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Senior Baseball Columnist

With rocky season, especially Lincecum's decline, Giants getting creative

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With the injury to Brian Wilson, the Giants have turned to Santiago Casilla as their primary closer. (US Presswire)  
With the injury to Brian Wilson, the Giants have turned to Santiago Casilla as their primary closer. (US Presswire)  

It was shortly after his final regular-season outing on Sunday when Tim Lincecum learned he will make at least one postseason start for the Giants.

He is not sure where he will pitch. He is not sure when he will pitch.

Which makes him not unlike his friends down in the Giants bullpen.

The biggest difference between this year's Giants as they prepare to open the playoffs this weekend at home and the Giants who won the NL West title in 2010? While their pitching remains very good, it's not nearly as settled.

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Without Lincecum pitching at ace level and without closer Brian Wilson, manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti have had to be far more creative this year.

Which, judging by the way the Giants have run away with the NL West, isn't a bad thing.

"Different deal, no question," Righetti says of the bullpen. "Boch has done a great job with those guys, and they've all accepted the challenge of knowing they all can pitch in the ninth inning.

"A committee supposedly is a bad thing. But it's turned out to be a good thing in our case."

Santiago Casilla leads these Giants with 25 saves; Sergio Romo has 13, Javier Lopez seven, and Jeremy Affeldt and Clay Hensley three each.

For a guy who was able to rely on a proven closer for most of his previous 17 years as a manager, Bochy is excelling in one more area this season -- adaptability.

"Sure, it's a lot easier when you have a set closer like Trevor Hoffman or Brian Wilson," Bochy says. "That allows you to do things in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings because it's a no-brainer that you'll be bringing in your closer in the ninth.

"Obviously, more goes into the thinking process with this."

Come Saturday and Game 1, that automatically will bring more into the second-guessing process as well. Because you know how things go in the playoffs: Every decision goes under the microscope, and then when the first one blows up, people immediately question how the bum manager even got the job in the first place.

In the first place ... it's impressive the Giants are running away with first place given Melky Cabrera's disappearing act, Wilson's season-ending injury after just two appearances and Lincecum's decline.

When the Giants won their first World Series in San Francisco in 2010, Lincecum was coming off of back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009. As was the case this season, he slumped in '10 too -- only not nearly as deeply or for as long. No question, he's a far less superior pitcher now, based on results and lost velocity.

Given that his 5.18 ERA ranks worst among the 47 qualifying NL pitchers and fourth-highest in the majors, there is a case to be made for the Giants keeping him out of their playoff rotation. And who knows? Maybe one poor start will cause them to back away from him if they advance.

Whatever happens, Lincecum is grateful to be included in the current plans. Even if, unlike in 2010, he will not be getting the ball for Game 1.

At the very least, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and likely Ryan Vogelsong slot ahead of him. Barry Zito? He was kept off of the postseason roster in 2010, but the Giants are 20-11 in his starts this year.

"I understand with the way things have been going this year, that's not going to be the case," Lincecum says. "You've got to go with the guys who've had great years -- Bumgarner, Vogelson, Cain, obviously.

"If I can find my way in there and get what I can, where I can, that's all that matters to me."

Lincecum (10-15, 5.18 in 33 starts) has been better in the second half, but still rocky. He surrendered 11 earned runs in 10 innings over his final two starts against the Diamondbacks and Padres. He was hammered for three homers in Petco Park on Sunday, becoming only the second Giants pitcher ever to yield three homers in one game in Petco. Noah Lowry was the first.

Bumgarner hasn't exactly been fooling 'em lately either, with a 5.47 ERA in five starts this month.

"Sure, you'd like to see guys locked in," Bochy says. "These guys find a way to raise their level of play.

"That's what we'll need."

Especially given that, because of this year's different playoff format, the Giants in the first round open with two home games and then, if the best-of-five series extends to the limit, would play the next three on the road.

Just as their 2010 playoff predecessors played well away from AT&T Park -- all three clinchers, against the Braves, Phillies and Rangers, came on the road -- these Giants' 25-9 road record since the All-Star break is the best in the majors.

"I like our situation," Bochy says. "We know we're going to be playing a very, very good team in the playoffs. Cincinnati and Washington are tremendous teams with great pitching.

"That said, I like the way our guys are playing. It's a great situation to be in. But we know we've got to be playing our best ball, and we've got to pitch great."

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