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Matt Cain will probably be the fifth starter

So let’s predict how he’ll do in 2017.

MLB: Spring Training-Chicago Cubs at San Francisco Giants Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

It could work. Matt Cain having a good 2017 season is more likely than Ryan Vogelsong having a good 2011 season. Cain having a good 2017 season is also about as likely as Tim Lincecum having a good 2015 season, but focus on the first one. Baseball’s a funny thing, and Cain started an All-Star Game once. Putting him in the rotation isn’t the move that I would make, but, well, being gloomy takes extra effort. It could work.

It’s probably not going to work. Cain is saying the right things, of course. He’s making progress. He’s happy with where he is. But for a player who hasn’t been good for four seasons, his awful spring training hasn’t inspired anyone. The only reason to think he’s going to be better this year is faith. He gave up four runs in five innings on Wednesday, and that was one of his better March outings.

The battle between Cain and Ty Blach is mostly over, though. Cain is expecting to start the season in the rotation, and the Giants have been quiet since the Will Smith injury because they don’t see any other options. Ty Blach has been stuck coming out of the bullpen for most of spring, and that was before the injury to their top lefty. Blach can still start the season if needed, but all signs are pointing toward Cain pitching his way out of the rotation, not him pitching his way in.

Let’s take a break from our regularly scheduled grousing to remember just how special Cain is to the Giants’ franchise. When he arrived, 20 years old and in a dark era of Giants baseball, the Giants were known as a team that couldn’t develop pitching. Shawn Estes and Russ Ortiz were the success stories after years of high-ceiling pitchers who couldn’t stay healthy, like Kelly Downs, Atlee Hammaker, and Scott Garrelts. From 2007 through 2012, the Giants had a 200-inning machine they could count on.

That’s a long time for a pitcher to be that reliable, that good. He’s only the eighth pitcher to throw more than 1500 innings since the team moved to San Francisco, and he threw that many in seven consecutive 200-inning seasons. He made three All-Star Games, started one, and helped the Giants win three championships. For two of them, he was absolutely crucial.

This kills me, is what I’m trying to say. I couldn’t finish this without a nap, my cat needs my help to get down from the backyard fence, and the first new car I ever bought smells like moist potato chips now instead of a new car. Time just keeps dragging us along, and even when we think we’re ready for something, we’re not ready for anything. I wanted 10 more years with Cain. I wanted him to have one of those careers where he was slogging out to the mound, looking like a hungover Phil Niekro, and flummoxing kids half his age.

Instead, it looks like he isn’t even going to outlast Edinson Volquez or Scott Kazmir. There’s no sense in complaining, as he certainly timed his peak well.

It could work, though. I didn’t pick those pitchers just because of their ages. Volquez was waiver bait for four seasons before getting back on track in his 30s. Kazmir was pitching with Roger Clemens on the Sugar Land Skeeters, closer to the Italian Baseball League than the majors. Then his body cooperated, and he was fine.

Your job today is predict how this is going to end. Using emotions won’t make you more accurate, but it’s entirely understandable.

0 - 10 starts

This is probably where the Vegas line would be. The Giants are buying time, hoping that April shows us all something that March has obscured, but pretty sure they know how this is all going to turn out. If Blach takes to the bullpen and Tyler Beede has a strong start in Triple-A, Cain will have a very short leash.

I’ve always hated that saying. What, if he struggles, the Giants are going to yank him closer? Tie him to a parking meter and run out the back door of the cafe?

Forget the short leash. Cain will be pitching in front of a gong, and we’re all the hacky comedians judging him. They won’t let it last as long as they did with Jake Peavy last year. There’s too much depth in the upper minors.

11 - 21 starts

You might be concerned about his health to put him in this category, or you might be pessimistic about the Giants’ ability to make the tough move for a franchise favorite. Or maybe you think he’ll do okay, just miss a handful of starts with pitcher stuff.

I could see the Giants keeping him in the rotation just a wee bit too long. See: Lincecum’s dark years. This would almost be the worst-case scenario.

22 - 32 starts

Look at you. You’re optimistic! I respect that. I really, really do. Cain deserves a return season. He deserves to be with the Bartolo Colons of the world, the pitchers who fell down a ravine and crawled back up with their teeth. And something will happen in baseball this season that makes even less sense.

So why not this?

Because of logic?

Pfft. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up correct predictions before, or given you clairvoyance enough to make a prospect ranking that doesn’t look like garbage in five years.

But, no, I can’t join in that optimism. The Lincecum yo-yoing scarred me as a fan and an analyst, both.

Matt Cain, 2017 projection
IP: 84
GS: 7
ERA: 5.33
BB: 39
K: 68
HR: 16

The innings pitched get a boost from bullpen work later in the year, but there’s nothing I can do about the overall pessimism. This will cost the Giants a win or two off their 2017 standings, and the odds are pretty good that they’ll need those wins at the end of the season.

I want to believe. But I’ve wanted to believe about a lot of pitchers in recent history, and they were mostly chewed up in front of us. Because that’s how baseball baseballs. We’ll see if the Giants know something we don’t, but I’m more than a little scared about just how long this experiment is going to linger.