- Molly Knight
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In 2010, the San Francisco Giants pitched their way to a World Series title. In 2012, they may pitch their way to an early grave.
Madison Bumgarner extended the surprising streak of poor postseason outings from Giants starters Sunday night, giving up six runs on eight hits in just 3 2/3 innings in a 6-4 Game 1 NLCS loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. Bumgarner was touched for four runs in 4 1/3 innings in Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Cincinnati Reds, his only other postseason start this year.
For an organization that prides itself on building around arms, San Francisco starters have failed to record a quality start in any of their six playoff games so far this October. Two postseasons ago, they posted 11 quality starts in their 16 games.
After Sunday, their vaunted starting rotation appears to be in disarray. In a postgame news conference, manager Bruce Bochy didn't guarantee that Bumgarner -- who dazzled on this stage in 2010 by going 2-0 with a 2.18 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 20 2/3 playoff innings -- would get another start against St. Louis.
"We'll talk about it, where Bum's at," Bochy said. "We'll talk about it tonight, tomorrow and as we get to Game 5 on what we will do. He's had a great year, and we've seen what this kid's done for us, during the season and in postseason. But it is something we'll discuss."
After the game, as Bumgarner took questions from reporters in the Giants' clubhouse, his camouflage ball cap slung low over his eyes, he looked like he wished he could somehow camouflage into the wall behind him.
"You can't start feeling sorry for yourself," said the 23-year-old southpaw. "You've got to keep going out there and fighting and playing for everybody else in here."
But Bumgarner -- who has given up at least four earned runs in seven of his past nine starts going back to the regular season -- admitted that his stuff hasn't felt sharp lately. He insisted there is nothing physically or mechanically wrong despite throwing fastballs that regularly reached only the high 80s on Sunday night. He singled out two pitches in particular -- both high fastballs, one to Yadier Molina and the other to Jon Jay -- as examples of what went wrong.
"I tried to go fastball up, and it was up. Just guess it wasn't up enough," Bumgarner said. "Didn't have a whole lot of life, normally might get away with it."
Bumgarner stoically acknowledged he doesn't know whether he'll get the ball in Game 5.
One Giants pitcher who did have a lot of life on Sunday night was Tim Lincecum. After being demoted to the bullpen on the heels of a mediocre season, the two-time Cy Young award winner sprinted out to the mound in relief in the top of the fifth to a near-standing ovation from a raucous hometown crowd. Perhaps overly amped, the 28-year-old fan favorite walked the first batter he faced before retiring the next five (including a double play ball to erase the walk to Allen Craig) in order in two scoreless innings.
"My confidence is definitely up," Lincecum said after the game. Had he not been lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the sixth, Lincecum said he was ready to go back out to the mound in the top of the seventh, and that he's ready to pitch in relief on Monday night as well should he be called into service.
"He's moving the ball around the plate and throwing some off-speed pitches in hitters' counts to keep guys off-balance," catcher Buster Posey said.
In other words, he's pitching like the Timmy of old. In three postseason relief appearances this year, Lincecum has given up only one run on three hits in 8 1/3 innings while striking out nine. It's little wonder then that as media filed down the stairs from the press box to the Giants' clubhouse, two San Francisco fans passing by shouted: "Ask why Lincecum didn't start!"
He could be in line to start Game 4 in place of Barry Zito. Or Game 5 for Bumgarner if Bochy opts to remove him from the rotation. Bochy was non-committal, saying he'd cross that bridge when he's forced to. Lincecum doesn't know if he'll start or continue to relieve, and joked that he never knows when his regular bullpen day is anyway.
"I don't really care when I pitch," said Lincecum. "I just want to help the team."
Lincecum and the rest of the Giants' bullpen was excellent on Sunday, not allowing a hit in 5 1/3 innings of work. San Francisco's not-exactly-Murderer's Row offense did just fine as well, hanging four runs on Cardinals' starter Lance Lynn and chasing him after just 3 2/3 innings. But the 6-0 hole San Francisco fell into early proved too steep to climb out.
When asked what's going on with the starting rotation lately, Posey struggled to find the words.
"Um," he said, scratching his head. "We just can't put it together."
Ryan Vogelsong will take the hill in Game 2 on Monday and look to stop the bleeding. The 35-year-old journeyman righty had the strongest outing for the Giants so far this postseason, allowing one run in a five-inning no decision against the Reds in Game 3 of the division series.
"I'm sure 'Vogey' will be ready and I'm excited to have him on the mound," Posey said.
With the way things are going, they're going to need him.
The Giants have always been able to rely on their rotation over the past few years, but quality starts are suddenly hard to come by this postseason.