What has happened to Matt Cain? That question is being asked around baseball; but more specifically, that question is being asked by the Giants organization. A once good pitcher and ace of the San Francisco Giants staff, as recently as last year, has been really bad by his standards this season. He looked bad last year as well, so this is an ongoing problem. So what’s wrong with Cain?
The first and most obvious thing is command. Those who have watched on a regular basis agree that is Cain’s biggest issue. He seemingly can’t get ahead of hitters. Once he gets behind, he has to come in with his fastball, which doesn’t seem to have the late movement on it and he gets hit around. His 1.24 WHIP is still respectable but far higher than his career WHIP of 1.17. Cain has always been a control pitcher. When a control pitcher has seemingly loses command for his pitches, then his job becomes much more difficult.
The next issue, hasn’t really been touched on yet, but it could be said that Cain has simply started running out of gas. This is a guy who came up to the big leagues at 20 and starting at age 22 threw at least 200 innings in 6 straight years. Adding up his postseason pitches, that’s a lot of pitches for any pitcher during that span, especially somebody that young. Cain has a great build for a pitcher, which was one of the reasons why scouts and general managers thought he’d last for a while. However, being built for pitching doesn’t guarantee a long career. We could be starting to see the effects of all the innings he threw early in his career.
Another troubling sign is the injuries. Though nothing major, they’ve come as a shock because up until last year Cain had been one of the most durable pitchers in baseball. He hardly missed starts. However, this year he’s missed a few starts because of little injuries. That has obviously played a part in his rhythm being off. Injuries to a pitcher like Cain who’s been in the league for so long could potentially continue to reappear and make life difficult for him to return to what he was.
The Giants need Cain to produce. He’s being paid 17 million dollars a year. He’s been closer to Barry Zito than an ace so far this season. That’s not going to cut it as the Giants have an inconsistent rotation as it is. Cain was expected by many, myself included, to have a bounce back year. That hasn’t happened, in fact he’s gotten worse. Last year his ERA was 4 exactly, now it’s 4.82 and the worst among the Giants five starters. Cain is also only 1-6, which doesn’t cut it for a supposed ACE of a pitching staff.
Cain has to figure it out quickly; otherwise the Giants could be in trouble, not only in the division race, but in the playoffs as well. The Giants really have only had two consistent starters all year in Madison Bumgarner and Tim Hudson. Hudson has been masterful, but at 38 he’s more of a third or fourth starter than a number two; no disrespect, but it’s true. Bumgarner is an All Star caliber pitcher, doing what he does best, which is win.
As already said, with Cain, Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong being hit or miss, this Giants rotation isn’t exactly solid. The Giants should make a trade for a pitcher at some point around the trade deadline. Even if it’s not David Price or Jeff Samardzija, it would need to be a quality arm. However, as the Giants usually do, they more than likely will aim high and try to get one of those two mentioned. That would give their rotation a huge boost.
If they are able to land a big time arm like Price or Samardzija, then that could certainly be the move that puts them over the top in the National League. They are playing terrible baseball right now but are still in first place in their division. The team also has had a multitude of injuries to deal with, notably Brandon Belt. Assuming the Giants add a starter, that will certainly put pressure on Cain, Lincecum and Vogelsong to pitch better. Two of the three could potentially not make the postseason roster with Bumgarner and Hudson being locks. Whichever pitcher the Giants get will more than likely come in and be at the very least a number three starter. Maybe all Cain needs is a little competition. That seems to bring out the best in everyone.
The Giants are in a predicament right now, considering that they are winning, for the most part, in spite of their rotation. That has to change if the Giants want to make a deep postseason run. The elite teams in the National League have great rotations first and lineup second. Cain is the key to the Giants; if he turns it around the Giants will be in great shape. However, if he doesn’t turn it around it leaves the Giants with a lot of questions for the rest of the season, and they would certainly be mulling over the big contract they gave Cain.