Unexpected Matt Cain/Joaquin Arias Collaboration Sweeps G̶r̶a̶m̶m̶i̶e̶s̶, Dodgers

Well, say, that series went well.

For a spell after his perfect game, Matt Cain wasn't doing so well. It was fun to believe he was 1968 Bob Gibson for a while, but you knew he wasn't. He was Matt Cain, and to question the merits of that is to question everything that's good about Giants baseball. He has to mix in some bad starts every so often to get Mulder and Scully off his tail. All the heat is on Pence, and that allows Cain to do Martian things under the radar. Classic red herring.

And in the first inning of tonight's game, Matt Cain fell behind the leadoff hitter, 3-1. Worse, it wasn't just any leadoff hitter, it was Shane Victorino in a Dodgers uniform, as described in Revelations. When Matt Cain is sketchy -- just a few percent off with his command -- he'll do things like that. He'll have a mystery walk mixed in at the wrong time. It's what keeps him from being '68 Gibson.

Victorino swung at the 3-1 pitch, and he popped it to Brandon Belt.

Later on, in the fifth inning, Cain had two runners in scoring position with a three-run lead and two outs. A broken-bat florp would have been enough to get the Dodgers right back in the game. The game didn't end so close, but it wasn't always that way. Victorino was up, and he could have done untoward things.

Victorino swung at a 51-foot breaking ball for the third out.

The at-bat was really set up by the 2-1 pitch -- a front-door two-seamer that broke in on Victorino and paralyzed him. There are, what, 20,000 pitches thrown by a team in any given year? How can you possibly pick a favorite? That one had to be in the top ten for this season, though. The movement, the timing, the everything. The Victorino looking chagrined as he walked off the field, runners to follow.

Matt Cain pitched well. He was fantastic. He was everything the Giants could have hoped for and more in such a crucial game, and he was the Cain we remember from the beginning of the season. But give a little credit to Shane Victorino, who had a few awful at-bats tonight. The Giants got to watch Hunter Pence flail around during the wins. Imagine what it would have been like to watch him do that in some losses.

Matt Cain.

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Last week or so, I wrote that when Angel Pagan was hot, it made the lineup look different. Like say-there's-an-unexpectedly-good-hitter-in-this-lineup different. That's probably because, hey, all of a sudden, there's an unexpectedly good hitter in the lineup. Funny how that works. From June 8 to August 2, Pagan hit .201/.257/.266. Selective endpoints, sure, but you watched all of those games. You saw how bad he looked. It didn't look like there was a way out.

Since then entering tonight: .360/.424/.600 in his last 75 at-bats. And that all went up tonight. He looks like the best player on the team right now.

That's how it works. When a player is slumping, he looks like the antonym of talent. When he's hot, he looks like a franchise cornerstone. Pagan's season line is now .289/.338/.427. The average might be a little higher than expected, but otherwise, that's about right. The ups and downs balance out into the player we expected the whole time. Baseball!

The larger point is this: One of these days, Hunter Pence is going to carry his team. That team might be the 2013 Marlins, but he'll have a streak like that. I'm just glad the Giants are doing well while Pence is in his nymphal stage, dormant, underground, living off the tree sap, and waiting for his circadian cycle to swing him back to "middle-of-the-order hitter." If the Giants keep sweeping teams, we can wait.

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Joaquin Arias is not Brian Bocock.

Does that read flippant? It's not meant to. It's a good thing. In 2008, the Giants had a 41-year-old shortstop and no half-decent backup. That was insane. When the 41-year-old got hurt -- wait, what??? -- that's how Brian Bocock ended up as the Opening Day starter.

Arias is not Bocock. He's a viable major-league backup. He can play a decent short, and he can fill in at other positions. Yes, he'll flail at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone, but if he didn't, he'd make $12 million a year. That's the point. That's why he's a backup.

You'll have ups, you'll have downs. You'll think, say, those PCL numbers weren't so bad. Then you'll remember that Eugenio Velez's PCL numbers weren't so bad. There will be ebbs, and there will be flows. If I had to put a kidney down, I'd guess that Arias is going to finish the season with a worse line than his current .280/.316/.388. That's a .704 OPS, by golly. I would have snorted a line of Dodger Dog nitrates to get that line from a middle infielder this year. And the nitrates would have preserved me so I could live foreverrrrrrr.

Don't get carried away with one game. Think of a random Giants benchie -- Mike Benjamin, Desi Wilson … hell, even Alberto Castillo had a grand slam -- and they've had a stellar game or three. But Joaquin Arias is not Brian Bocock. He's entitled to a backup job in the big league. He has some skills. And every so often, a guy like that will run into a game like this.

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Seeing Pat Riley without a suit is weird. He looked like a hobo.

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When you walk the bases loaded on purpose to face anyone but a pitcher, you're a fool.

There are probably extreme examples. If Matt Kemp is up, and Juan Uribe is on deck, sure. Walk him. But in 98 percent of the situations a manager will face, loading the bases intentionally is abominable strategy. It puts a pressure on the pitcher -- and a trust in the umpire -- that leads to bad results. I think I wrote about this 59 times during the playoffs last year. Here's one, and I didn't even have to search for "Ron Washington."

With one pitch out of the strike zone, all of the leverage goes to the hitter. Justin Christian turned a 1-0 count into a 1-2 count, but that's not the point. He worked a walk against a pitcher who was scared of giving up three runs on a double into the gap. Of course he did. That was one of the two or three possible outcomes because walking the bases loaded is stupid.

What I'm saying is that I really enjoy Don Mattingly as the manager of the Dodgers.

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Justin Christian:

There are a lot of things to appreciate with that catch, but I'm fascinated with where he starts. To go from that starting position to the warning track on a line drive is supernatural.

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Santiago Casilla is the reliever that spoiled fans complain about when they have a pretty good bullpen.

There.

He should be better. He should be back. The lower-leverage innings will help, but he's a good reliever. Either you believe he's going to allow home runs at a greater rate than he has over the last three years, or you trust the 100 innings between 2010 and 2011. That isn't a trick question, or a false dichotomy. It could go either way.

I think he's better than he's been over the past two months, and it's nice to see him contribute in back-to-back games.

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