The San Francisco Giants won the World Series in 2014 with almost no help from Matt Cain, who was sidelined in July with a “cranky” elbow. The Giants were tearing up Major League Baseball the first nine weeks of the season, while building up a 43-21 record, before they fell headlong into a two-month dive, leaving fans sitting with handkerchiefs applied to eyes, tearing up instead. Having Matt Cain contribute a mere two victories to the total, helps explain why the Giants amassed only 88 victories over the course of the season.
Much has been made of the need for Cain to regain the form he had prior to the start of the 2013 season, when he went on the Disabled List for the first time in his career, the result of a kitchen accident in which he cut his finger with a knife. He was coming off of four consecutive seasons of at least 32 starts, and a sub-3.15 ERA.
Then came last season and the petulant elbow, which finally got its way when it became obvious that if Cain got the work done in a timely manner, he would be back on the field the following spring.
Think about it: MadBum and 2010’s postseason version of Matt Cain in the playoffs together.
So the guy who made three starts in the 2010 World Series, going 2-0 without giving up an earned run, became a spectator last October.
There are three pressing questions which need to be answered about the only pitcher in Giants history to throw a Perfecto, and probably another dozen besides, but for starters, how is this returning-from-surgery business going to work out for Cain? Second, how do we know he has anything left? Finally, what can we reasonably expect?
Matt Cain pitched the only perfect game in San Francisco Giants history on June 13, 2012. Credit: Ebay
This man is known as The Horse because of his steady presence on the team since he became a full-time starter. After coming up in mid-2005 and impressing Philipe Alou, he was named to the 2006 starting rotation as the number-four-man, before spring training even began. The type of surgery he just had, is better described as more of a maintenance procedure, than a cut and paste job.
Therefore, this back-to-the-job-site business is going to pan out just dandy, simply because the Cainster has the freshest arm on the block. He did not have to pitch until almost November, like the rest of the gang, having hung up his glove almost four months earlier, his last game having come on July 9th.
How do we know Cain has anything left? Where would it have gone? Bone spurs don’t crop up from a one-night binge, like a hangover; they form over time and need to be dealt with. Why Cain would not regain his earlier form has never been explained clearly. I recognize that there must be players who have struggled in the past in similar circumstances, but there are no indications that this will be the case.
Big Daddy is not going to suddenly start striking out guys at an unprecedented rate because he’s never been a strikeout kind of guy. He is going to come into spring training determined to make up for lost time this past season, and he’s going to do a good job making people forget about the curse of the odd-numbered years.
What kind of expectations should fans have? Nothing but the highest. That is their right, to expect nothing but the best. Matt Cain is one of the Southern element which comprises so many of the Giants, a component which has factored into the Giants’ continued determination to not quit until the job is finished.
It is a mindset that dictates that players work together and figure out the best way to attack a problem and to persevere until it is done, even if there are technical difficulties along the way. Need more baling wire and duct tape? Check. Need us out there earlier than normal? Check. Need us to score off of Clayton Kershaw? Still working on that one…
Matt Cain does not have to solve Kershaw; he just has to get back into that same groove he occupied so adroitly in establishing his reputation as a horse. He’s not flashy, unless you call 200 innings a season and a work ethic of, well, a horse, flashy.
Now at age thirty, Matt Cain has just added a fair amount of horsepower to his frame, which will help as the season winds down to what may be a three-team horserace to the finish. The tandem of MadBum and The Horse gives the Giants as good of a one-two punch as fans could hope for.
There are times when all it takes is one good punch for a knockout.