Giants uncertain about postseason rotation


Giants uncertain about postseason rotation

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy plans to start a pair of 16-game winners in the first two games of the National League division series. After that, he says he's not sure what he'll do.

Matt Cain will pitch Game 1 against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday and left-hander Madison Bumgarner will go in Game 2 on Sunday. The two tied for the team lead in victories and were instrumental down the stretch when San Francisco won the NL West for the second time in three years.

Two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and 15-game winner Barry Zito have also been key for the Giants. But Bochy said Thursday he's unsure whether he'll use the two in starting roles or out of the bullpen. That goes for Ryan Vogelsong as well.

``More than anything it's really vital for us to have all hands on deck here the first two games,'' Bochy said in explaining his reluctance to name a Game 3 starter. ``If we want to use some guys in the rotation early here, then we'll do that. We wanted to keep our options open.''

The uncertainty over the back end of the rotation might seem strange given that starting pitchers are creatures of habit and generally stay on a carefully mapped out throwing routine in between starts.

Zito, who was left off the Giants postseason roster entirely two years ago when the franchise won its first World Series title since 1954, doesn't think that will be an issue.

The 34-year-old left-hander has started 172 games and made six relief appearances since signing a $126 million, seven-year contract with San Francisco before the 2007 season.

``I've (come) out of the bullpen many times as a starter here,'' Zito said. ``A lot of the other guys have done that, too. You change your routine going into it. You can't be stupid about it. Other than that, if you're on the mound you're on the mound.''

The Giants gathered for a voluntary workout at AT&T Park and players took batting practice while Bumgarner threw a bullpen session as stadium workers hurried to get the stadium ready for Saturday's Game 1. Truckloads of merchandise arrived throughout the afternoon and red, white and blue bunting was hung around the waterfront ballpark.

Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker was a surprise visitor to the workout.

Baker, the former Giants skipper who recently rejoined the Reds after missing 11 games while recovering from a mini-stroke and irregular heartbeat, stood behind the batting cage and joked with current San Francisco scout Felipe Alou - who replaced Baker as manager.

If Baker hoped to get an insight as to what the Giants plans are for their rotation, he was disappointed.

Cain, the NL starter in the All-Star game who earlier this season pitched the first perfect game in franchise history, was an easy call for Game 1. Likewise with Bumgarner, the 23-year-old who was second on the team in ERA, strikeouts and innings pitched.

``You look at the years that Matt and Madison have had, that's why they're going Game 1 and Game 2,'' Bochy said. ``We feel like these two have earned these starts and that's why they're out there.''

The rest of the rotation is unclear for various reasons.

Zito was one of San Francisco's top pitchers down the stretch to finish with his best season yet since the 2002 AL Cy Young Award joined the Giants. He won his last five starts and seven decisions in the regular season, and hasn't lost since Aug. 2.

More critically for San Francisco, the Giants went 11-0 after Aug. 6 with Zito on the mound. That's vastly different from 2010 when he won only one game over the final two months.

``I'm just happy to be here,'' Zito said. ``Happy to be here, happy to be on the roster, happy to be having fun playing baseball right now. Everything else is gravy.''

Lincecum, the Giants former ace who lost 10 of his first 13 decisions this season, rebounded well but still finished with a career-high 15 losses.

The question for Bochy is whether to keep Lincecum in the rotation or put him the bullpen two years after the right-hander pitched the Giants past the Rangers in the Game 5 World Series clincher at Texas.

Vogelsong, 35, would seem the most likely of the three to go to the bullpen. He struggled over the final seven weeks of the season when he had a 6.75 ERA over his final 10 starts.

``We may use Timmy in the `pen, we may use Vogelsong in the `pen or Zito,'' Bochy said. ``They'll know exactly what's going on. We'll make sure that they're ready. That's right now what we think is the best way to about it.''

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Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

As if they needed a reminder, the Wizards saw firsthand on Wednesday night just how much can change in a short period of time in the Eastern Conference playoff race where just two games separate the No. 3 and No. 6 teams.

That No. 6 team is now your Washington Wizards, who began the day in fourth place but lost their first game in four days on the same night both the Cavs and Sixers won theirs. 

The Wizards lost to the Spurs on Wednesday and managed only 90 points, their fewest since Jan. 22. It was a lackluster performance in a game the Wizards needed to treat with urgency. 


The Spurs sure did.

"We've gotta have a better mentality coming into games," guard Bradley Beal said. "The Spurs were fighting for playoff seeding just like we were."

The Wizards have now lost six of their last 10, yet all those games have come against teams currently holding playoff spots. Considering John Wall reamins out with a left knee injury, it's hard to fault them too much when they are staying afloat just fine in the big picture.

The problem is that the closer they get to the end of the season, the more these losses are magnified. They amount to missed opportunities, some bigger than others.

That was not lost on Beal, who considered the alternative. If the Wizards had beaten the Spurs, they would be sitting in fourth, two spots higher, and just a game-and-a-half out of third.

"Every time we have a chance to move up, we take two steps back," Beal lamented.


The Wizards are in a high stakes part of the standings where plenty is in the balance. They are fighting for home court advantage, something they would get in the third or fourth spots. And who they match up with will be paramount.

By falling to sixth, the Wizards are currently in line to play the Cleveland Cavaliers. Though the Pacers and Sixers are also good teams, they don't have LeBron James. Avoiding him and the Cavs would be ideal for the Wizards.

Beal has even bigger worries than that. He noted after the loss in San Antonio that they could fall even further if they aren't careful. They are now just a game-and-a-half up on the seventh-place Heat. 

"We've gotta realize what's at stake, man. The way we're going, we could keep dropping and mess around and be eighth. We've gotta do whatever it takes to win," he said.

The Wizards should be fine, if the previous two months are any indication. But Wednesday night was another example of how precarious things are for them this season in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference.


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Game 74 Capitals at Red Wings Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread


Game 74 Capitals at Red Wings Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Detroit Red Wings

Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, Mich.

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Red Wings will be broadcast on NBCSN.

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Red Wings game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


The Capitals (42-24-7) take on the Red Wings (27-35-11) Thursday, March 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET in Detroit.


The Capitals-Red Wings game will be broadcast on NBCSN. Coverage kicks off on NBC Sports Washington with Capitals FaceOff at 6:30 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 7:00 p.m. Check back with NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Extra and Caps Overtime at 10:30 p.m. for postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:30 p.m. — Capitals at Red Wings (on NBCSN)
10:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime


Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Red Wings game:

Alex Ovechkin -  Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Andre Burakovsky - Lars Eller - T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana - Travis Boyd - Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Philipp Grubauer starts with Braden Holtby as backup

Scratches: Evgeny Kuznetsov (upper body injury), Alex Chiasson, Jakub Jerabek


You can watch the Capitals-Red Wings game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.