This blog is written by Jennifer Cosgriff, an up and coming sports reporter. She's a pre-kindergarten teacher by day, a radio and print reporter by night.
After the 49ers made me so proud yesterday (albeit falling a little short), it means only one thing:
It's officially baseball season.
Giants pitchers and catchers report to spring training one week from tomorrow (February 12), so it's probably the right time for a 2013 preview. Let's start with the obvious, the backbone of the team for the last three years: the pitching.
The bullpen is going to be solid once again. Brian Wilson will be missed, personality-wise. He was an integral part of the first World Series championship here in San Francisco, and fans will forever be grateful. However, they just won a World Series without him. He doesn't really have a leg to stand on when it comes to demanding more money for a contract. His replacement, Sergio Romo, went 1-0 with a .84 ERA in the 2012 postseason and converted all four save opportunities. During the regular season, he converted 14 of 15 save opportunities and had a 1.74 ERA. The Giants also have a great closer prospect coming up in Heath Hembree. In 2011 between single and double A, he combined for 41 saves, had 78 strikeouts in 53.1 innings, and finished the season with a .55 ERA. He struggled a bit in 2012, but he's the Giants #7 prospect in the organization.
Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, George Kontos, Jose Mijares, and Santiago Casilla are all back to give the Giants the same solid bullpen that helped them win the championship.
The starting rotation is also intact from last year. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Ryan Vogelsong are all returning to anchor the staff that finished 7th in the league with a 3.68 ERA in 2012. The three went a combined 46-25 last season, highlighted, of course, Matt Cain's perfect game on June 10 against the Astros. Barry Zito finished over .500 for the first time in his Giants career, going 15-8 and giving the Giants four starters with at least 14 wins.
The obvious question mark for the pitching staff going into 2013 is their fifth starter Tim Lincecum. Lincecum has been a fan favorite since he came up through the farm system and joined the Giants in San Francisco in May of 2007. He won the Cy Young in 2008 and 2009, won the Babe Ruth award for being the postseason MVP in 2010.
However, Lincecum struggled from the get-go of the 2012 season. He finished 10-15, the worst winning percentage of his career, and had an ERA of 5.18. He was resigned to the bullpen for the playoffs, but made the most of every time that he got to pitch. He finished the postseason with a 2.55 ERA, striking out 20 in 17.2 innings.
Which brings me to my point - what to do if Linecum struggles as a starter again this season? As wise men (my dad and brother) have suggested, make him the closer.
He's definitely got the stuff to make it coming out of the bullpen. It almost wasn't fair to watch him take apart the Reds, Cardinals, and Tigers. He can warm up quickly and be ready to go as soon as he's needed. In Game two of the NLDS against the Reds, when Bumgarner was struggling in his start, Lincecum was called upon to come in after just two warm-up pitches. And he was great. And he's not afraid to come in with the game on the line. Timmy has shown in the last few years just how comfortable he is pitching in the postseason, but in 2012 he showed us a new set of skills coming out of the bullpen that we maybe didn't know he had before.
Lincecum reminds me a bit of Dennis Eckersley. Ecks spent the first 12 years of his career as a starter, but transitioned into the closer role in 1987. By '88 he was dominating ninth innings everywhere. He went on to pitch for another 10 years. Should Lincecum (or Bochy) decided to transition into a reliever full-time, I think that closer makes the most sense for Timmy.
Either way, I can't wait to start getting the reports from Arizona. It's gonna be a fun season.
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