Barry Zito may still be 0-2, but stop saying he’s this year’s Matt Cain. Sub-4.00 ERA and 1.16 WHIP aside, Zito isn’t some poor schlub who, despite working his tail off to keep his team in the game, somehow is cursed with extraordinarily poor run support produced by forces beyond those of human comprehension.
Matt Cain wasn’t cursed last year either. Cursed is when your team denies entrance to a goat and immediately suffers a 100-year World Series drought. When you pitch for a team that scores less than 4 runs in a game more often than not (the Giants have scored 3 runs or less in a game 13 times so far in 2009, after doing so 78 times in 2008), every week there will be at least a couple starters who take the mound with little to no real chance of being credited with a win no matter how well they perform. That’s not a curse, that’s math.
Luckily, the Giants’ bullpen has helped the team actually win some of those high-quality starts left hanging in the balance. Zito’s last three outings have led to Giants’ victories, including today’s 1-0 win in 10 innings. With Randy Johnson looking like his old filthy self on Friday and Zito coming back from the dead, there’s actually a chance the Giants could have the best pitching staff in the National League. Oh sure, The Unit sometimes comes unglued, the highest-paid guy’s stoked when he hits 89 on the gun and the closer likes to throw 25 pitches per inning, but there isn’t a staff in baseball with five legit starters, a setup man and an All-Star closer. Throw in a little Cy Young pedigree, and it’s possible the Giants will finish the year with a sub-4.00 ERA as a team…
And still finish below .500.
We all forget this because how bad they started out on the road, but the Giants’ tax-month schedule hasn’t exactly been taxing. With a ludicrous amount of days off and a travel itinerary completely within the National League West (to everywhere but Colorado, the only journey over two hours within the division), it’s quite possible the Giants are in for a rude awakening when they fly out to Wrigley Field and start playing teams outside the NL West bubble in different time zones.
The Giants need a batting order where the 3-4-5 hitters are at least relatively capable of producing 3-4 runs per game between them, and the Giants aren’t even close. Pablo Sandoval and Bengie Molina have nothing to apologize for besides a little over-aggression at times, but that means only the 3 and 4 positions are accounted for (or in a perfect world, the 3 and 5 spots).
Brian Sabean made noise before the season about the Giants taking advantage of teams attempting to sell off their most expensive assets at the trade deadline, but that was before the team knew they’d be drawing “30,000” in each of the first two home games against the Dodgers this season. Bleachers seats against the Nationals next week are going for $5 due to “Dynamic Pricing” (a practice that probably deserves its own column at a later date). Sadly, it looks as if the Giants resigned themselves to a season like this when they didn’t sign Manny Ramirez, and to expect the brass to take on another big salary in July is borderline delusional.
We all know most of their best hitting prospects are in San Jose, and they’re all greener behind the ears than an oversized A’s hat. Bringing them up now in hopes of getting a Sandoval-like boost is wishful at best, detrimental at worst.
Don’t be surprised if the Giants don’t put their hope in Jesus by the end of May, if not much earlier. Jesus Guzman is on fire, hitting .299 with 6 homers after going 3-for-5 with a homer in Fresno’s 11-6 win today over Tacoma, and has been playing first base almost exclusively after starting out the year in a horrendous slump. Unless Travis Ishikawa pounds a homer or two in Wrigley or Coors, Guzman may be the starting first baseman by the time the Giants arrive in Los Angeles on Friday.
That day will be Zito’s next outing, a start Giant fans look towards with curious optimism rather than disdain for perhaps the first time since April of 2007. It’s only been three good games in a row for the man they call Zeets, but is it possible the true contractual albatross sitting below all the seagulls at Mays Field has become Aaron Rowand? After sitting at .375 with 2 homers after April 15 (eons ago, back when the outfield carried the team), Rowand has gone 8-for-44 with 1 extra base hit (a double, 1 of only 4 for Rowand on the season…for Giants fans who’ve forgotten, a double is when a hitter makes it to second on a batted ball).
Unless Aaron Rowand somehow turns it around (and he will, but only for a couple weeks or so before another extended slump), all that’s left to do is wish for someone amongst Fred Lewis, Ishikawa or Nate Schierholtz to suddenly morph into a reasonable facsimile of a power hitter. Maybe a road trip will be a good thing for one or more of those three, since none of them look ready to hit a ball through the mist and up onto the arcade at this point.
Unfortunately, the weather report calls for more showers this week and a wasted pitching staff in 2009. Not cursed. Wasted. There will be more no-decisions and tough luck losses for what might be the most exciting and varied starting rotation in the game, but the Giants can’t blame anyone, or anything, but themselves.