The San Francisco Giants are a team built around their starting pitching.  Over the past month, it’s this aspect of the team that has been letting them down.

GM Brian Sabean has made several moves during the course of the season to bolster the offense.  Outfielders Pat Burrell, Jose Guillen, and Cody Ross give manager Bruce Bochy a lot of flexibility to go with the hot bat.  Infielder Mike Fontenot was a much needed acquisition when Edgar Renteria went on the DL.

In addition, the trade of catcher Bengie Molina opened the door for Buster Posey to play every day.  These moves have given the Giants a solid lineup and also a potent bench.

Now, the key for the Giants to make a playoff run is the pitching, most notably the starting pitching.  Two time Cy Young award winner, Tim Lincecum, has been struggling and has now lost five straight decisions.  His overall record has slipped to a very pedestrian 11-9, with a 3.80 ERA.

The alarming thing about this recent run is the loss of velocity and command that has plagued Lincecum.  Against Arizona tonight, Lincecum’s fastball was usually in the 90-91 mph range, down from the 94-96 mark he was at for most of the past two years.

The decrease in velocity means that Lincecum is unable to get as many hitters to swing and miss with the fastball.  Not only does this mean more balls are put in play, but also more foul balls, so Lincecum’s pitch count rises too rapidly.

The decrease in velocity also means that the speed differential between Lincecum’s fastball and changeup is a lot less.  This, again, means more contact and more foul balls.  Lincecum is having trouble putting hitters away quickly, even when he gets two quick strikes on them.

In addition, Lincecum has been having trouble with his command, both in and out of the strike zone. Lincecum walked two in the first inning.  They both came around to score on Adam LaRoche’s home run.  Lincecum missed badly with his location on an off speed pitch, leaving it over the plate for LaRoche to smash.  LaRoche blasted it into McCovey Cove, giving the Diamondbacks a three-run lead.

The second starter, Barry Zito started the season quite well.  However, he has also struggled of late.  In Zito’s last three starts, he has given up five runs once and four runs twice.  Zito has not made it out of the seventh inning in any of those outings.

Matt Cain has been the most reliable starter in the month of August.  His overall record is 10-10 with an ERA of 3.07.  Cain’s WHIP ratio, (Walks + Hits allowed per innings pitched), is a phenomenal 1.14.  Cain has endured poor run support from his offense. Otherwise, his record would be much better.  Right now, Cain is pitching like the ace of the staff.

Jonathan Sanchez, the fourth starter, has great talent and can have tremendous games.  He threw a no-hitter against the Padres last season.  However, as good as Sanchez can be at times, he has struggled with consistency his entire career. 

In the past four outings, Sanchez has had one great outing and three poor ones. Against Philadelphia, Sanchez threw eight innings, giving up only two hits and one run.  In the other three starts, Sanchez threw a total of 13.2 innings and give up twelve runs.  These short outings also cause the bullpen to become overworked.

The fifth starter, rookie Madison Bumgarner, just turned 21 years of age.  He is under pressure to deliver, as the Giants need him to do well in their playoff chase. 

Bumgarner had been pitching well, then had a terrible outing earlier this week against the Reds.  He was unable to get out of the third inning, giving up seven earned runs.  The Giants trailed at one point 10-1, but staged an incredible comeback to take the lead 11-10.  Unfortunately for the Giants, the Reds were able to tie it in the ninth inning and win it in the 12th. 

Having lost the past two games, the Giants need to get back to their winning ways in order to keep their playoff hopes on track.  The starting pitching for the Giants must improve immediately, or this season will be lost. 

The talent is definitely there.  Now, it’s up to Lincecum, Zito, Cain, Sanchez, and Bumgarner to step up and lead the Giants to the playoffs.

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