Giants' NLCS rotation could include Lincecum

Giants' NLCS rotation could include Lincecum

SAN FRANCISCO -- Tailoring the starting rotation to fit the National League Championship Series schedule, and perhaps to weave in Tim Lincecum, is surely one of the Giants' top priorities as they await Sunday's start of the next postseason round.

The Giants won't be able to keep Matt Cain in his series-opening slot. Cain, who started Games 1 and 5 in the Division Series against Cincinnati, will not have received his normal four days' rest until next Tuesday, which happens to be an open date in the NLCS schedule. Thus, the earliest Cain could pitch would be Game 3 on Wednesday. It's unlikely that manager Bruce Bochy would bring back Cain on three days' rest for Game 2 on Monday, since he was unwilling to do that in the Division Series.

Reds vs. Giants

Moreover, if Cain were to pitch Game 3, he would have his full four days' rest in time to start Game 7, if necessary.

This leaves Bochy with multiple options -- that is, the rest of the starting staff -- for the series' first two games. If he chooses to stick with the Division Series sequence to make sure that certain starters don't receive too much rest, then Madison Bumgarner will pitch Sunday's opener against either the Nationals or Cardinals, followed by Ryan Vogelsong in Game 2. But they very well could be flip-flopped on the basis of performance, since Vogelsong (five innings, one run in Game 3) outdid Bumgarner (4 1/3 innings, four runs in Game 2) in the NLDS.

Since Bochy almost surely will stick with a four-man starting sequence, it's apparent that he faces a choice between Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum, who both pitched in Game 4 of NLDS on Wednesday, for Game 4 of the NLCS. After Zito struggled (2 2/3 innings, four hits, four walks, two runs), Lincecum thrived (4 1/3 innings, two hits, one run, no walks, six strikeouts). Without addressing Zito's status, Bochy dropped hints after Game 4 that he would consider returning Lincecum to a starting role.

"I think you have to," Bochy said. "He stepped up and did a terrific job. ... When you're on a stage like this, you're hoping somebody steps up, and Timmy has that ability and he did tonight for us. ... So I think, yeah, we get to that point, sure, we'll talk about it."

Assuming it's either Lincecum or Zito, the NLCS Game 4 starter would pitch on a full week's rest, if Cain pitches Game 3. The Game 4 assignment also will be the only start that pitcher will make. Thus, if the Giants are that enamored of Lincecum, he could be moved up to Game 2 and would be working on four days' rest.

If an extended NLCS unfolds, San Francisco's Game 1 starter would be able to come back following a full four-day break, while the Game 2 starter would receive an extra day's rest.

So, here are the likeliest possible four-man sequences for the NLCS:

Bumgarner
Vogelsong
Cain
Lincecum/Zito

Vogelsong
Bumgarner
Cain
Lincecum/Zito

Bumgarner
Lincecum
Cain
Vogelsong

Vogelsong
Lincecum
Cain
Bumgarner

No matter how the Giants' decision takes shape, they'll be seeking considerable improvement from their starters. None of them lasted past the sixth inning against the Reds as the contingent posted a 5.16 ERA.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.