There was a point this season where Giants starters hadn't allowed an earned run. Ryan Vogelsong allowed the first earned run, four games into the season. It was the kind of start that made you remember how the Giants finished the regular season in 2010. You'd close your eyes and remember a simpler time, like when Giants fans spent that offseason arguing with Phillies fans about how good Jonathan Sanchez really was. We're used to the Giants having good starting pitching. Really good starting pitching.
Well, say, it sure was a lot more fun back then.
It's a lot more fun if you picture the next few days like a musical. Open with a dirty, adolescent street urchin hawking newspapers. "Ex-tree ex-tree, Cain bludgeoned by Brewers' bats." People gather around, buying papers and pretending to read them. The chorus starts up. "♪♪ What's wrong with Cain? ♪♪" ♪♪What's wrong with Cain?♪♪" The various leads take turns going downstage, twirling parasols or canes, explaining what's wrong with Cain using the magic of song. "♪It's those damnable mechanics!/♪But 'tis no time to panic!♪"
It's going to happen anyway, so you might as well picture it like Bedknobs and Broomsticks, or some crap.
The appropriate level of panic is unclear at this point, but I think Bruce Bochy is a pretty good guide. After the Jonathan Lucroy homer, Cain stayed in the game for 3 ⅔ more innings, doing just fine. This is because Bochy isn't worried about Cain, and neither should we. I hope. But Bochy didn't want to burn his bullpen again, and his best option was Matt Cain. This is because Matt Cain is Matt Cain, which is usually a leading indicator of success in today's topsy-turvy game of baseball. He made two miserable pitches to Braun and Lucroy, and that was the game.
You'll note that I omitted Yovani Gallardo's name from the list of miserable pitches. This is intentional. Even when a pitcher is as good a hitter as Gallardo (or Mike Leake, or Micah Owings), I don't think it's ever reasonable to get mad about another pitcher hitting a home run. I got 193,031 times angrier at Tim Lincecum for walking Juan Nicasio twice than I did when Gallardo hit a homer.
Gallardo has 11 career home runs. That's good for a pitcher. He was also a .206/.237/.357 hitter coming into today. That's bad for a hitter. When a first pitch, challenge fastball gets hit hard by a hitter like that, forget it. It's the purple on the roulette wheel, the "Lose your spouse" sliver of the Wheel of Fortune wheel. You can't expect it. When it happens, it's just one of those days, man.
The pitches to Lucroy and Braun were awful, though. Don't get me wrong. There isn't a way to excuse those kinds of pitches. John Sayles reshot scenes in Eight Men Out because he thought including those kinds of sliders would be a little over the top. They might not have been the worst breaking balls of Cain's career, but they were probably tied with a bunch of other ones we can't remember. Which is probably the point. It happens.
Said the fanboy who's trying to process what it means to watch Matt Cain struggle. For now, though, I can believe it without even feeling weird.
On April 18, 2013, Mike Krukow bestowed he-can-hit label on Brandon Crawford. There will be a formal reception, black-tie only, when the Giants return home. Crawford will don the he-can-hit sash, and he'll ride into the ceremony on a rickshaw pulled by Mark Sweeney and Mark DeRosa.
But we're not here to make fun. This is quickly becoming the early story of the season -- at least, the one that allows us to forget about the Giants getting swept in Milwaukee. Crawford is a home run away from his career high, and if he retired today he'd finish 2013 with the highest oWAR of his career. Andrew Baggarly got an interesting quote from the shortstop:
Crawford said he adjusted his two-strike approach after chats with Posey, who is great at it. The gist: don't swing in fear of striking out.— Andrew Baggarly (@CSNBaggs) April 18, 2013
There's a little of best-shape-of-my-life in any sort of quote like this. It's a little too "I did X, so now Y is a piece of cake." But danged if I'm not seduced by the idea of Crawford learning from one of the better young hitters I've ever watched. I'll buy it. I'll buy anything, I'm so eager for Crawford to be okay at the plate. He sure looks like a different hitter, but I guess they all do when they're hot. When Eugenio Velez had that wild streak back in '09, he probably looked like a real hitter. Or a real person, at least.
Still, I wanna believe. And when he keeps pounding the ball like this …
But there can be only one Brandon who hits at the same time as the other one. Belt hit two more balls right on the nose, and he also had a sac fly that went out to medium-deep center field. He was 0-for-3. He's still hitting under the Mendoza line.
That makes eight line-drives for outs, by my count, which is a big deal in a two-week-old season. Other than chuckling at the idea that it's Belt -- of course it's Belt going through a spell of miserable luck in the first season he has the first-base job unopposed -- there's nothing to do.
I took a look at Pedro Alvarez over at Baseball Nation. Now that's a hitter who is struggling. You're going to think I made this up, but Belt saw more pitches ahead in the count today than Alvarez did in first 17 plate appearances. More facts:
- In 31 of the 50 plate appearances, Alvarez didn't see a pitch while ahead in the count.
- He's hit the ball out of the infield six times -- four singles, a fly out to shallow left, and a fly out to center
- In 33 of 50 plate appearances, he was at two strikes by the third pitch
- He's had a two-strike count against him in 38 of 50 plate appearances.
- He's put the ball in play three times while ahead in the count -- a single, grounder to first, and pop out (all on 2-0 counts)
- One of his singles was against Carlos Marmol, which doesn't officially count
- The farthest Alvarez has hit a ball this season is about 325 feet
- The second farthest Alvarez has hit a ball this season is about 240 feet
All three of the balls Belt put in play on Thursday would have been the farthest ball Alvarez hit in 2013.
Which doesn't have a ton to do with Belt, other than as a way to point out that Belt isn't a struggling hitter. You want struggling? Check out Pedro Alvarez. Check out Aaron Hicks on the Twins. Those are hitters having seasons that impatient people think Belt is having. Belt's not screwed up. He's just unlucky. As long as he doesn't start to press, things will get better.
Just like they will for Matt Cain.