Make it a Twofer – Breaking Down the #SFGiants Starting Rotation


Feb 23, 2014; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Matt Cain (18) poses for a photo during photo day at Scottsdale Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

“Good pitching beats good hitting” goes the time-worn axiom and the San Francisco Giants are the proof. They go into Spring Training with the same Big Three that have accompanied them into the postseason, two of the last four World Series, and we all know how that worked out. But do you remember that of the eight Series victories, four were shutouts? Pure Dominance.

Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner are the Big Three, with Ryan Vogelsong and newcomer [to the Giants] Tim Hudson rounding out the starting five, averaging 32 years of age. Each member of this staff has demonstrated his superior pitching ability for extended periods, and as do all great competitors, they feed off of each other. This allows the Giants to accomplish feats such as not only sweeping the LA Dodgers June 25-27, 2012, but shutting them out in the process. Pure Dominance.

Amongst these five reside the following credentials:

  • twelve All-Star appearances (Lincecum: 4, Cain: 3, Hudson: 3, and Bumgarner and Vogelsong: one each)
  • seven World Series rings (2 each: Cain, Lincecum and Bumgarner; Vogelsong)
  • three consecutive shutouts from June 26-28th, 2012 (Vogelsong, Lincecum, and Bumgarner; four in a row if you include Zito’s gem)
  • three World Series shutouts (Cain, Vogelsong, and Bumgarner)
  • two Cy Young Awards (Lincecum)
  • one twenty-game winner (Hudson)
  • one no-hitter (Lincecum)
  • one postseason pitching performance which includes a 2-0 record and 21.1 innings with a 0.00 ERA (Cain)
  • one career that includes more than 200 MLB victories (Hudson)
  • one Perfect Game (Cain)
  • one staff capable of delivering Pure Dominance

These starting five combine to form an elite unit, whose skills complement the unique configuration of AT&T Park. Pitchers salivate over the thought of pitching in a spacious yard, where the opposition swings freely. There are a lot of fly-ball outs at AT&T Park, many of them being collared in Triples Alley by either Angel Pagan or Hunter Pence. Players find it discouraging to hit a ball nearly 420 feet and come up empty. Kind of like, well, being mugged in an alley.

Known as The Horse, Matt Cain went on the disabled list this past season for the first time, not because he hurt himself pitching, but because he got struck by a batted ball on his pitching arm. Cain has that taciturn Southern demeanor, along with the work ethic of a farmer and his actions make him a natural leader. Yes, he would like to forget that game early last season, on April 7th, when he gave up nine runs in the third inning to the Cardinals, but it also helps to explain why his ERA was higher than 4 for the first time since 2006. He leads the team on and off the field, a man of integrity and strength, whose face has represented his team well. He’s the longest tenured Giant for a reason.

Madison Bumgarner is the pitcher I would most like to see get the Opening Day nod from Bruce Bochy because that would mean we would likely see him go head-to-head with the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw all season long. That would transport me right back to watching Sandy Koufax pitch against Juan Marichal, from the newly constructed Chavez Ravine, in the sixties, regardless of which team I was rooting for back in those SoCal days of long ago.

Like Cain, MadBum is a Southerner and has that ice water-in-his-veins quality, which has allowed him to assume the role as the team ace. He was the most consistent Giants pitcher last season, establishing career-best marks for ERA (2.77); strikeouts (199); and WHIP (1.03), while compiling a 13-9 record in 201.1 innings. His WHIP (walks/hits per inning pitched) of 1.03 was the lowest recorded by a Giant since Carl Hubbell in 1933, and Bumgarner is still learning the game. During the 2012 season Madison allowed 27 successful stolen base attempts. In 2013? Eight.

Tim Lincecum would do well to install a similar stolen base system that would sound the alarm; he’s one of the worst at holding on the runners. This skill, along with an overall transition from power pitcher to pitch specialist, is what the Giants’ Brass hopes to see Tim Hudson provide for Timmy.

Lincecum has that magical quality of being able to handle the pressure. His ability to morph into a reliever for the 2012 World Series was mythical. Brilliant pitchers do not fade away, not at age thirty. I am intensely interested in how this California-like free spirit does this season. I’ve never watched anyone like him.

Ryan Vogelsong rejoined the Giants in 2011, becoming the warm and fuzzy story of the year by making the All-Star Team. He won 13 and 14 games his first two seasons back with the club. Then came last year, in which he went 4-6, with a 5.73 ERA, during an injury-shortened season. He is reported to have come into camp this year determined to not forget how frustrating last year was. The Vogelsong that I think of has the best game face going since Will Clark’s Nuschler Look. Vogelsong has always pitched as though he’s got a chip on his shoulder; it just seems as though the chip has turned into an ax, as in having one to grind. Maybe Vogelsong can start with the Dodgers: they need to have their momentum dulled.

Finally, Tim Hudson, currently the winningest pitcher in the bigs with 205 victories, has joined the starting rotation, and will pitch provided his injured ankle responds the way he expects. He is said to have reported no pain on the mound this spring so far and only marginal discomfort when moving from side to side. It’s no secret that the Giants hope he and Timmy Lincecum bond. Hudson won at least 12 games in the National League each season between 2004-07. He had Tommy John surgery in 2009, but as recently as 2012, went 16-7, with a 3.62 ERA. Hudson has never had a season where he lost more games than he won and the Giants couldn’t be happier to have acquired him. If it ends up that he can help Timmy out and get him to adapt away from being a power pitcher, then that would make it a twofer.

Last year was a mystery to the Giants and they could not find the key. So many of the players got thrown off their routine by participating in the World Baseball Classic, that it was hard not to blame the preseason tournament for the disappointing 2013 baseball season. But that old locksmith, Brian Sabean, has been out searching for a couple of good keys and he just may have found one in Tim Hudson. If so, look for the Giants to unlock the door to the playoffs and make another run at the prize. It would be a shame to waste all of that Pure Dominance.