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In Defense Of Ryan Vogelsong, Giant Playoff Hero

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Who woulda thunk that a quarter of the way into 2013, the Giants' biggest hugest ugliest problem would be pitching and defense? Other than the occasional hiccup against Clayton Kershaw, Cliff Lee, Ramon Ortiz -- you know, the real shut-down guys out there -- scoring runs hasn't been a big deal. They're fourth in the National League, and with some Coors Field pinball on the plus side this weekend the Giants could conceivably wake up Monday with the most runs in the league. And that's with a mighty-mite left field platoon, an underachieving Angel Pagan, and Brandon Belt channeling his inner James Loney most of the year. Not bad, I say!

What we just saw in Toronto makes a Rocky Mountain rebound seem implausible, but I'm going to whistle past the graveyard and chalk up the ugliness to jet lag (first trip to the Eastern time zone all year), bad turf and weird lights. And two pitchers on the mound giving up rockets at every turn. Coors Field is Coors Field is Coors Field, which is to say there's always a 15-8 horror show lurking around the next bend, but at least the first two games are Cain and Bumgarner. Lincecum and Zito for games three and four basically means who the heck knows. It would be a fine time for Zito to throw his first decent game away from home this year.

Vogelsong mercifully doesn't pitch again until the next homestand. I'll bet he makes that start. First of all, it's at home. Second, the errors behind him last night should give him a mulligan. Third, I can't shake the memory of the terrible patch he went through down the stretch last year, only to turn into a master carver in the playoffs. There were two iconic pitches of the 2012 post-season: Zito's neck-high "fast"ball to strike out Daniel Descalso early in Game 5 in St. Louis, and the sinker on the hands Vogey threw to Miguel Cabrera in Game 3 in Detroit with a couple men on. Cabrera popped it up, and the Tigers' final chance to climb back into the Series was gone. It was the same nasty pitch Vogelsong threw 150 times to Allen Craig in the NLCS, and 147 times Craig swung and missed. We're only seven months removed from this:

Ryan Vogelsong is pitching in the post-season. That's not a statistic, it's just something to melt your heart a little bit, and wait a second, I'm not done; your heart has as much chance as an ice shelf at the end of the Romney Administration. Ryan Vogelsong is one Giant win away from a World Series ring, and he's a damn good candidate for the team's post-season MVP. Only two pitchers in major-league history have thrown at least five innings with zero or one runs allowed in their first four post-season starts: Ryan Vogelsong and Christy Mathewson. Think of all the pitchers, Hall of Famers or not, who've had spectacular post-season runs: Orel Hershiser, Denny McLain, Bob Gibson, Luis Tiant, Matt Cain. Now think of Ryan Vogelsong. Why no, I'm not... it's just... damn allergies. Sorry, I need to blow my nose and collect my thoughts.
You don't think that deserves a little more time? If he's injured, that's one thing. Perhaps a skip of one turn in the rotation to clear his mind and get a little Rags Magic going in a bullpen session. Fine. But I'm not giving up on Vogelsong yet. There are some differences in the underlying numbers (Warning: you could spend years on the page this links to), but I have no idea if the differences are red flags. His fastball is averaging about 90 MPH, about one MPH less than 2012 and two less than 2011. All his pitches are getting hit hard, but his change-up is particularly meaty for lefties. Perhaps someone more adroit with data sets can see something obvious (other than "Don't throw the change-up down the middle!").

Collectively, though, I'm worried. There are literally no reinforcements in the minors. Literally! The Fresno Grizzlies have been using JUGGS machines instead of humans in their rotation this year, and major-league rules simply don't allow pitching machines to be placed on the 40-man roster. Wait, what? Those aren't pitching machines, just guys throwing like it's batting practice? OK, maybe Chris Heston and Mike Kickham will get their sea legs -- in the Central Valley, no less -- and by mid-July they'll be kickhaming at the big-league door. Or maybe they'll go back to the UK and reform their band, which, as Heston & Kickham, churned out hit after clever, tuneful alt-rock hit in the 1980s.

I wouldn't bet big money on either, to be honest. I'd rather bet on the Magic Rags tinkering under Vogey's hood and getting that ol' Slant-Six humming again. Heck, if someone can fix Heath Bell, how hard could it be to get Vogelsong back into playoff form?

Now, about fixing the defense. Remember Brandon Crawford's weird cousin who snuck onto the team early last year and pretended to know how to play shortstop? How long did that last? Longer than we wanted, but the point is, four dreadful errors in back-to-back first innings are the exception, not the rule. The mental gaffes of a couple weeks ago that helped Arizona sweep the Giants at home are the exception, not the rule. Fix the pitching, keep hitting more than just enough, and good things will happen.


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