlike two years ago, I wouldn’t leave the odd man out off the postseason roster completely. Whether Bochy decides to leave Vogelsong or Lincecum out of the rotation, I would carry the fifth starter as the long man out of the bullpen.

Vogelsong knows he still has time to impact the decision:

“It’s got to (change). I don’t see how I can keep throwing the ball the way I am and getting the results I am. I’ve gotta keep fighting through it. It’ll turn around. It has to.”

Here’s how I would set up the Division Series rotation:

  • Oct 4 Off Day
  • Oct 5 Off Day
  • Oct 6 NLDS Game 1 – Home – Cain
  • Oct 7 NLDS Game 2 – Home – Bumgarner/Zito
  • Oct 8 Travel Day
  • Oct 9 NLDS Game 3 – Road – Zito/Bumgarner
  • Oct 10 NLDS Game 4 – Road – Lincecum
  • Oct 11 NLDS Game 5 – Road – Cain
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