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Game 1 NLCS, Cards 6, Giants 4: More Starting Pitcher Torture

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Give the Giants credit: They've got the most consistent starting pitchers in the game right now. Not in a good way, of course, but at least Madison Bumgarner quickly justified the queasiness that set in soon after the post-Vedi Vini Vici Cinci euphoria peaked.

I take no secret pleasure in typing the Giants lost tonight because of Madison Bumgarner. He threw some good pitches, and then he threw bad pitches, many of them with two strikes. The Cardinals hit most of them hard. It was not pretty, and it was not comedy.

As I wrote Friday, I just don't see how the bullpen can keep this up. Sunday night, it did, and how: Kontos, Lincecum, Affeldt, Casilla and Mijares no-hit the Cards after Bumgarner's exit. Unfortunately the St. Louis bullpen, taking time out from leaping tree to tree as they floated down the mighty rivers of British Columbia, did more or less the same number on the Giants. The game really hinged on three Giant plate appearances:

- In the fourth, with four runs in, Crawford on second and Aubrey Huff on first after a walk -- perhaps his best PA of 2012, considering the context -- Mike Matheny yanked his starter and brought in reliever Joe Kelly. His first-pitch sinker, either at the knees or below, should have been an easy take for Angel Pagan, but he grounded it routinely. The placement was nearly perfect, however, until 2B Descalso made a diving stop up the middle and flipped to second for the inning-ending force. Great play by Descalso, but really, Pagan should have waited for something a little meatier in that situation.

- In the fifth, with Marco Scutaro on first with a leadoff single, Pablo Sandoval scorched one that Allen Craig dived at first base to spear. It would've been first and second, perhaps third, with no outs, and Posey up. Instead, Kelly pitched around Posey to get to...

- Hunter Pence. He got the count to 1-1 but swung at an inside sinker. Kelly's ball definitely had two-seam action, and perhaps it looked fat when Pence started to swing. But he couldn't rotate through it quickly enough, it got in on his label, and he popped meekly to left. Two out, rally effectively killed. That was basically the team's last best chance.

Memories of the Cincinnati series ease the pain a bit. Down 1-0? Ha. That's nothing. But this string of inadequate (to be charitable) starting pitching is going to grind the team down if it continues unabated. In fact, the longer-term scenario has me more worried than the slim series deficit. This franchise depends upon starting pitching, full stop. Great hitters won't come here as free agents and are damn hard to trade for. Pretty good hitters are more easily acquired, but for every Scutaro there's a Pence, flying out to the warning track in right-center once a game. The Giants have had a remarkable run of rotation serendipity. Good health, good drafts, good scouting, good luck. What if the treacherous wheel finally spins the Giants around to the other side of summer -- the one without pennant races for years -- or, even worse, "Pump it Up" In 6/8 time?

What if, as several on Twitter and elsewhere have wondered tonight, Madison Bumgarner is broken or getting close? Grant is semi-hoping for a shutdown, and I have to say the same thought crossed my mind watching him heave mushy apples toward home plate yet again. Nothing was crisp. Nothing snapped. Even when he located inside, St. Louis hitters turned on it with ease, as if they knew the location was coming.

In additional to ringing all sorts of existential alarms in my clattering soul, Bumgarner's quick hook also means a Lincecum start isn't assured this series. He might prove far too valuable in the 'pen, as he has twice now this post-season. If Vogelsong and Cain can turn in masterworks back to back, and the Giants head to Game 4 up 2-1, Bochy might tab Zito anyway, figuring Timmy could shadow him the way he did in Cincy. If Zito pitches well and renders Lincecum unnecessary, then Tim could be queued up quite nicely to take Bumgarner's spot in Game 5.

That's just one scenario. No doubt we'll run through a multitude of others in the next 24 hours. Meanwhile, good vibes and warm thoughts go out to Roberto Kelly, who in case you missed it was struck by a line drive in batting practice Saturday. Get well soon.

The good news heading toward Game 2: The Giants have never lost at home to a pitcher missing two of his three scalene muscles.


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