clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Matt Cain is MATT CAIN, but the Giants' offense is NONEXISTENT

Matt Cain pitches 8 innings for the first time since 2013. It was vintage Matt Cain, and the Giants' offense decided to get nostalgic, too, and not show up for him, leading to the second shutout at home in four games.

This is the face of a man who's surprised to find himself pitching in the 7th inning.
This is the face of a man who's surprised to find himself pitching in the 7th inning.
Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants' offense died doing what it loved most: getting our hopes up. Who can forget Joe Panik's 2014 and fast start in 2015? Or Matt Duffy's 2015? Or Hunter Pence's career? Or the Hall of Fame track of Buster Posey? Sure, there's Brandon Belt, dutifully getting on base but rarely crossing home plate, and there's Denard Span's .350 on base percentage, but where's the pizzazz? The power? The scoring?

I stand before you today not to bury the Giants, but to honor them. Three world championships in a six-year span is impressive. And before 2010, inconceivable. But now it's come to this: unable to defeat division opponents, unable to score at home against the Rockies, unable to get the bats going in any meaningful way. To their credit, the Giants didn't lose their minds. Like the band on the Titanic, they embraced their inevitable demise and did their jobs as they disappeared into the abyss.

We don't watch baseball games for offense or pitching or defense. We watch for personalities and memorabilia and novelty food items and the views of the San Francisco bay. It's not offense that's the commodity, it's fun. Did you have fun just knowing that your favorite players are wearing your favorite uniform and playing in your favorite stadium in your favorite city? That's all that matters. Not the offense, not the win-loss record. Just the fun of existing. Of being.

So, as long as the Giants simply exist, you've won. They've won. They've won the NL West in our hearts and the World Series of going through the motions. Let us never forget that the Giants played 27 outs.

* * *

This was a MATT CAIN-level Matt Cain start. It feels good to type that. It feels good to sit and think about it. It feels good to know that the real Matt Cain is "in there" somewhere. And the Giants rewarded him as they would have rewarded the real Matt Cain: with zero runs. He even gave up a booming home run to his nemesis, Troy Tulowitzki.It was a vintage, glorious Matt Caining.

He had a fastball and a curveball and a slider and the ball went where he wanted it to more often in this start than it had in any other this season. He may not be the flyout/popup machine he once was -- the late life on the fastball might never return -- but he can still battle and be effective.

There are a couple of caveats about tonight's otherwise stellar performance (8 IP, 6 H, 0 BB, 7 K): 1) the Blue Jays' offense has not approached the scorching, post-Tulo-trade-level, and 2) Matt Cain made many of the mistakes he's been making all season. So, it's entirely possible this had some element of a mirage to it. Still, if you're placing odds about an otherwise healthy and not terribly old pitcher being a solid and reliable major league starter for the majority of the season, you'd have to say the odds are in his favor. It's the expectation the Giants banked their entire offseason on, which is hardly a selling point, but certainly a point in Cain's favor.

It doesn't take much to pitch better than Jake Peavy, and Matt Cain finally cleared that bar tonight. If he can maintain some level of this performance going forward, than back of the rotation suddenly doesn't seem like a post-apocalyptic nightmare. There'd be hope in the chaos. Why's that so important? Because when the offense disappears for days or weeks at a time, being able to stay in games is important. Sometimes the other team actually makes mistakes, and sometimes, even by accident, the Giants' sleepy bats can capitalize on those mistakes. But if they're down 6 runs every time those mistakes come, then it's really one big shrug emoji.

Matt Cain: our beacon of hope.

* * *

Championships, perfect games, no hitters, walk-offs, whatever, are all great and fun and what we tend to notice first and mainly about this game we love, but to me, the genuine beauty of baseball lies in the margins. A Bartolo Colon home run... Brandon Crawford getting totally owned by his brother-in-law... and the journeys of players like J.A. Happ.

When Matt Cain last faced him, he was being humiliated by the Giants on their way to securing Cain's perfect game. Happ made this face:

JA Happ reacts

And, as you'll recall, the Giants didn't really struggle with him offensively. Brandon Belt hit a booming home run over the centerfield wall earlier in the game and it was effectively a rout. Does this mean that the Giants are a worse team four years later? We tend to think of pitchers aging badly, that the number of starters who can make adjustments to survive in the professional leagues are few, and that if someone like Happ were to adjust, he'd do so by becoming an *even craftier* lefty than he was when they faced him back in 2012.

But the thing is, J.A. Happ is not a crafty lefty. In fact, his average fastball velocity has gone up a couple of ticks since 2012. He's also throwing his sinker way more often and his cutter more, too. He hasn't added any pitches, he's simply throwing others more often and throwing them better. He's a strong example of someone who's "learned how to pitch."

We know Matt Cain knows how to pitch. At least... we know he *used* to know how to pitch. Who the hell knows how long it takes to regain one's form after injury. We do know that there is no regaining Matt Cain's previous form, however, as he had learned to pitch with discomfort. He had learned to pitch around the Matt Cain-flavored bone chips floating around in his elbow. With those gone, he's got space to work with, new ranges of motion to explore. And muscle memory to restore. There is no clear path back to being effective, and perhaps what we've seen in the cases of both starting pitchers tonight is the awkwardness of that journey.

And even if Happ's path is exclusive to him, that doesn't preclude the possibility that the Matt Cain we saw tonight can't be the Matt Cain we get going forward. That reinvention doesn't necessarily mean changing repertoire, but finding a better way to use it. If J.A. Happ can hang in this league, so can Matt Cain.

Tomorrow, the Giants try to avoid the sweep. Madison Bumgarner's on the mound. He'll be facing {checks schedule}... aww, crap. Marcus Stroman. And then four in Arizona, where usually everybody scores. But the Giants aren't everybody, they're terrible, offensively.

This week might not be so great.