I'm coaching a softball team of 7- and 8-year-old girls, which means that at least a couple times every week, I'm clapping until the skin cracks on my palms and yelling, "Good job, good effort, way to go, good eye, good swing, good hustle, good everything! Good everything! Everything is good!" I'm pretty sure the parents for the other teams hate me.
So maybe I'm still in that mode, but I don't want to start with Matt Cain speculation and discouragement. I want to clap, clap, clap and say "Good job, lineup. Good effort. Good eye. Good swings!" The Giants took seven walks. They worked the count in their favor quite a bit, and they made the game close.
It was a solid, engaged effort against good pitchers. CLAP CLAP CLAP. Good job! Way to go! CLAP CLAP CLAP.
Brandon Crawford deserved better from his eighth inning at-bat. We all did. He came back from a two-strike count and pummeled a baseball where there shouldn't have been a fielder. Sometimes you play your "U" and you get a "Q" with your very next draw. I don't know what that means, but I'm staring at a Scrabble set right now, so pretend it works. Brandon Belt took three walks, and all of the plate appearances were filled with teasers and misdirection. Hunter Pence laid off a ridiculously close two-strike fastball, drawing a walk to keep a rally going. It didn't lead to anything, but that was okay. Then he almost drove a chin-high pitch out for a grand slam. Just missed.
They were just great battles from this team. CLAP CLAP CLAP. This team was supposed to be offense-oriented, with some help from the top of the rotation, and there's nothing that happened in this game that made me think that wasn't still the case.
It's the bottom of the rotation that's worrisome. Untenable, even. It's now it's time to talk about the sad things.
* * *
Matt Cain's ERA is 7.00. I'm not sure if that's lower or higher than it seems, and I'm not sure it matters. It's a pleasantly even number, which is my way of saying something nice.
Let's say two things nice for every criticism, then. That's a popular, modern way to manage without seeming like a jerk, so I'll pretend it applies to critics, too.
- Cain has 21 strikeouts and nine walks in 27 innings. That's mostly sustainable!
- "Arias, from deeep thirrrrrrrrrd!" no sorry that probably doesn't count right now
- His hat is worn in a way that will block out the sun if needed.
Whew, there we go. Now, apart from that, everything else is a mess. His strikeout rate seems acceptable, but that's because it's using innings as the denominator, not batters faced. His innings are longer because he's not exactly getting three quick outs. If you go by raw strikeout percentage, he's below the MLB average and below where he's been for his entire career. Including last year, which wasn't a good season.
You could have guessed as much. Just like with Jake Peavy, Cain gets to two strikes, and you're not thinking, "THROW HIM THE CHANGE" or "GIVE HIM THE OL' DIPSY-DO." You're thinking, okay, now what? What can Cain throw below the zone that he's not worried about hanging? What can he throw above the hands that a) will tempt the hitter like it's 2012 and b) has no chance of missing lower?
What can he do? I mean, in general. When you start asking that about your starting pitcher, it's only natural to look around and wonder who's behind him.
More Bochy on Cain, Peavy: "I don't think there are options that are going to make this staff better." #sfgiants— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) April 30, 2016
Aaaaand, that's the biggest problem. On a team that desperately needs the #4 and #5 hitters to straighten out, it's not like Zack Wheeler is mowing down hitters in a rehab assignment, just waiting for the opportunity. Let's check in with the cavalry in Triple-A:
- Clayton Blackburn, 4.57 ERA, 4.98 K/9
- Ty Blach, 5.95 ERA, 4.6 BB/9
- Chris Heston, 10 BB in 13 innings
Not all is lost, as Tyler Beede is making progress, Joan Gregorio is pitching extremely well in Double-A, and Andrew Suarez is doing well enough in Class-A to get pushed up a level, which puts him on the shortlist of potential fill-ins. But if you're looking for a fix right now, right this second, yeah, it's not there. The best option is still hoping Cain and Peavy have some sort of veteran magic hidden under the floorboards.
The trick is remaining in contention until August 1 and fixing one of the problems then. If the Giants get to the deadline and are close to first, it might mean that one of Peavy or Cain has figured something out. I don't begrudge Bochy for having hope in that department.
I just can't share it. What can Cain do to get hitters out? What has he done over the last three years that makes you think it's possible? At least Peavy was helpful just last year.
It will take just one excellent start for me to toot the Cain-whistle as I march around the room, taking tickets for the Cain bandwagon. You know it, I know it, and I'm not apologizing for it. His success is clearly my biggest individual Giants wish of 2016.
We're five starts in, though. It's not looking good. Before today, Cain was struggling without allowing home runs. Today he struggled and allowed a pair of solo homers. What happens when he starts giving them up with runners on base?
But the Giants had a good approach against a tough pitcher on Saturday. Remember that. It's all we have.