Barry Zito walked a tightrope for six innings, but allowed only one run against the Oakland A's on Thursday afternoon to help the Giants avoid losing a fourth straight game to their crosstown rival. Despite throwing 117 pitches and walking six batters, Zito limited the A's to just three hits and struck out five. Coco Crisp's single in the second inning was the only run they would plate. Zito got his fourth win of the season and the Giants as a team have gone 7-0 in his home starts.
Zito and counterpart A.J. Griffin dealt with a tight strike zone from home plate ump Dan Iassogna all day. The A's had baserunners and chances to score on Zito every inning, but somehow the crafty lefthander escaped damage with quality pitches. He was on the hook for a possible loss when the offense woke up for the first time all series. Griffin started out well, but the Giants got to him with a four run sixth inning.
With Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro out the lineup, Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt came through with two run hits to put Zito in a spot to get another victory. Jeremy Affeldt got a big strikeout of Brandon Moss to end an Oakland threat in the seventh and Sergio Romo worked a clean ninth inning to earn the save. A nice win to boost the spirits of the team before hitting the road. And hopefully the flu bug that went through the team a couple weeks ago does not make the rounds again on airplanes this month. They will need as many healthy bodies as possible with regards to some of the opponents during the month of June.
It starts with a St. Louis Cardinals team that currently has the most wins in the big leagues. Their pitching staff has not suffered from the shorter offseason associated with deep playoff runs. In direct contrast to the Giants, the Cardinals boast a major league leading 3.07 ERA. Mike Matheny's club knew they were going to be without shortstop Rafael Furcal and closer Jason Motte from the get go. Pete Kozma is no Furcal, but former Padre Edward Mujica filled the void left by another case of an overused, max effort closer.
St. Louis' starting staff was hit hard by injuries before 2013 began. Longtime veteran ace Chris Carpenter admirably returned late last season from a nerve condition in his throwing arm. But he wasn't the same pitcher and the Giants proved that in last season's NLCS. Carpenter is dealing with the same issue once more and all signs have pointed to him having to retire. He remains on a throwing program to try to return, but the odds remain long.
Left hander Jaime Garcia has been lost for a second consecutive season. Garcia showed great promise with 28 starts in 2010 and 32 in 2011, but injuries have made it difficult for the 26 year old to stay on the field. He is out for the season with a labrum tear. Jake Westbrook was lead the MLB in ERA through the season's first month, but went on the DL in early May with a sore elbow.
All of these injuries have led to promotions of some young lefties from the likes of 24 year old John Gast and 25 year old Tyler Lyons. Gast recently went on the DL with a lat strain, which has lead to the Cardinals dipping into their deep pitching reserves once more for 21 year old right handed prospect Michael Wacha out of Texas A&M.
Luckily for St. Louis, their top three arms in Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, and Shelby Miller all have sub three ERAs. Wainwright looks to be fully recovered from a Tommy John Surgery that cost him 2011. Wainwright struggled at times in 2012 as the Giants can attest, but he has looked like his former ace self in 2013. Miller was a Cardinals' first round pick in 2009 out of high school. Now 22, Miller was one of the highest touted prospects in baseball and came within one batter of a perfect game against the Rockies in early May. It doesn't hurt that all of these names throw to one of the best signal callers behind the plate in Yadier Molina.
For all the attention their pitching has made, the lineup has had very little turnover and Giants fans should know most of the names. It features plenty of power along with guys who grind out at bats and hit for average. It's well balanced and when fully healthy it ranks as one of the top in baseball. St. Louis' bats rank 10th in runs scored and fourth in both batting average and on base percentage. It's not the kind of lineup any team would look forward to, much less one with a few pitching issues like the Giants have had.
Angel Pagan has bursitis in his bothersome hamstring and questions remain as to whether or not he will have to be put on the disabled list. Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres have filled the role as leadoff hitters. Matt Cain and Miller will kick off the series Friday. Madison Bumgarner and Wainwright will go on Saturday. Michael Kickham was sent down and Ramon Ramirez was brought up for bullpen purposes. Chad Gaudin is scheduled to make Sunday's start versus Lyons. It will be the first start for Gaudin since 2009 as a member of the New York Yankees.
San Francisco will have some time to get enough rest in St. Louis because of the day game Thursday. The Cardinals blew a 2-1 lead in the ninth to the Kansas City Royals and then fell behind 4-2 with the bases loaded when thunderstorms delayed the game. Struggling reliever Mitchell Boggs blew the save as Mujica was given a day off for rest. The Cards had to wait around past midnight during the delay, so the Giants may have actually gotten a better night's sleep than the home team.