It’s difficult to get excited about anything that happens early in Spring Training. However, if the current trend continues throughout the rest of the season, the San Francisco Giants will have yet another extremely successful season.
We will see whether or not the Giants rotation of Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Hudson, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong continue to put up the numbers that they are in Spring Training. In 32 1/3 innings the starters have a combined 4-1 record and have allowed 11 earned runs, which is a 2.92 ERA. What’s even more impressive is the top four in the rotation, Bumgarner, Cain, Hudson and Lincecum, have only allowed 6 earned runs.
This is an encouraging sign to see the Giants staff pitching like they are. That was a major question mark surrounding the team coming into the season. So the fact that all of the starters come in with something to prove and a chip on their shoulder helps get them motivated. If the Giants pitch like they are capable of pitching they will be very difficult to beat, because their lineup will be much improved and should score a lot more runs than last year.
Out of the starters pitching, the most exciting development has been the way Lincecum has pitched in the spring. In 9.1 innings he is 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA. He also has a .99 WHIP which only includes 2 walks, which is another encouraging trend. The fact that he looks good in the spring is a revelation in itself because he has never been great in the spring even during his CY Young seasons. He comes in with probably the most to prove out of anybody on the Giants staff as he is trying to live up to a pretty hefty contract which almost everybody is saying is too much money based on how he’s pitched the last two seasons.
However, he’s made the transition from a thrower to a pitcher and has said on numerous occasions that he can throw strikes with any pitch and in any count. That’s confidence. His fastball throughout the spring has been 89-91 which is fine as long as he has it low. He said this is another thing that he’s focusing on. He won’t be the Lincecum of old as far as his fastball and strikeouts, but he should be a much more efficient pitcher who pitches to contact more often and can strike out batters when he has to. When Lincecum is pitching well it gives the Giants that extra swagger that they don’t seem to have when he’s not pitching well. That’s just the effect that he has on the other Giants players.
Bumgarner and Cain deserve mention because they are so good and so efficient. Cain should bounce back and Bumgarner should continue to improve his status as one of the top pitchers in baseball. The Giants feel confident in those two as their number 1 and 2 starters. Judging by the way they’ve pitched so far throughout the spring the Giants are in good hands.
Hudson is another pitcher with something to prove. Hudson looked solid his first two outings since his season ending ankle injury. He had a little hiccup in his latest start giving up 4 earned runs. However, the Giants aren’t concerned because Hudson has said that he’s not in the kind of fitness that he wants to be in, so he should start pitching better as the spring and the regular season progresses. The Giants don’t need Hudson to be spectacular. If he’s a solid third or fourth starter with a sub 4 ERA that’s all the Giants need him to be if their top two pitch at an elite level and Lincecum is a solid 3.5 or under type of pitcher.
Their fifth starter, Vogelsong, is a bit of a mystery. He had a disappointing season last year, due in part to pitching in the World Baseball Classic and getting injured just when he looked to maybe be turning the corner. Even though the Giants are content with him being a compatible fifth starter, Vogelsong believes he’s more than that and wants not only to prove it, but be better than your typical fifth starter. If Vogelsong pitches like he did in 2011 and 2012 the Giants rotation will be set. However, if he doesn’t pitch well the Giants have backup plans ready for him with both Yusmeiro Petit as well as a young up and coming pitcher named Edwin Escobar.
The Giants rotation needs to be better than they were last year in order for the Giants to get back to the postseason. They don’t have to dominate, but be solid. Their lineup is good, the bullpen is good and could be great, so all the other pieces are in place. A lot of the Giants season lays on the arms of their five starters. Will they be able to live up to billing? We will see.