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Champagne Wishes and NLCS Worries

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As I write this, the Cards and Nats have just tipped off their own Game 5. If it's like everything else this post-season, it will result in dozens of cardiovascular emergencies and make for a lot of happy H. pylori.

I'm rooting for St. Louis, mainly because I have tickets to a possible NLCS Game 7 that will be worthless if the Giants don't have home-field advantage. Selfish Lefty. There's also a part of me that wants no part of a decisive Game 7, however, even if I'm sitting in the left-field bleachers amid the crush of 42,000. It's the same part that worries deeply about the Giants' pitching and its ability to maintain a deep post-season run. Yes, the Champagne hangover has worn off. The new day dawned, I stretched and yawned, and with the early light came a world of worry. It sounds like a bad Norah Jones song, which you might consider a redundant phrase, but it's true.

It all stems from the starting pitchers, who have not yet been able to complete six innings. Matt Cain's 5 2/3 IP in Game 5 was the deepest effort so far. Tim Lincecum looked like he might be able to go a few innings more in Game 4 if called upon, but that's all theoretical. The relievers have worked like enslaved Viking oarsmen to steer the ship through rocks and storms and Kraken infestations, and thank Odin they have two days' off.

But how much longer can they do it? In a seven-game series, can the bullpen continue to gobble four, five, even six innings a game? I wouldn't be shocked to see Bochy & Co. take 13 relievers for the NLCS roster. It won't happen, but if, say, Francisco Peguero could also throw a serviceable inning or two off the mound, he might get consideration. Perhaps Roger Kieschnick can talk his uncle Brooks out of retirement.

There's also the little matter of Jeremy Affeldt's latest freak injury - a tumble down the dugout steps trying to avoid a foul line drive off Gregor Blanco's bat in Game 5, in case you missed it. Affeldt's been very good. If he can't pitch, his replacement is probably Clay Hensley and a whole lotta fingers crossed. One more bullpen complication: There's a good chance Lincecum, not Zito, will get a starting nod this time through. Which means it's less likely Timmy will be available for a game-saving relief appearance. Sure, Zito could be that guy to hold the line as the long man, but, uh, yeah. Mm-hmm. OK.

In other words, the Giants really totally absolutely need their rotation to get its collective shit together. And frankly, I'm not sure it's going to happen. Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner might be suffering from long-season-itis. One clue about Cain was Game 5 in Cincy; he was cruising along but hit a wall around 80 pitches. Yes, the Reds are an unforgiving team, but all lineups will be from here on out. Another clue about Cain, and I've mentioned this more than once this week, was Bochy's decision to save him for Game 5 and throw Barry Zito in Game 4. You'd think that if Bochy felt good about Cain on three days' rest, he would have pushed that button. Cain just doesn't look like he's in the Sabathia-Verlander-jump-on-my-back-boys class this October. I hope he proves me wrong and tosses eight scoreless next time out. I also hope Bumgarner gets himself fixed, and that Vogelsong battles deep into his next start, and that Lincecum adjusts the chip on his shoulder and throws a beautiful, angry game...

More than anything though, I hope the hitters make this all moot. Score runs in bunches, give the pitchers a break, and haul this covered wagon into the World Series. Oh, about those hitters...

Brandon Belt might be back in one of those Beltfunks. All those Ks, all that bad body language. I'm a card-carrying Beltista, and I prefer he gets things straightened out in a Cincinnati batting cage (where's the nearest Scandia?) while the Giants lay over. But Hector Sanchez's offense in Game 4 - two walks and a single - might tempt the ever-temptable Bochy into more than one Sanchez start behind the plate, especially if the Giants face Washington and its rotational lefties. Let's hope the coaching staff noticed what we all noticed on TV: that Sanchez added to Zito's misery with his execrable pitch framing. His technique is better suited to catch flies with chopsticks.

Other than an Arias start at short against Gio Gonzalez, if it comes to that, I think we'll see the same lineup that both disappeared against Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey and punished Mike Leake and (for one inning) Mat Latos. After all that rabble-rousing lectern-thumping taking-up-serpents speechifying, Hunter Pence would turn one hell of a trick if his bat got hot, too. I would convert to Epencecopalian. Pencecostal. Seventh Day Advpencist.

Until then, praise the Giants and pass the pilsner.



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