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Matt Cain pitches well enough, Giants still lose

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Silver linings!

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals don't want to hear about the Giants' injuries. Their ace is out for the season. Matt Adams is gone for the year; Holliday is on the DL; Jason Heyward missed most of this series. They don't want to hit Stephen Piscotty second and Mark Reynolds fifth. They're trying to gussy up milk-crate furniture, too, and somehow they have the best record in baseball.

See, but I don't care about the Cardinals. No idea if Tommy Pham is actually good or not, don't have time to look it up . All I care about is the Giants, and they have exactly two things that are really going well for them this season: Madison Bumgarner and a deep, productive lineup. Bumgarner didn't pitch in the series. The deep, productive lineup is dinged up so bad that Bumgarner pinch-hit again, and it was only a mildly terrible decision. I want to yell at the Giants, but when you look at the bottom of the lineup ...

ralph

... all I can think is "And now for the award for the team that clearly didn't have any help building their lineup." And that's a shame, considering that the Giants really did have a nice lineup for a while.

Giants fans should know better than to complain about the baseball gods not liking them, but there's an eternal addendum when it comes to the Cardinals, and I'm rolling with it. The Giants are missing half of their lineup, and their lineup is what made them good in the first place. There was a cumulative effect of having Aoki/Pence/Panik all in the same lineup, without a gap, pestering pitchers the whole time, and that's gone. There's no one to write a letter to. We can't vote out the president of injuries in the midterm elections. It's just annoying.

That written, Juan Perez saved a run with his glove and scored a run with his feet, Matt Cain had a sacrifice fly, and Kelby Tomlinson drove in another run. So why even bring up the bottom of the lineup and all the injuries? Dunno, just felt like whining, and I have the platform.

Is it rationalization time? Sure, might as well. The Cardinals didn't see the Giants' best pitcher, and they didn't see their best lineup, yet the Giants kept it close the entire series. The Giants were in every game, even though they were 3-for-26 with runners in scoring position. The Giants didn't lose any ground to the Dodgers. The Augpocalpyse is almost over, and the Giants are still breathing. No one else got hurt.

Just imagine, for example, the sour face you would be making if Matt Cain couldn't get through four innings. Imagine what you'd think if the runs in the first three innings were just the start, and if he gave up three more dingers before getting unceremoniously yanked off the field. Literally yanked, with a 60-foot cane coming out from the dugout, vaudevillian-style. The Cain cane. It would be a nasty feeling in the pit of your stomach because not only would the Giants have lost, but there would be more evidence that Cain was unmistakably broken in a way the Giants don't have time to fix.

Instead, Cain was fine. Heck, he was excellent after the first inning, save for the hanging curve to Piscotty. He got a strikeout per inning. He was missing bats and throwing strikes. He did enough to justify the Giants' faith him, at least until his next mushroom-cloud start. If you're looking for silver linings, look at how Cain finished his start, everyone. Basically shooting silver linings out of his nose, he was.

★★★

Really, this is how close the Giants were to keeping the lead into the late innings:

pic

Tomlinson didn't make a bad throw. I'm not experienced enough to know if Susac should have caught it -- I've never had a large man dive at my wrist before -- so there's no blame to assign there, either. The Cardinals got a single on an 0-2 pitch, a weirdo in-between magic swinging drag bunt, and a fielder's choice that was that close. All you can do is hope they're using up all of their devil dust in the regular season.

Oh, and they hit two dingers, too. Those help.

★★★

And now it's time to talk about the Madison Bumgarner pinch-hitting fetish. It's fun! It's also horrible. But so very fun. It worked last night, and it was very, very fun. When it doesn't work, the epiphany is stunning. Wait, they tried what?

There's absolutely no way that Bumgarner is one of the 50 best hitters in the organization. I say that with love and respect, and I'm absolutely proud to watch him ward off vicious DH-loving goblins with every violent swing. But if you list all of the names from the organization who would have better odds against Trevor Rosenthal, it'll take a while. Ehire Adrianza? Absolutely. If not in terms of power, than in terms of not making an out. Ryan Lollis? Without question. Down the organization, keep pulling names. Chris Shaw? Well, he has been in pro ball for just a couple months, but yeah, he would probably out-hit Bumgarner if you gave him 500 at-bats. Jose Vizcaino, Jr.? Probably.

Jose Vizcaino, Sr., though?

AH-HA. Finally. A name I'm not so sure about.

There have been a few pitcher-to-fielder conversions over the years -- we're talking about established players in their 20s, not teenagers -- and they all took years and years of regular minor league at-bats *just to be awful in the majors*. That's the opening and closing argument against Bumgarner being more than a good-for-a-pitcher hitter. It took Rick Ankiel 1,000 minor league plate appearances (and steroids) to be as comparatively unimpressive as he was compared to his hitting peers. And that's the success story. The other conversions, like Adam Loewen, don't work out nearly that well.

Hitting baseballs in the major leagues is hard.

The only thing Bumgarner has going for him compared to someone like Lollis is the element of surprise. There's no book on him, no detailed heat map that tells the other teams where he can't handle fastballs, so that makes him dangerous. It's why he's done what he's done in his limited at-bats, and that reasoning isn't so absurd that it's really worth chastising Bruce Bochy for taking the shot. If there were someone like Adam Duvall on the bench, sure. The Giants almost certainly weren't going to score with any pinch-hitter, so he cast his die with the element of surprise. Might as well.

I just don't want to pretend like this is a viable strategy. Get healthy, everyone. Get healthy and fill out that 25-man roster like it was meant to be filled.

★★★

This is still pretty to watch: