The story today was Madison Bumgarner. Nothing — missed calls, sloppy defense, a lack of run support — was going to get in his way. That’s what it felt like when he worked through that messy fifth inning. And when he rebounded from a leadoff error in the sixth — an inexcusable miscue between Angel Pagan and Brett Pill that put Aramis Ramirez in scoring position — to shut the Brewers down. But the lasting image was when he stepped up to the plate in the fifth inning — following a futile one-pitch at-bat from Conor Gillaspie — and lined a double into left field to tie the game at one.
All in all, he turned in yet another stellar performance on the mound, allowing one run through seven innings of work, as he improved to a 2.31 ERA (3.61 FIP) on the season and carried the Giants to a 5-2 victory. In four of Bumgarner’s six starts this season, he’s gone 7+ innings without allowing more than one run.
Obligatory reminder: he’s 22 years old. His first five starts alone put his 2012 season among the best by a 22-year-old Giants starter. Is there any question he can work his way up to #1 on that list by season’s end?
- Five runs…feels like it’s been a while, eh? It has. Last time they scored five runs in a game was back in Cincinnati, nine days ago.
- Hector Sanchez, who entered this game hitting .233/.244/.302, finally got things going with a pair of doubles (one of which nearly went over the centerfield wall for a homer). These were his second and third extra-base hits on the season, respectively, and needless to say, it’s great to see a game like this out of Hector.
- Melky Cabrera had a quality game as well, with a couple hits (including a triple) and some very good glovework in right field. He’s now put together four consecutive multi-hit games, which has brought him up to a .364 wOBA this season. At this point, it seems pretty clear that I was wrong about Cabrera — something I’m very happy to say.
- Angel Pagan has now hit safely in 19 consecutive games; however, he’s also now gone 16 consecutive games without a walk. I do wonder if he’s slightly altered his approach, becoming more hacktastic for the sake of preserving his hitting streak. It’s not likely, but it’s worth throwing out there. And while we’re on the subject of walks — the Giants had another walk-less game today, keeping their season total at 65. That’s third-worst in the National League.
There’s no getting around the fact that Bruce Bochy has done a terrible job managing these past several games, especially when it’s come to handling his pitchers.
4/21: With the game tied at one, Ryan Vogelsong at 95 pitches, and a runner in scoring position, Bochy left Vogelsong in the game. Vogelsong struck out, and then allowed a couple runs in the seventh inning.
Yesterday: With the Giants losing 2-0, Bruce Bochy sent Matt Cain (at 108 pitches already) out for the seventh inning. He promptly gave up a home run to Ryan Ludwick, and his day was over after the next batter. The Giants finished that half-inning with the game far out of reach (down 8-0).
Today: Barry Zito was at 100 pitches. The Giants had a slim (2-0) lead. Bruce Bochy sent Zito out for the seventh inning anyway. After serving up a homer to Scott Rolen, the first batter he faced, Zito’s day was over.
In all fairness to Bochy, Clay Hensley and Jeremy Affeldt were messy in relief, and Dan Otero was horrible the day before. There’s an argument to be made that leaving Zito in the game — with a short leash — wasn’t such a bad decision. I don’t personally agree, though. After all, his previous inning had included a single and a couple flyouts to the warning track; and it’s not as though the bullpen needed more rest.
“As the game goes on, the hitter has a progressively greater advantage over the starting pitcher.” This is basic stuff. Bochy has tried to milk his starters dry, and the results have not been pretty. Chris over at Bay City Ball was on to something.
Another quibble: Bochy’s refusal to use Sergio Romo in the game’s most important situations is inexcusable. He waited until the eighth inning — when the Giants were already losing by a couple runs — to use Romo. What a waste.
The Giants’ offense blew many opportunities as well: double digits in the hits column, but only a couple runs to show for it. Four times they ended the inning with a couple runners on. I’d expected that the team would draw some better luck with runners in scoring position this season, but nope. Doesn’t look like that’s going to happen, and frankly, it doesn’t seem to be a matter of luck (at least, not entirely).
As for Zito, another strong outing. His ERA now stands at 1.67, which is far more than I could have expected — he’s strung four good starts together, something I really didn’t think he had in him. His command was a bit shaky in the first, but he settled down and his pitch location was excellent over the rest of the start. Lots of pop-ups and weak flyballs, and a surprisingly high amount of swing-throughs.
This isn’t the first time he’s had several nice games in a row. But I can’t help but feel confident about his pitching going forward. Coming into the season, right near the top on my list of concerns for this team was the back of the rotation; those worries have all but vanished.
After surrendering 16 runs across his first 13.2 innings, Tim Lincecum finally settled down and got good results, allowing one run through five innings of work.
- Lincecum struck out eight of the 23 batters he faced, and had them whiffing on his fastballs. Of course, swing-and-miss stuff hasn’t really been the problem for Lincecum so far. Through his first three starts, he actually had a 23.2% strikeout rate; while that is the lowest he’s ever had in a season, it’s not a terribly significant dropoff.
- One extra-base hit: a double. This, on the other hand, was a problem for Lincecum in his first three starts. In those previous 13.2 innings, he had allowed seven doubles, two triples, and two homers (that’s a .265 ISO!). That’s really been the root of his troubles this season — that he’s been hit hard. So it’s very nice to see this step in the right direction.
- A strong first inning. Lincecum had allowed nine runs in three first-innings this season, so his not getting into a jam right away was a positive sign.
- Lincecum walked five of the 23 batters he faced. Control hasn’t been Lincecum’s problem in the early going — in fact, the 5.8% walk rate he brought into this start was a career-best — but it’s slightly concerning to see him revert to these control issues. At the risk of jumping to conclusions, I wonder if this might suggest that he had been trading walks for hard contact — meaning this start constituted a change in his approach.
- According to Brooks Baseball, Lincecum averaged 89.8 mph on his four-seamer, topping out at 91.9 mph. No improvement there.
- 108 pitches. This is, of course, directly related to the high walk total.
So…is Lincecum back? Perhaps, inasmuch as he’ll be an effective pitcher from this point forward. I can’t say with any confidence, however, that Lincecum will finish 2012 with better numbers than 2011. I think this very well could be the worst season of his career. Is that a big deal? Not entirely. Pitchers tend to peak at a pretty early age, and it’s not at all atypical that Lincecum is experiencing a downward trend at this age. I’m becoming increasingly worried about the possibility of the Giants offering him a lucrative contract extension, though. It’s probably not going to be worth taking on that kind of risk, particularly given that they’ve already invested in Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain.