By TED SILLANPAA
If Barry Zito had pitched like the 2012 version of Tim Lincecum, there’s no question that Zito would again be left off the Giants’ postseason roster.
Zito’s 15-8. The Giants have won the last 11 games he started, 21 of his starts this season were victories. Zito has consistently pitched well into the 6th and 7th innings. Upon close study, his record reveals that he has turned in remarkably solid outings in some very important games — starting with a masterpiece in Colorado after the Giants were swept in Arizona to open the season. Remember?
Tim Lincecum is 10-15 with a 5.18 ERA. No matter how many times media types and fans trumpet the fact that Lincecum’s back, that he’s close to his two-time Cy Young Award-winning form, he’s nowhere near the pitcher he was when he led the Giants to the 2010 world championship. Lincecum has been brutally inconsistent, lost in games when it appeared only five days before he’d finally found himself.
Ryan Vogelsong was as effective as Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner for three-quarters of the season. He was just terrible, inexplicably bad, for the last two months. His ERA over the last eight weeks is well over 6.00 — better than what it was when it was 10.42 over one five-game stretch. However, he pitched well in his final three starts and was exceptional through five innings in the finale against the Dodgers.
Zito and Vogelsong deserve spots in the National League Division Series rotation. Lincecum, in spite of all he has done for the Giants over time, does not. Lincecum merits, at best, a role in the bullpen against the Reds.
Lincecum’s reputation and past history will make it difficult for manager Bruce Bochy to send him to the pen for the postseason. Fans love the right-hander unconditionally. The media has barely even addressed the idea that Lincecum, clearly, doesn’t deserve an NLDS start.
If reputation and past performance matters, then Zito would’ve been on the 2010 postseason roster. He was an AL Cy Young award winner in Oakland. He’d pitched in a countless high-pressure games and won for the A’s. Zito, however, was so ineffective with the Giants in 2010 that he had no business earning a spot on the playoff roster. Reputation, in the end, didn’t matter.
Reputation and past performance is all what the Giants are counting on if they give Lincecum a postseason roster spot and a start in the NLDS. Based on his performance in 2012, Lincecum shouldn’t be getting a start before Zito or Vogelsong.
Lincecum struggled as recently as Sunday in San Diego. Don’t compare Zito and Vogelsong to the Cy Young-winning Lincecum. Compare their 2012 performances to the unpredictable, erratic Lincecum outings. One senses that the Giants know what they can expect from Zito and Vogelsong. No one knows what to expect from Lincecum in 2012.
Lincecum’s accomplishments and his role in bringing a championship to the Giants are to be admired. He’ll be remembered as one of the greatest players in franchise history if he never throws another pitch in San Francisco. However, if life were fair and the same rationale used to choose the rotation in 2010 is used in 2012…the Giants’ postseason rotation would be: Cain, Bumgarner, Zito and Vogelsong in some order.
Hey, people have insisted all season that some time in the bullpen might help Lincecum, right? Now might be the time it helps the Giants get deeper into the playoffs, too.
Still, don’t be surprised if the Giants choose to side-step the public relations headache and publicly embarrassing Lincecum by concocting some reason that he matches up better against the Reds than Zito or Vogelsong does. If that happens, it won’t have been a decision that Bochy made on his own. It will have been an organizational call.
Finally, it seems as though Lincecum has yet to embrace the idea that he has to make major changes to his mechanics and his mindset. He’s come up with a pretty good outing here and there that leads him to insist all he needs to do is clear his mind and keep it simple and, eventually, he’ll dominate again. The Giants need to show him they insist he really address the season he’s had. They’d be doing him a favor by making postseason decisions based on how he has actually performed and not on past performance.
Zito and Vogelsong ought to join Cain and Bumgarner in the rotation against the Reds.