The Giants have built their team in the post-Barry Bonds years on the strength of a deep and talented starting pitching core. This year however, the starting pitching was just above average, evidenced by their failure to record a quality start in the division series and their middle-of-the-pack FIP and WAR numbers. However, the members of this staff still have the ability to shut down a team in any series, led by staff stalwart Matt Cain. Cain, the longest tenured Giant, assumed the role of staff ace this year after Tim Lincecum’s lost season, going 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA and 193 strikeouts, cementing his role as one of the premier pitchers in the game. He will likely start game 3, after pitching the series finale against the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday. Madison Bumgarner, one of the top young left-handed pitchers in the game, will start game one followed by the resurgent Ryan Vogelsong in game two. Bumgarner quietly had an excellent season, going 16-11 with a 3.37 ERA and 191 Ks. Despite fading down the stretch and struggling in his only playoff start so far, he is capable of a great performance at any time, evidenced by his start in game 4 of the 2010 World Series. Lincecum looked strong in the division series coming out of the bullpen and should retake his spot in the rotation, replacing Barry Zito who would presumably provide pitching depth.
The Giants lineup starts and ends with MVP candidate Buster Posey. Since reaching the major leagues in 2010, Posey has anchored the Giants’ lineup, providing a middle-of-the-order bat not seen in San Francisco since the days of Barry Bonds. Portly third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who had an excellent series against the Reds, and deadline acquisition Hunter Pence sandwich Posey, creating an intriguing question for Cardinals pitchers: whether or not to pitch to Posey. Pence has been the poster boy for regression to the mean this year, posting below-average numbers after his career year in 2011. In the NLDS, the Reds exploited this lineup weakness, largely pitching around Posey, preferring to take their chances with Pence than challenge one of the NL’s top hitters. At the top of the Giants’ lineup preside Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro, who arrived in San Francisco in two of the most lopsided trades in recent years. But, the bottom of the Giants’ lineup is their weakness, as Brandon Crawford and Gregor Blanco have largely struggled to hit consistently despite strong performances against the Reds.
Going into the playoffs, the Giants’ bullpen appeared to be their biggest weakness. The loss of closer Brian Wilson to tommy john surgery at the start of the season had been a huge loss for the Giants, as manager Bruce Bochy was forced to form a closer by committee at the back of his bullpen, producing mediocre results. In the Division Series however, the bullpen pitched excellently, shutting down the strong Cincinnati lineup after early exits by the team’s starters in each game. Sergio Romo, one of the top setup men in all of baseball over the past few years, seems to have stepped into the closer’s role, bringing some stability to the previously chaotic bullpen in San Francisco. One potential area of weakness for the Giants could be left-handed relief however, as deadline pickup Jose Mijares struggled against the Reds, and Jeremy Affeldt sustained a minor injury to his thumb that could prevent him from pitching effectively. This leaves Javier Lopez as the Giants’ sole solid left-hander out of the bullpen, unless Affeldt can return to health quickly.