The San Francisco Giants are built around their starting rotation.
That would seem more a statement of fact than an assertion of opinion.
After all, conventional wisdom tells us the rotation carried the Giants to a World Series title in 2010 and then another in 2012.
But if that is a statement of fact, then here's an opinion: The Giants, despite their current half-game lead over Arizona in the National League West, are in trouble. Because this is not a championship-caliber rotation right now.
The past two games in Toronto exposed an issue that has plagued the Giants the past two seasons: The Giants don't pitch nearly as well on the road. Facing a Blue Jays lineup that batted Mark DeRosa, who has a .302 slugging percentage since 2010, cleanup on Tuesday and J.P. Arencibia and his .252 on-base percentage cleanup on Wednesday, Barry Zito and then Ryan Vogelsong got battered around as the Blue Jays put up 21 runs in the two games. Zito allowed 12 hits and eight runs Tuesday; Vogelsong allowed eight runs in just two innings in Wednesday's 11-3 loss.
Vogelsong's bad outing was the latest in a string of bad outings for him. Among 110 qualified starters, Vogelsong's 8.06 ERA ranks 110th. Vogelsong gave up two more home runs to the Blue Jays, running his season total to 11 in just 41.1 innings. Chris Quick looked at Vogelsong's home-run problems before this start and found, not surprisingly, that several of them came on pitches up in the strike zone. This long blast by Arencibia wasn't off a pitch up in the zone, but it was left out over the middle of the plate; Adam Lind's two-run homer in the first also came off a pitch down the middle.
As Chris wrote,
And that, to me, is the biggest knock on Vogelsong so far this season. His command has been un-Vogelsong-like. We're used to seeing Vogelsong surgically dissect hitters like this. Not so much the guy that’s chucking neck-high fastballs above. ... Like most pitchers, Vogelsong needs to locate in order to succeed. And only time will tell if his current dingeritis is a sign of cracks in the facade, or if he’ll eventually find his release point or arm-slot or whatever and start throwing the ball where he wants to.
It's possible Vogelsong's next start is in jeopardy:
Bochy not ready to say one way or the other who will start Monday on Vogelsong's day. Will be discussed on flight.
— Andrew Baggarly (@CSNBaggs) May 16, 2013
But Vogelsong isn't the only culprit in the rotation. Madison Bumgarner has been outstanding but the rotation still ranks just 20th in the majors with a 4.41 ERA. Heck, the Marlins' starters have pitched just 13 fewer innings but allowed 23 fewer runs.
It's when you dig even deeper, however, that the problems become more severe. Giants starters have a 5.01 ERA on the road, 23rd in the majors. Here, a comparison to 2012:
2012: 3.09 ERA, 3rd in majors
2013: 3.98 ERA, 17th in majors
2012: 4.45, 18th in majors
2013: 5.01, 23rd in majors
As you can see, the Giants weren't that great on the road last season, either. But this season, they're not dominating at home. And that's where we get back to that first sentence: The Giants have transformed into an offensive team, a fact obscured somewhat by playing in a park that favors pitchers to a large degree.
San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean loves to add veterans during midseason. Instead of making a big splash in the winter, he evaluates the team's weaknesses and then makes his move. In 2010, he added outfielders Pat Burrell and Cody Ross. In 2011, he traded for Carlos Beltran. Last year, he picked up Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro.
But if he properly assesses things this year, I believe Sabean should be on the search for a starting pitcher. Certainly, I expect Matt Cain to turn things around. Vogelsong will be given a fairly long leash, I suspect, given his track record of the past two seasons, but is certainly the guy on the hot seat right now. The Giants are likely to keep Zito and Tim Lincecum, even given their superficially OK ERAs, but those two are hardly strengths right now.
The Giants can certainly still win the West. But right now it will have to be the hitters and the bullpen that will have to carry the load.