As Mr. Gallagher said in the quote above, and as Mr. Robert Zimmerman opined in his famous song, I’m about to change around the order of my life. No longer will HuskerMax.com be the first website I check each day, but instead MLB.com and the glorious news of 30 soon-to-be World Champions.
Everybody is looking better than ever. The youngsters have improved, the old guys have healed, the fat guys have dropped weight, and everybody is throwing no-nos in the ‘pen. I even heard an actual paid sports radio host say this morning that he thinks the Kansas City Royals rotation will be better over the next three years than the San Fransisco Giants.
As far as I can tell, this gentleman knows that the Giants just won the World Series, that they have a Cy Young Winner (Tim Lincecum), and one of the most underhyped dominant pitchers in the game (Matt Cain) in addition to a very impressive young stud (Madison Bumgarner) and that still doesn’t include the man they just named their number two starter (Jonathan Sanchez), not to mention fallen star/guitar player/albatross Barry Zito, who always has great hair.
But such is the folly of Spring Training belief, truly the most dangerous gateway drug the world has ever seen. I admit to falling victim to it though, never questioning the sweet nothings the springtime breeze whispers in my ear: “Matt Garza will be dominant in the National League; Zambrano CAN’T get any worse; Pujols may just be sporting blue stripes and a big C next year.”
Like the dreams of so many chess club captains and varsity clarinetists who pine for the prom queen, most teams will fall short, their spring flings nothing more than memories amidst a cloud of losses, injuries, and fire sale trades.
Allow me to be your Tambourine Man over the next few weeks. In the jingle jangle of BP and split squads come following me and I’ll give you the lucious nectar of belief that this is your team’s year. Not until the cruel okey-doke that is April, with its second wave of snow and ice will I pull the rug out and get real. Right now, every glass is half-full and refills are free. Even for you Pirates fans.
Coming up: 2011 Previews: Pujols, Phillies pitching, and maybe even an original idea that you haven’t heard or read for the last two weeks straight (I’m still in Spring Training too).
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Jason Marquis won his first start after the All-Star break
to take sole possession of the Major League lead in wins with twelve. Marquis continues to have a surprising career
year in his first season with the Colorado Rockies. Typically pitchers enjoy such success after
they leave the rarified air of Coors
Field, not upon arrival there. However,
here’s Marquis, 19 starts in and enjoying his best season ever.
Marquis has gained the reputation as a reliable workhorse
over his previous nine seasons. In the
last five he’s averaged over 31 starts and 192 innings per year. He’s also been mildly successful with five
straight seasons of at least 11 wins. However,
the high-water mark of his career was a 15-7 year in 2004 with the Cardinals in
which he sported a fine 3.71 ERA. With probably
more than a dozen more starts to go this year, he’s on pace to obliterate his
career bests and his 3.49 ERA thus far would be his best since his first full
year in 2001.
Much like any successful Colorado hitter, home and away splits can be
telling when studying success. Marquis
has shown that he’s not afraid of his home park. He has five of his wins there, and has actually
surrendered only three of his nine homeruns there. Often times pitchers will lose the battle
with Coors Field before they even throw a pitch. The list of good pitchers to lose their mojo
there is long, but Marquis has had no qualms about it.
To me the most impressive stat Marquis has posted this year
is his strikeout total, or lack thereof.
Far from being a Zack Greinke or Tim Lincecum, Marquis strikes out less
than five men per nine innings. This
leaves a large majority of the outs each game in the hands of his defense, and
in the fickle air currents of the Rocky Mountains,
yet he has thrived. It helps that he
gets more than twice as many outs via the groundball as he does the fly ball. Marquis has the smarts and the moxie to
attack hitters and get them to hit his pitches, pounding one after another into
the ground unsuccessfully. He’s allowed
fewer hits than innings pitched, and his walk rate is less than three per nine
Marquis has a serious shot at posting a 20 win season this year,
which would be more than just a personal milestone, it would a be a Colorado
franchise record. Thrice in the team’s
history pitchers have won 17 (Kevin Ritz, 1996, Pedro Astacio, 1999, Jeff
Francis, 2007), but never any more. The
team ERA record for a season is also in jeopardy (Joe Kennedy, 3.66, 2004). Add to that the fact that the Rockies just leaped over the San Francisco Giants into
second in the NL West and first in the Wild Card and Marquis may be throwing
pills deep into the fall for his team.
After being a part of the disastrous Cubs postseasons the
last two years, Marquis may be the anchor of his new team looking to repeat their
playoff success of just a few seasons ago.
Even at thirty, in his tenth season, it’s never too late for a proper
coming out party and Marquis is looking to keep it going right through October
and maybe turn it into a Cy Young celebration as well.
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this season there was a lot of talk about the San Francisco Giants and their
pitching staff. There was Tim Lincecum,
the young phenom and 2008 NL Cy Young winner who wanted to back up his
spectacular season. There was Barry Zito,
who was still searching for the top-of-the-rotation form that won him an AL Cy
Young in 2002 and a $126 Million deal with the Giants. There was even Randy Johnson, who at 45 years
old came into 2009 needing five wins to reach the monumental 300 Club.
Matt Cain entered the year as a
fourth banana on a star-studded pitching staff that was seeking to give the
Giants a shot at contention in the NL West after a horrible 2008. He’s still only 24, but after two consecutive
disappointing seasons in which he totaled a 15-30 record, many were wondering
if he’d ever deliver on his promise and potential. Cain has very quietly put together an
impressive first half that most baseball fans may not be aware of. With his team in second place behind the
headline-grabbing Dodgers and Mannywood and with budding superstar Lincecum
garnering most of the attention, Cain has delivered every time out yet still
been able to stay mostly out of the spotlight.
Cain leads the Giants in wins with
nine (Lincecum and Johnson each have seven) and has racked up three complete
games, both numbers lead the NL and put him among Zack Greinke and Roy Halladay
in all of Major League Baseball. His
ERA, 2.57, not only matches Lincecum’s, but it ranks 2nd in the NL
behind only Dan Haren of Arizona. His WHIP compares favorably to Lincecum (1.23
to 1.14) and his opponents’ batting average is slightly lower (.231 to
The main reason Cain receives far
less attention than his teammate, other than the obvious hardware, is that Cain
relies far less on strikeouts. He
strikes out only a modest 7.52 hitters per nine innings, but is successful by
limiting runners and letting his defense work behind him. Lincecum’s funky delivery, electric stuff,
and ability to embarrass hitters is more eye-catching, but no one can argue with
Cain’s results so far this year.
Lincecum’s notoriety, strikeout
total, and miniscule ERA have many clamoring for him to start the All-Star Game
for the Senior Circuit, but Matt Cain has made quite a case for himself, albeit
in a less visually impressive way. I doubt
he will get the necessary buzz to garner the start on July 14, though he’ll
certainly be there and hopefully he’ll get some of the pub that he deserves.
If he keeps up this pace, it will
be interesting to see if Cain can become the fourth member of the current San
Francisco staff to win a Cy Young, an unheard of collection of pitching talent,
even if some of it is in its twilight (Johnson), or simply lost in the dark
(Zito). If Cain can maintain and develop
the ability he’s shown through the first three months of this season, the
Giants could be looking at twin aces for many years to come.
The question is whether Cain can
maintain such excellence over the long term.
His first full year, 2006, he managed a respectable 13-12 record with a
4.15 ERA, impressive for a rookie.
However, the last two years he appeared to backslide with campaigns of 7-16
and 8-14. Those numbers are a little
deceiving though for the same reason that Lincecum’s win total suffered last
year. In 2007 Cain posted a 3.65 ERA
followed by 3.76 last year, but he was punished in the win column by pitching
for a bad, offensively challenged team.
In both seasons, as in 2006, he
struck out more than twice as many as he walked and was able to pitch more than
200 innings and make more than 30 starts.
His big frame (6’3″, 245 lbs) has allowed him to be very durable and
reliable and with 101.2 innings logged thus far in 15 starts, almost seven
innings per start, he’s well on the way to another workhorse season. That ability to go deep into games and even finish
some on his own will help his win total down the line as he leaves fewer outs
in the hands of the bullpen.
Cain may not get as much attention
as any of his staff mates, but he is more than worthy of attention and an
All-Star appearance in two weeks. The
Giants may not have the bats to catch the Dodgers this year, but Pablo Sandoval
gives them hope and if Cain can continue to produce alongside Lincecum, San
Francisco may be looking at one of the best one-two
punches in baseball for the foreseeable future.