Sunday October 31st, 2010

Cliff Corcoran breaks down each day's game throughout the postseason.

Series: World Series, Game 4, Giants lead 2-1 Time: 8 p.m. EST TV: Fox Starters: Madison Bumgarner (2010 postseason: 1-0, 3.55 ERA; 2010 regular season: 7-6, 3.00 ERA) vs. Tommy Hunter (0-1, 6.14 ERA; 13-4, 3.73 ERA)

Everything went according to plan for the Rangers in Game 3, but they're not out of the woods yet. The pitching matchup for Sunday night's Game 4 is decidedly in the Giants' favor, and a loss would put the Rangers down 3-1, leaving them in the position of needing three straight wins, two of them in San Francisco, to take the Series.

The scuttlebutt surrounding tonight's game, as with almost all Games 4s these days, is whether or not the trailing team, in this case the Rangers, should turn to their ace on short rest rather than pin their hopes on their fourth-best starter. I'm typically in favor of teams starting their pitchers on short rest in the postseason, but I don't think that's the right move for the Rangers in this game, and my two main reasons have nothing to do with Cliff Lee. Though Lee has never started on three days' rest in his major league career, I have little doubt in his ability to do so. However, if the idea is to replace Hunter with Lee in the rotation, then bring Lee back for Game 7, that would require C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis to pitch on three days' rest in Games 5 and 6, respectively. That's a no-go due to the blister on the middle finger of Wilson's pitching hand, which ripped open in each of his last two starts.

With Wilson needing full rest, starting Lee in Game 4 would mean dropping Wilson from the rotation while simply pushing Hunter back a day to face Tim Lincecum. Another way to look at it is that the real change to the rotation would be replacing Wilson and Lee on full rest with two starts of Lee on short rest. Given that Wilson's Game 2 start was far stronger than Lee's Game 1 outing, that seems misguided. Similarly, Colby Lewis has been fantastic in his last two postseason starts and is lined up for Game 7. Right now, I'd rather have a fully-rested Lewis in Game 7 than Lee pitching on short rest for the second time in a row.

If anything, there is a better argument for Giants manager Bruce Bochy to start Lincecum on short rest on Sunday. Jonathan Sanchez, who is currently lined up for Game 7, has struggled in each of his last two starts, including Saturday night's loss in Game 3, and has seen his velocity dip, which pitching coach Dave Righetti thinks might be evidence of fatigue, given that Sanchez has now thrown 50 innings more than he did in 2009. Starting Lincecum in Game 4 would enable the Freak to come back for Game 7 at home against Lewis. Of course, with his team in good position to take a 3-1 lead in the Series, Bochy can be forgiven if he doesn't want to mess with his ace over concerns about Game 7.

As for the pitchers who will start tonight, after missing the first two months of the season with an oblique strain, Hunter went 8-0 with a 2.31 ERA in his first 10 starts of the season, but good fortune on balls in play had a lot to do with that success. In his 14 starts since then, including a pair of postseason starts in which he failed to reach the fifth inning, Hunter has posted a 5.23 ERA. Just one of Hunter's last eight starts was a quality start (minimum six innings, maximum three earned runs allowed), in large part because he has completed the sixth inning just twice over that span. Given Ron Washington's baffling use of his bullpen thus far in this Series (which, it should be noted, likely stems at least in part from the absence of regular-season setup man and 2009 closer Frank Francisco, who hit the disabled list at the end of August with a strained right latissimus dorsi), Hunter's short starts would seem to spell disaster for the Rangers beyond the issue of the runs Hunter is likely to give up while he's in the game.

The Rangers did win Hunter's ALCS start against the Yankees by staging a comeback against a tiring A.J. Burnett, but Madison Bumgarner is no A.J. Burnett. Bumgarner did struggle in his NLCS start against the Phillies, but rebounded with two shutout innings in relief of Sanchez in the pennant-clinching Game 6. Prior to that series, he had not allowed more than two earned runs in a start since Aug. 25, a stretch of seven starts, all but two of which saw him complete a minimum of six innings. Bumgarner's NLCS dud came at home, where he had a 4.60 ERA in eight starts during the regular season. His solid relief work in Game 6 and quality start in the NLDS clincher came on the road, where Bumgarner had a 1.91 ERA in 10 starts during the regular season. It will be interesting to see whether or not the offense-friendly environment of the Ballpark in Arlington offsets Bumgarner's comfort level pitching in his road grays. The best clue from his work in the regular season is that in four total starts at Coors and Chase Fields, he turned in three quality starts.

That Giants have plenty of reason to be confident in their rookie starter. The Rangers, meanwhile, should continue to draw inspiration from the 1996 Yankees, the last team to come back from an 0-2 deficit to win a World Series. Those Yankees, after being slaughtered in the first two games and winning Game 3 behind a gritty pitching performance by David Cone, survived a disastrous start by former and future Ranger Kenny Rogers in Game 4 by staging a late-game comeback and winning in extra innings to tie the series at 2-2 and set up a pulse-stopping pitchers' duel in Game 5.

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