SAN FRANCISCO – On the whole, the Giants could be in worse shape one week into May. They are a half-game out of first place, they stand five games over .500 and they’ve scored two more runs than they’ve allowed.
But there is an acid eating away at them from within -– and it’s happening in the load-bearing portion of their roster.
Their rotation is 10-8 with a 4.51 ERA – numbers so pedestrian, they need a crossing guard. They expected inconsistency from Tim Lincecum, which is exactly what they got in a seven-inning, five-run performance amid a 6-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies Tuesday night.
But the rest of the group has struggled as well, save for Madison Bumgarner.
There is no starker way to put it than this: Even the Colorado Rockies, who were so malnourished for innings a season ago, have a lower rotation ERA. Only the Brewers and Padres are higher than the Giants among National League clubs.
The Giants have provided plenty of chills and thrills with all these late home runs and comeback storms in these first five weeks of the season. But teams go into hitting slumps. The most sustainable way to grind out series victories, the most dependable method to win on a given night, is to get consistent, quality outings from your rotation.
The Giants have had just 15 starts in 33 games that met the minimum standards for a quality start (at least six innings, no more than three earned runs). That’s 47 percent. (The previous three years combined, they got quality outings in 60 percent of their games.)
It’s not like the Giants have a former ace in medical limbo, like the Phillies and Roy Halladay, or they’ve become a teamwide SIG alert, like the Dodgers and the nine starting pitchers they’ve been forced to use.
They are healthy, or at least proclaim to be so. They are just underperforming. And every time when it looks like they’ll start racking up wins -- which they need to do now, as much as they’re home in May -- a bad start stops their momentum.
Will the starting five recognize what’s expected of them, and challenge each other to fulfill those expectations? Will this become a topic of conversation among them?
“I feel like it will be more so, just because it’s been put in our minds more and it’s at the forefront of what’s been going on,” Lincecum said. “The things we can do to fix it are easier than not. So it’s one of those friendly competitions where we get back to competing with each other, not necessarily worry about the stuff on the field so much.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy owns two World Series rings in great measure because of his pitching staff. So when he expresses confidence in their ability to turn it around, he has the glittery reminders at arms length.
“They’re competitors,” Bochy said. “They take it hard when it doesn’t go well. Matty (Cain) was frustrated in April. (Ryan) Vogelsong has been frustrated at times.
“But these are our guys. At the end of the day, or the year, these are the guys we’ll win because of -– because of who they are.
“We went through ruts like this before. We went through it last year. When you see them get rolling and get their confidence back, I think you’ll see a different club.”
Maybe the Giants can continue to contend in the NL West with a greatly diminished rotation. The division hasn’t gotten off to a roaring start, especially with the Dodgers limping along in last place.
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But if they do become that different club that Bochy envisions, I could see them running away the way the 2003 team did, or the way last year’s division champs were able to cruise to the finish.
Overall, the Giants are still the most talented team in the NL West. But if you leave that door ajar, it’s an open invitation to the rest of the division.
Tacking on Extra Baggs this time, since there isn't much more left over from this one...
I’ll spare you a full doctorate thesis on Lincecum this time. This is how the former Cy Young Award winner summarized his outing, and I saw the exact same thing:
“It’s consistency,” Lincecum said. “It’s making a great pitch and not repeating it. That’s the frustrating part.”
Lincecum is alternating terrific pitches with terrible ones, and the hitters know it. As long as he’s doing that, he won’t get them to chase his off-speed stuff out of the zone –- which is how he racked up all those strikeouts over the years. They’ll sit back and wait for him to make a mistake, knowing there’s a good chance he’ll comply.
How can Lincecum eliminate those mistakes?
“It’s just rhythm and timing -- where my foot is hitting to where my arm is,” he said. “I’ve got to go back to the mound and work on it. It’s something you take care of before you even go out to the field.”
George Kontos was concerned about his friend, Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ, who was struck on the head by a line drive and transported on a stretcher from the Tropicana Field mound to a hospital Tuesday night.
Happ and Kontos have been friends for 10 years, they played a season together at Northwestern University and they’re workout buddies in the offseason.
“He’ll be all right. He’s a tough dude,” Kontos said. “Hopefully he’ll get through this quick and be back out there.”
It put Kontos the slightest bit at ease to see that Happ lifted his hand to acknowledge applause as he was wheeled off the field.
At last report, Happ was in stable condition.
Bochy said he was proud of Jose Mijares, who threw two innings when the bullpen needed a break Tuesday. Mijares went through a trying week in Venezuela after the death of his grandmother, who raised him. He learned she had a heart attack while the Giants were in San Diego but wasn’t able to make it back before she passed away.
“That is not easy to go through what he went through this week,” Bochy said.
Mijares, who lost both his parents in separate auto accidents when he was young, is still working through the grief process. He declined to speak with reporters.