SAN FRANCISCO — It is an odd spot in which the San Francisco Giants find themselves — uncertain about who will start Game 4 of the National League Championship Series Thursday night in St. Louis. Their choices: Two pitchers who have combined for three Cy Young awards and eight all-star appearances, and neither is overwhelmingly comforting.
Tim Lincecum, who won the National League Cy Young award in 2008 and ’09, is the most likely choice, given that he pitched two crisp innings out of the bullpen in the Giants’ 6-4 loss to St. Louis in Sunday’s Game 1. But Lincecum posted career lows in wins (10), innings pitched (186) and strikeouts (190) — for any season other than his rookie year, in which he made only 24 starts — and a career-high 5.18 ERA.
Plus, given his struggles, Lincecum embraced his relegation to the bullpen for the postseason, in which the Giants went with Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito as starters against Cincinnati in the division series.
“The first time we brought it up to him, he was all in on it,” Giants Manager Bruce Bochy said Monday before Game 2. “He said: ‘Whatever you want me to do to help this team move on, I want to do that. If it’s in the bullpen, let’s do it.’ He’s had a great attitude about this, and I think that’s one of the reasons why he’s thrown so well. He didn’t hesitate when he said, ‘I’m good with that.’”
Lincecum went 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA in the 2010 playoffs, helping the Giants win the World Series. In that postseason, it was Zito who was left out. But the winner of the 2002 American League Cy Young award, when he was with Oakland, is an unlikely candidate to be back in the conversation to start Game 4. He lasted just 22 / 3 innings in Game 4 against Cincinnati, a game in which Lincecum became the winning pitcher when he logged 41 / 3 innings of one-run ball in relief.
Zito, though, went 15-8, his first winning record since he signed a seven-year, $126 million deal with the Giants before the 2007 season.
“We have Timmy and Zito ready to go,” Bochy said. “I can’t answer that right now until we head to St. Louis.”
The breakout star of the National League playoffs has likely been St. Louis second baseman Daniel Descalso, who, since Game 2 of the Cardinals’ division series with the Washington Nationals, is hitting .407 with two homers, two doubles and six RBI. He hit the solo homer off Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard that pulled the Cardinals within 6-5 in the eighth inning of Game 5, then tied the score in the ninth with a two-run single off Drew Storen.
But one player, Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford, may have seen this coming.
“We were on the same — I think — 5-year-old soccer team,” Crawford said before Game 2.
Turns out Crawford and Descalso were both toddlers in Mountain View, Calif., south of San Francisco, before Crawford moved across the San Francisco Bay to Pleasanton. Crawford recalls playing Descalso in Babe Ruth and AAU ball.
“He’s kind of the definition of the Cardinals and how they play,” Crawford said. “Just grinds out hits, has power, plays good defense.”