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San Francisco Giants: Starting Pitching Beginning to Steady?

May 10, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Matt Cain (18) throws to the Toronto Blue Jays in the first inning of their MLB baseball game at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports
May 10, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Matt Cain (18) throws to the Toronto Blue Jays in the first inning of their MLB baseball game at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports
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It’s been a little while now since the San Francisco Giants had to overcome a meltdown by one of their starting pitchers. Johnny Cueto turned in another brilliant effort Thursday night, limiting Arizona to two runs over seven innings to earn his fifth win. That followed a great outing by Madison Bumgarner, who kept the Toronto Blue Jays to just one run on three hits over 6 2/3 innings.

There isn’t anything surprising about those back-to-back performances. But based on how the season has gone, the Giants would have had no business expecting a full of the rotation without at least one starter being blown out of the game early. (You know who the most likely candidates are.)

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But go back to the game before Bumgarmer’s last start, and an amazing thing happened: Matt Cain tossed eight highly effective innings against a potent Blue Jays lineup, allowing just two runs on six hits, while striking out seven and walking none.

The one thing that worries me about that outing was who got to Cain: Troy Tulowitzki, the former face of the Coloraod Rockies. Did Tulo’s familiarity with Cain contribute to his big night, which included a home run and a double? This could be nitpicking, but something about that makes me wonder if the National League West has Cain figured out, while Cain is struggling to adjust.

That might take some deeper analysis of the numbers and from scouts and other close observers of the game. But overall, it was an encouraging start.

Then take another step back in time, to Monday. A stat line of three runs on five hits and five walks doesn’t do much to impress. Except in this case, it was Jake Peavy who did that. It was by no means a dominant performance, but Peavy limited the damage in a game that could have easily gotten out of hand. This doesn’t suggest that Peavy has found his groove on the mound, but it does signal that he can still be an effective Major League pitcher, albeit as no better than a No. 5 starter.

Looking back further, Bumgarner did give up four runs last Friday, but only two were earned, and the Giants won, 6-4. Really, the last bad outing by a Giants starting pitcher was the 17-7 debacle against Colorado on May 5.

Even with a couple other bad outings earlier this month, Giants starters have a collective ERA of 3.65 in May. The bullpen has been even better, contributing the team’s 3.05 ERA in May—fourth best in the National League.

Stellar pitching from Bumgarner and Cueto is to be expected, and the same can now be said of Friday’s starter, Jeff Samardzija. The question is whether Cain’s most recent outing is an aberration or a revelation, and whether Peavy can at least pitch adequately enough to keep his team in games.  Peavy’s velocity is way down, so he will probably have a tougher time justifying his spot in the rotation. Scouts say that Cain’s stuff, however, looks good. Cain mainly needs to work on pitch location and selection.

Next: Way-Too-Early All-Star Talk—Pitchers

If the pitching keeps steady, then all the Giants need in order to go on a big run and take control of the division is for their hitters to step up. The offense has been lackluster in May, sitting in the middle of the league standings with a .699 OPS (9th in the NL) and 3.9 runs per game (10th).

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