With the end in sight, the stories begin as everyone tries to understand why:
…. Bruce Bochy’s decision-making with his outfielders this year has left a lot to be desired, and in no case is that more obvious than his decision to bury Lewis in favor of Nate Schierholtz, and to a lesser extent Eugenio Velez, back in June.
Lewis is the third-best offensive player on the Giants, behind Pablo Sandoval and, oddly, Juan Uribe. He is the only regular other than Sandoval with an above-average OBP, making him water for an offense thirsty for baserunners. Yet Lewis has started just 20 games, about twice a week, since June 9, a time during which the Giants as a team have an execrable .305 OBP.
Of course, Sheehan is right. Lewis was the third best player on the team all season long, and it was Bochy’s poor handling of his weaknesses that ended his terrific start and began his slide. It was Bochy who wrote everybody’s name in the lineup except Lewis’ for such long stretches. But, in Bonehead’s defense, Lewis was terrifically bad in the field –something even I was eventually forced to concede– and with a team so dependent on preventing runs, Lewis’ “play” in the field was a problem that had to be addressed. (As an aside, Lewis did not provide the kind of offensive boost that would have mandated accepting the good with the bad here. He’s not Adam Dunn good with the bat, he’s simply the third best hitter on the worst offense in the league. There’s a difference.)
But, I digress….
The issue isn’t that Lewis was buried on the bench. The issue was that the team couldn’t figure out a way to help a player stay on the field. They couldn’t find a place for him, coach him up, and get the offense they so desperately needed in the game. So they played one dead body after another, and used him as a pinch hitter, or pinch runner; and hoped nobody would notice their failure. I noticed. And so did Joe.
I also noticed that Matt Cain seems to have faltered down the stretch. His last ten starts have been pretty bad, and I’m wondering whether he’s run down a bit, or if his earlier success was due more to luck than excellence. So, I looked it up.
At the end of July, he was 12-2, and leading the league in ERA, (2.12). His ERA was terrific, but, there were some mitigating circumstances for that stellar record. He beat some really bad offenses in the beginning of the season, notably the Mets, Athletics, Nationals, and Padres; and he won several games in which he allowed a bunch of hits, runs and home runs. He won on April 21st, against San Diego, despite allowing 9 hits in 6 innings. On May 12th, he escaped a loss when he allowed 9 hits and 4 earned runs in 7 innings, but the Giants somehow scored 9 runs and won the game. In fact, the Giants offense was certainly the reason he was 12-2 instead of a more pedestrian 8-5 or so.
At the end of June, Cain was 9-1. But he’d given up 4 runs or more four times, and he only lost one of those games. He was the starting pitcher in games the Giants scored 7, 8, 8, 9, 9, and 7 runs. He won five of those games, and got a no decision in the one I mentioned earlier. In those games, he allowed 1, 2, 0, 4, 4, and 1 runs. At the end of June, he was 9-1, and certainly could have been 6-4.
Had he started the season 6-4, instead of 9-1, his current stretch wouldn’t be so startling, because a pitcher that wins 9 of his first 10 decisions is thought of differently. He’s thought of as being a stopper, an Ace, and when your Ace struggles it’s noticed. But Cain has never been an Ace this season. His numbers have never been as good as Lincecum’s, not that that’s a reason to be down on him, nobody’s numbers are as good as Lincecum’s, but you get the point.
He was a little bit lucky early, and he’s been quite a bit mediocre lately. Since the end of July, when he was leading the league in ERA, he’s allowed 4, 5, 3, 1, 1, 4, 2, 4, and 4 earned runs. He’s gone 1-5 during that stretch, and that’s about right. He could’ve gone 3-6, which would leave him with an overall record of 15-8, which would look better than 13-7, but it’s the same, really.
He never was the best pitcher in the league, regardless of his numbers at the end of July. He doesn’t strike out enough guys, really, and he never has. He’s actually allowed more home runs this season than ever before (22), and his peripherals are decent, but in the end, his ERA is on the way to landing pretty much where it was last year, and the year before that, around 3.50. That’s very good, but it’s not great.
Matt Cain is a fine number two starter, and the Giants are lucky to have him and Lincecum at the same time, in their prime.