San Francisco Giants: Breaking Down the Concerns of Their Pitching Staff

With the month of April almost in the books, the Giants seem to be clicking very well-despite a four game losing-streak,   Standing 3rd in the N.L. West at 13-11, San Francisco has already produced some of the most exciting games to date in this young season; six comeback wins, five shutouts, and two incredibly exciting walk-off victories.  So far, there’s been plenty of good to take out of the first month of the season. For example …

Apr 27, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford (35) jogs back to the dugout after a three-run home run during the second inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

# 1 – Brandon Crawford has really stepped up early on, and has given the team an unexpected amount of power while simultaneously remaining a genius on the infield; launching five home runs (he only had seven from 2011-2012), and driving in 13 while hitting a solid .298, Crawford is swinging one of the hottest bats on the team.

# 2 – The offense is hitting very well, and no longer does it feel like the team is out if they’re down more than one or two runs.  With the seventh most RBI (95), and the sixth most runs scored (103) in the National League, San Francisco is undoubtedly in a better position to score than in recent seasons.

But with the good, there’s always room for some bad.  Which, isn’t to say, the Giants are experiencing too much of.  However, there is one troubling theme that has started to develop.  Something, that, if not fixed soon, could start to really take a toll on the team as a whole — a couple of the starters have not been themselves, and have been rocked by the ugly blow-up inning.  Specifically, Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong, two players who are usually models of consistentcy, have one win in nine games started, with three losses as well.

Barry Zito has been susceptible to the ugly inning as well, but his reasons for being so are slightly different than that of Cain and Vogelsong’s.

Here are the stats so far for the starting rotation:

Matt Cain – 0-2 / 6.59 ERA / 26 K’s / 28.2 IP / 5 GS

Still searching for his first win of the season, Cain has been very inconsistent thus far.  Though he’s pitched well enough to earn a win in at least two of his five outings, overall, something is just very off about him this season.  He’s had two very well pitched games – Opening Day vs. L.A and April 12th vs. the Cubs – but has also produced two terrible performances that saw him give up 16 earned runs in just 9.2 innings between the two starts, along with one average outing — last Tuesday‘s 2-3 loss in San Francisco against the Diamondbacks.

To be fair, opponents have outscored the Giants 35-12 during the span of Cain’s starts, so it’s not all his fault.  But something will need to change right away, as giving up the game via blow up innings does not help the team at all.  Hopefully for the Giants, he’ll be able to start things off right this coming Monday, when the Giants head to Arizona for a three game series.

Next scheduled start: Monday April 29th at Arizona.

Madison Bumgarner- 3-0 / 1.87 ERA / 34 K’s / 40.1 IP / 5 GS

Apr 24, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40) pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the eighth inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit-Ed Szczepanski, USA Today Sports.

Thank G-d for Madison Bumgarner.  Pitching an eight inning shutout gem that resulted in a 3-0 Giants win on just the second day of the season, Bumgarner has been San Francisco’s most consistent starter thus far, and has given the team a chance to win in all of his starts.  Undoubtedly the team’s ace at this point, Bumgarner is right on track, and his performances so far this season have been a reflection of just that; in five starts, he’s given up a stingy seven earned runs, never giving up more than two in each start.  And his last outing was almost as good as his first against L.A., although the Giants bats weren’t able to produce more than two runs.

Look for Bumgarner to take a step forward this season, as he is showing signs very early on that he is capable of doing such.

Next scheduled start: Tuesday, April 30th at Arizona.

Tim Lincecum – 2-1 / 3.64 ERA / 32 K’s / 29.2 IP / 5 GS

Its still only the first month of the 2013 season, but so far Lincecum has definitely made an improvement from where he was last season, by far the worst of his career.  At times he’s gotten into trouble, just like in 2012, where he seemingly loses all control, and frankly, looks lost.  But this time around, he is able to cool off, and get out of trouble, often coming back with flashes of what once made him this most dominant pitcher in the game.

He’s obviously not back to Cy Young form, but his last start was very encouraging, especially as a follow up to his previous outing – in my opinion his best of 2012 and 2013.

Next scheduled start: Wednesday May 1st at Arizona.

Apr 27, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Barry Zito (75) throws during the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Barry Zito – 3-1 / 3.42 ERA / 21 K’s / 27.1 IP / 5 GS

In general, Zito has been pitching extremely well; his curveball is as nasty as ever, and even without the velocity, he’s been very effective.  He’s shut down opposing batters so much so, he’s responsible for three of the club’s five shutout victories.  Unfortunately for the Giants, he too is starting to exhibit some troubling signs, despite his dominance at home — all three of his wins have been earned by way of AT&T Park, and all three have been shutout victories.  In both of his losses, however, he hasn’t made it past the 4th inning, and was roughed up quite a bit.  He gets a pass for his horrendous start in Milwaukee where he allowed nine earned runs over 2.2 innings, but that’s only because of his (now) 0-5 record at Miller Park, and the fact that it was pretty obvious from the get-go that he was off.

Next scheduled start: Friday May 3rd vs. L.A.

Ryan Vogelsong – 1-1 / 5.68 ERA / 20 K’s / 25.1 IP / 4 GS

It’s been tough luck for the impressive 35 year old righty.  He’s pitched pretty well over his first four starts, but only has one win to show for it.  His strikeouts come at a healthy rate, and he hasn’t issued more than two walks in a start.  The problem is, all of the damage he allows comes during that blow-up inning, and his four home runs given up (two in his last start) are a slight cause for alarm.  He hasn’t given up more than five earned runs during a start, but that’s just it; he also hasn’t allowed less than three in that period, as well.

If he can get out of trouble when he does allow a walk or some hits, his record should start to improve very quickly, as the team has shown a newfound propensity for scoring runs, even when down late in a game.

We’ll see if he can continue on last week’s success against Arizona in today’s game against San Diego.

So the starting rotation has produced some heavily mixed results, but there are definitely positive signs coming out of Lincecum, who could be one of the few keys for the team’s success this season.  As mixed as the results are for the starting staff, the Giants do have one major advantage over other teams, and that’s their bullpen:

Through 72.2 innings of relief work, San Francisco’s bullpen has been lights out; they rank 6th in all of baseball in terms of ERA at 2.72, have held batters to a weak .224 average, and given up only 22 earned runs, with 70 punch-outs to boot.  All tops in the majors.

So what’s been the main problem across the board?

# 1- Blow-up Innings

Apr 20, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy takes to the field in the seventh to relieve pitcher Tim Lincecum (not in picture) in a game against the San Diego Padres at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit-Bob Stanton, USA Today Sports.

One major concern for the pitchers has been allowing a blow-up inning, and almost every pitcher in the starting rotation has allowed at least one.  These will need to stop happening as often as they do, because the team won’t be able to pull out as many comeback wins as they do every time they’re behind by either a small or daunting amount.

# 2 – Home Runs

As a team, the Giants have given up twenty two home runs, but eighteen of them have come off of the starting rotation, which is not a good sign.  Matt Cain leads the team with six home runs allowed in more games than he’s pitched in, so that is definitely cause for concern –three came all in one game, where he allowed nine earned runs in only one inning.  Cain will have to fix this somehow, though no mechanical flaws or injuries have been reported thus far, so we’ll have to keep an eye on his progress from Monday on.

In addition, the club has given up a league leading three long balls to opposing pitchers, a stat the team would like to forget.

Overall, the season is still very young, and with the starting rotations proven ability, there’s plenty of time for the staff to work out their kinks.  Plus, its much better to get the bad out now as opposed to down the stretch.

With the arch-rival Dodgers headed to AT&T to kick off a 10 game home-stand on Friday, a series win would be a perfect way to start off the season.  Barry Zito will look to rebound from last night’s major hiccup, and take down the team’s enemy in blue.

Topics: Barry Zito, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong, San Francisco Giants, Tim Lincecum

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