Here is a link to my Friday column about Giants’ starting pitching. The full text runs below:
Do the Giants have the best starting rotation in the National League, or one of the worst?
Their 2015 season depends on how they answer that question.
With the Giants everything depends on the pitching. That includes the bullpen. It’s just that the bullpen is superb. The starting rotation is the issue. Let’s look at the cons and then the pros.
The five starters are Madison Bumgarner, Tim Hudson, Matt Cain, Jake Peavy and Tim Lincecum. It’s an impressive list with famous names. But is it good? Or even good enough?
If you want to be critical, bordering on skeptical, you could say the Giants have big problems. The problems are easy to find.
The past four seasons, Lincecum had a losing record. In the three most recent seasons, his earned run average was grotesque. Call it elephantine. He barely got to pitch in postseason 2014. Hardly a vote of confidence. The former two-time Cy Young Award Winner is penciled in as the fifth starter. The pencil has an eraser. If Lincecum can’t deliver, Ryan Vogelsong and Yusmeiro Petit are there. They are there for a reason.
Are you confident Lincecum can deliver? Would you bet your house on it?
Cain: The past two seasons he had a losing record. Last year, he won two games. Just two. Sure, he had surgery. That’s an explanation, but it’s not a recommendation. Pitchers coming off surgery are unknowns. How effective will they be? You don’t know until they pitch real games. Cain is an unknown, although the Giants hope he becomes a known. A good known.
Cain looked good in Arizona. Not as a pitcher. He didn’t pitch a game while I was there. But he is tall and strong and athletic. He seems healthy. And he exudes confidence. Exactly what a team wants.
Funny story. One day last week, I interviewed Cain and he was in a hurry. The interview did not go well. Lots of mutually missed signals. It happens. He got word I was dissatisfied. He got word to me he’d like to talk. A day or two later, I walked over to him.
“Are you still mad at me?” he said.
It was such a disarming opener. I just laughed and the tension evaporated immediately. He said, “I can be stern.” To me, it meant, “Allow for that when we speak.” He has a glowing smile. I thought about it as I walked away.
Tim Hudson also is recovering from surgery. Ankle surgery. Last year, he had a losing record on a World Series winner. Part of that could be the ankle. He is 39. Will he be good? Stay tuned.
Jake Peavy was a godsend to the Giants last season. The Giants got him in late July, and without him they would not have made the postseason. He did not pitch well in the World Series and he will turn 34 in May. He looks like a young 34 and he is a finesse pitcher more than a power pitcher. And that is good for longevity. He should pitch well. But you never know.
Finally, the case of Madison Bumgarner. Remember this is the critical part of the article, so don’t consider it heresy to wonder about him. He pitched a ton of innings last year including the regular season and the postseason and that final effort out of the bullpen in the World Series winner. Sometimes, pitchers who work a lot — over work? — are tired the following year. Will MadBum be tired?
Now, for the glass-half-full part of this column.
The Giants may have — could have — the best starting rotation in the NL.
They will if Bumgarner is still Bumgarner. In the role of Bumgarner — as opposed to Tiredgarner — he is the best starting pitcher in baseball. Simply the best. He has great stuff and he worked to make it better. He has perfected his curveball to go along with everything else. He is strong. A horse. He is fearless. Show us a better competitor. Clayton Kershaw? Please.
Bumgarner can carry a team and a pitching staff. The 2014 World Series should be known as the Madison Bumgarner World Series.
Cain’s issue was bone chips. That doesn’t seem like a career-defining or a career-ending injury. His elbow is clean now. He expects to throw with a fluid motion. The Giants have invested a fortune in him. The Giants generally are brilliant about spending money on pitchers. Sure, there was Barry Zito. But still. If Cain is what Brian Sabean and Dick Tidrow and Bruce Bochy expect, he is the No.2 starter on this team.
Hudson is a cerebral pitcher with a mended ankle. He is brilliant at fooling batters. If he gets tired, Bochy can skip a start and substitute Vogelsong or Petit. Hudson could win, say, 13 games.
Peavy is a fearless competitor. He’s full of vitality. Like Hudson, he is a cerebral pitcher — call it mind over batter — and he could win 12 to 15 games.
Then there’s Lincecum. Timmy. His arm is OK. No one ever said he’s a damaged pitcher. He has good stuff. No one ever said he doesn’t have good stuff. His whole issue, as far as we know, is mechanical.
It’s interesting when baseball people talk about “mechanical” and “mechanics.” You see Dave Righetti looking under Lincecum’s hood and finding a ripped radiator hose. In Lincecum’s case, “mechanical problems” means he winds up, brings the ball behind him and lets it rip like a javelin. Every pitch is an adventure because, on just about every pitch, he establishes a different release point. Faulty mechanics.
Lincecum has gone on record saying he worked on his mechanics with his dad in the offseason. Cleaned up his engine. Cleaned up his rods and pistons. Cleaned up his act.
If Lincecum comes back, all the way back, his will be a whopping success story, a tear-jerker of the first order.
So, if the stars align correctly, there is reason to believe the Giants have a marvelous starting rotation. There is reason to believe the other thing, too.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.