31 January 2011

Countdown to Scottsdale #22: Matt Cain, SP

I sing the song of Matt Cain, the longest tenured San Francisco Giant, whose quiet intensity is the glue that binds together the best starting rotation in baseball. (Yeah, I said it Philly. What?!) Dude is money. If Matt Cain were an ice cream flavor, he'd be chocolate chip cookie dough — smooth and classic like vanilla, with some sweet and sticky chunks of good stuff all up in there. If he were a piece of furniture, he'd be my grandma's rocking chair — an old soul, but steady like a rock. If he were a carpenter (lol), he'd build a monument to stand for all time. He's the "Shotgun". The "Cainer". "The Fro". And he was the backbone of the Giants' postseason run.

This is Matt Cain's line over three October starts (one in each round): 2-0, 21.1 IP, 13 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 7 BB, 13 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, .160 BAA. Nailed it.

If it's safe to say the Giants' World Series Championship can be attributed in no small measure to the strength of their starters, then it's safe to say that their run to the 2010 championship began in June of the last year they went to the World Series: 2002. That was also the year they made Matt Cain their first round pick in the draft. Straight out of high school in Alabama, Cain rode the bus for a few years, honing his skills and lighting up hitters from Hagerstown to San José to Norwich to Fresno. (I remember calling the San José Giants ticket office one day while Cain was here just to make sure he was pitching. The girl on the other end of the line said, "I dunno. Lemme check." She came back a few moments later. "We dunno." Poor her. If she'd been paying attention, she might've witnessed the beginning of something wonderful.)

When he finally got his cup of coffee in 2005, Matt Cain was striking out 11 batters per 9 IP for the Grizzlies. He took a 2-1 loss to the Rockies in his first start for the Orange and Black, but it wasn't for lack of effort. A Matt Holliday homer and a run-scoring double play were enough to beat the Giants that night, thanks to a lack of offense that would quickly become a trademark of Cain's starts. He rebounded to win his next two outings, and entered 2006 with a guaranteed spot in the rotation.

Here's what Matt Cain did for los Gigantes from 2006-08: 98 starts, 608.1 IP, 528 K, 3.85 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, .237 BAA. That for a team that went 219-267 (.451). So it's no surprise Matt Cain's record over that time was 28-32 (.467).

Here's what Matt Cain's done for a team that's gone 179-145 in 2009-10: 66 starts, 441 IP, 348 K, 3.02 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, .226 BAA. His record? 27-19. And btw, he's thrown 200+ innings each of the past four years — with a career-high 223.1 in 2010 — and lowered his hits and walks in each of the past three.

My point? I've heard all sorts of fools popping off about Matt Cain not pulling his weight. I've seen him lost in the shadows of Big Time Timmy Jim and B-Weezy. I've listened to people who don't know a damn thing about baseball try to tell me we should trade this guy for some prospects and a bucket of beer. But all of that stopped around about the end of last year. That's when he took the stage with all the weight of 56 years of hopes and dreams resting on his shoulders, and the longest-tenured Giant didn't flinch.

Thanks, Matt.

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