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The Strike Zone

NLCS Game 2 preview: Cardinals at Giants

Ryan Vogelsong The Giants need Ryan Vogelsong to be much better in NLCS Game 2 than Madison Bumgarner was in Game 1. (AP)

Cardinals at Giants

Series: NLCS Game 2, Cardinals lead 1-0

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

TV: FOX

Starters: Chris Carpenter (1-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Ryan Vogelsong (0-0, 1.80 ERA)

In the wake of yet another poor start from Madison Bumgarner in Game 1 of this series, Giants manager Bruce Bochy suggested that the team wasn’t committed to letting Bumgarner take his next turn in Game 5. San Francisco hasn’t announced its Game 4 starter, either, but given the construction of their roster, the Giants will have to go with some combination of Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Bumgarner in Games 4 and 5. Zito was unable to pitch out of the third inning against the Reds in the Division Series. Bumgarner has been awful in the postseason, extending struggles that stretch back over his last nine starts. As for Lincecum, while he has been outstanding in relief in the postseason, he was lit up in his last two starts in the regular season and given his season-long struggles, there’s no guarantee that his short-stint success will translate back into the larger role.

The resulting uncertainty surrounding those games makes the next two crucial for the Giants, who are already down 0-1 and could well be playing their final home game of 2012 on Monday night. They’ll get to turn to their ace, Matt Cain, in Game 3. For Monday’s Game 2, their hopes ride on 35-year-old Ryan Vogelsong.

Vogelsong was effective but inefficient in his lone Division Series start, holding the Reds to just one run on three hits while striking out five men in five innings. Vogelsong’s outing ended there because the he was due to lead off the sixth inning, the game was tied 1-1, and the Giants were facing elimination. Still, he walked three and used up 95 pitches in those five frames. The Giants have reason to tread lightly with Vogelsong, as he had an awful stretch of seven starts from mid-August to mid-September in which he went 2-4 with a 10.31 ERA. In four starts since then, however, he has posted an ERA of 0.81, and in his first 21 starts this season he went 10-6 with a 2.27 ERA, a stretch that was capped off by seven scoreless innings in St. Louis, his only start against the Cardinals this season.

Chris Carpenter, who is only two years older than Vogelsong, was a similar combination of effective and inefficient in his lone Division Series start, holding the Nationals scoreless for 5 2/3 innings, but scattering seven hits and a pair of walks and using up 106 pitches in the process while striking out just two. Still, given the fact that he didn’t make his season debut until Sept. 21 and hadn’t thrown more than 92 pitches in any of his three regular season starts, that was an encouraging outing for the Cardinals.

That matchup presents a very different outlook for Game 2 than what we expected and got in Game 1. Both starters should be effective. The big question is for how long. Both teams required 5 1/3 innings from their bullpen in Game 1 and used a combined total of 11 relievers to do so. However, Lincecum, who was unlikely to pitch again until a probably Game 4 start anyway, was the only one of those 11 men to throw more than 19 pitches. With both teams having had days off prior to Sunday (two for the Giants, one for the Cardinals), and with a travel day on Tuesday, both managers -- the Giants' Bochy and the Cardinals' Mike Matheny -- shouldn't be hesitant to go to the bullpen early if necessary in Game 2, and they should have their full complement of relievers (again, excepting Lincecum) available when they do.

The Giants’ bullpen proved it could keep the Cardinals’ bats quiet in Game 1, allowing just one baserunner via a walk issued by Lincecum in those 5 1/3 innings. If Vogelsong can do so as well, we might have a series here. If not, San Francisco will still play its next home game against St. Louis, but it won't be played until April.

-- By Cliff Corcoran
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