Tim Lincecum Struggles As Giants Fail to Get the Sweep

Over their previous five games, the Giants had drawn 33 walks — 31 of them unintentional; this is a team that’s been all about swinging at the first pitch, putting the ball in play, and avoiding strikeouts at the expense of working the count and drawing walks, but for once, it seemed as though they had begun to adopt a more patient approach. Sunday’s game against Bartolo Colon — who had walked eight of the 237 batters he’s faced this season — presented this team with a good test.

And at first, it looked like they would fail that test. Gregor Blanco struck out on three pitches to lead off the game. Brandon Crawford then struck out on three pitches as a follow-up. Melky Cabrera popped a ball up into left field that fell for a double, but Buster Posey grounded out to end the inning. It was going to be an afternoon of quick see-ya’s and weak contact.

But in the second inning, Angel Pagan got the Giants on the board by way of some excellent baserunning — first by barely stretching a single into a double (he’s now hit safely in 31 of his last 32 games), then by tagging up twice on flyouts.

The Giants scored their first two runs via the sacrifice fly, bringing their running total to seven sac flies over the last four games. They had seven sac flies through their first 36 games. Hey, if they’re not going to get hits with runners in scoring position, at least they’re finding other ways to get the runs in.

Except, those would be their only two runs on the day, as Colon held them in check for five innings — and, in the process, racked up the strikeouts. Colon had struck out five hitters over his last three starts, but managed to K seven Giants in his five innings of work.

The fifth inning was particularly ugly, as the Giants failed to capitalize on a bases-loaded less-than-two-outs situation. Angel Pagan worked the count full, then struck out looking on an inside pitch which — to Colon’s credit — had some beautiful movement. Then, in an at-bat that featured some pretty bold and arguably ill-advised two-strike takes, Belt eventually did the same thing: struck out looking on a 3-2 pitch.

As for the pitching side of things, that wasn’t too pretty either. The A’s are one of the worst teams in baseball when it comes to hitting right-handed pitchers; as a team, they’ve hit .211/.289/.333 against righties, with an AL-worst 75 wRC+. Today was as good a day as any for Tim Lincecum to give the Giants one of his trademark dominant outings. And through the first three innings, he was. He was throwing strikes, getting whiffs, and keeping hits to a minimum. In the first inning, he struck out the side — all three of ‘em swinging. In the second, he retired the side in order, tallying a fourth strikeout. In the third, he pitched out of a two-out runner-on-third jam, getting Cliff Pennington to ground out.

But in the fourth inning, it all unraveled. Seth Smith and Josh Donaldson hit back-to-back singles. Daric Barton drew a six-pitch walk. And with the bases loaded, Lincecum fell behind to both Kurt Suzuki  and Colin Cowgill, eventually serving up RBI singles to both of ‘em. Lincecum eventually got out of the inning with a Pennington foulout; but the damage was done: four runs on four hits, two walks, and a grand total of 41 pitches.

Lincecum wasn’t exactly hit hard, but his command was all over the place, and it was more or less the same struggles we’ve seen out of him all season long. We’re now nine starts into the season, and Lincecum’s ERA is still over 6.00; he’s had one quality start, and even in that outing he walked four hitters, and only struck out five. DIPS says he hasn’t been all that bad — his FIP is at 2.93, which is identical to his career mark. But I have a hard time buying into the notion that he’s been as good as his underlying peripherals would suggest, and while I still expect him to bounce back, his command (paired with the dropoff in fastball velocity) is a very serious concern at this point.

  • The Giants struck out looking eight times on the day, which is uncharacteristic of this team. Entering today, only 22% of their strikeouts were looking — which puts them in the bottom-10 in the majors. In fact, when Crawford struck out looking in the seventh inning of yesterday’s game, it had ended a streak of 21 consecutive swinging strikeouts.
  • Aside from his sac fly, Belt had a rough day at the plate, as he accounted for three of the Giants’ strikeouts. It’s only a matter of time before Aubrey Huff takes back the starting first base job.
  • Melky Cabrera accounted for four of the Giants’ eight hits on the day, as he extended his season total to a major-league-leading 20 multi-hit games. His hits today weren’t especially impressive — a grounder that found a hole, a pop-up that dropped in for a double, and a couple bloops — and he’s bound to slow his pace eventually, but that’s not to take away from what he’s accomplished; he’s now within inches of .300/.400/.500 territory (currently hitting .353/.396/.497).
  • Bruce Bochy continued his trend of leaving pitchers in the game too long. After Shane Loux had already given the Giants two scoreless innings, Bochy left him in the game to hit in the sixth inning, and he gave up a two-run shot to Josh Reddick upon coming back out for a third inning of work. For a manager generally lauded for his handling of pitchers, Bochy’s been unimpressive in that regard this season — to say the least.

Giants Waste Another Strong Barry Zito Outing

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.

Consider…

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.