If you're looking for things to worry about in the middle of any particularly nasty losing stretch, you'll find them. They're everywhere. That's why they're losing streaks. Last night the closer was broken, but only after the rest of the bullpen locked their keys in the car. The lineup is inconsistent as all heck, and somehow they became a dinger-or-nothing bunch. They were shut out for the first time this season, and it felt downright natural to watch.
But in order to believe those are the true, honest problems of the 2016 Giants, the weakness that will ruin the season, you sure do have to jump to a lot of conclusions. For the bullpen, you'll have to assume that Santiago Casilla won't be at least quite good (which he's been for six seasons now) and that Hunter Strickland was a mirage last year, when he was mostly excellent. You'll have to not be impressed with the kiddie corps that's recently arrived to do fun things. I understand worrying about the bullpen, but it's hard to imagine them as currently constructed being the problem. Bullpens rarely are.
And in order to be overly worried about the lineup, which is easy to do after watching a feckless performance like that, you'll have to assume that Buster Posey is ordinary, Denard Span is washed up, and Hunter Pence is a fourth-tier outfielder. If you're worried about what has led to an occasionally stutter-stop offense since the team left sweet, sweet Miller Park, you have to worry about them in a long-term capacity. As opposed to saying things like, "Hit the ball better, you bozos. I know you can. Cripes."
No, I'm okay with the different bullpen permutations from now until the trade deadline. And I'm not worried about the lineup. I wish those bozos would hit the ball better because, cripes, I know they can, but I'm not worried about them limping into August with 400 runs scored total. Everything's magnified in a losing streak, but some perspective is helpful.
Which brings us to the part that I'm absolutely, 100 percent worried about. The players on the current Giants roster who can quite certainly ruin the season if things don't turn around. The #4 and #5 starters are kind of a mess.
We're noticing them more right now because the other pieces aren't falling into place, sure. The bullpen coughed up the game last night, which is awful enough, but then they left the coughed-up game on the floor, and the lineup ate it. Why would they do that? Bad lineup! Bad! And when there's no relief from the other parts of the team (with some defensive meltdowns mixed it, of course), boy, how those expected problems stick out. Even in isolation, though, the back of the Giants' rotation is very, very worrisome.
For the third straight game, Matt Cain cruised into the fifth inning and fell down an elevator shaft. He's pitched 13 innings this season that have made you think, "Yes, yes, yes, this is going to work," but he's also pitched 2⅓ innings of disaster-ball, with line drives shrieking all over the ballpark. If you're worried about the Giants, worry about this. It was a similar story on Monday night, too, and the Giants have two pitchers back-to-back in the rotation who can't make it out of the fifth inning. Jake Peavy has thrown an average of 80 pitches over his three starts, which gives you an idea of just how much Bruce Bochy expects the other shoe to drop there, and Cain can't shake the nightmare innings.
If you're looking for silver linings, there are a couple. The first is that once the Giants start hitting again, we won't notice a 5⅔ inning, three run start quite as much. If that sounds like damning with faint praise, it is, but that leads into the second silver lining. Peavy started the season like this last year, and he became an asset (a cool 1.5 WAR, with the Giants going 11-8 in his starts). Maybe once he and Cain get stretched out, they'll have similar runs of utility.
I will say this about Cain: Hitters don't look as comfortable as they have in the last two years, at least not at first. They're chasing the high fastball and popping it up, just like the old days. It's that hellish inning, though, where everything starts leaking over the plate. Maybe the late start to the spring is spilling over into the season, and we're going to see a brand new Cain soon.
Maybe. But if you're looking for reasons to be skeptical about the 2016 Giants, the back of the rotation is a fine place to start. It was supposed to be the problem before the season. It's the problem during the season. Now what?
We wait, I guess. And that's no fun.
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Steven Okert was impressive. You're not supposed to dream about a long-term bullpen core because that's not how bullpens work, but we're spoiled Giants fans, so we're allowed. Between Okert and Josh Osich, you can imagine a two-left-armed monster living under the bridge to the ninth inning for years and years.
Over the last week, we've had some really fun bullpen debuts. It's almost enough to make you happy you watched the games. Almost.
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Matt Duffy back.
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I mean, I could expand that for another 400 words, but we all want to go to bed. Duffy had the opposite-field approach working all night, and he was aggressive enough to drive a first-pitch fastball for a single, while not being so aggressive that he was offering at Tyler Clippard's sludge just off the outside edge in the ninth inning.
Welcome back, Matt Duffy. And you can tell that he's back because he was brilliant in the field, too. For some reason, those two always seem related for him.