The San Francisco Giants pounded the Atlanta Braves three straight times this weekend after dropping the first game of the four-game set last Thursday. The Giants got stellar pitching performances from ace Matt Cain, burgeoning ace Madison Bumgarner and former two-time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum. That’s exactly how Giants general manager Brian Sabean drew it up when he constructed this team.
The Giants won the World Series with elite pitching and a mediocre offense in 2010.
Last year, the offense was actually better than the pitching when adjusting for the pitcher-friendly confines of AT&T Park. So far this season, the offense is once again out-pacing the pitching staff and the defense. Yet if they’re to win a third championship in four seasons to cement their status as a dynasty, the Giants will need the type of starting pitching they received from Cain, Bumgarner and Lincecum this weekend.
During their weekend pummeling of the Braves, the Giants clicked on all cylinders for the first time this year. After the Braves beat the Giants on Thursday, their record was 21-13. Atlanta is now 21-16 after getting outscored 23-4 by the Giants over the weekend.
The most impressive part of the series was the work of the Giants big three against the organization that invented the term with Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz in the 1990’s.
Cain has struggled at times this year, particularly with the long ball. However, with 15.1 innings of three-run ball during the last home stand, he looks like he’s back to his ace form. Bumgarner has been the Giants best pitcher all season, and he recovered from his worst start of the year against the Phillies to throw seven innings of one-run ball with 11 strikeouts against the Braves. Lincecum had a rocky season last year that forced him to the bullpen for the playoffs. He’s also had an up-and-down beginning to this season, but after seven shutout innings against the Braves, he now has the second best FIP on the staff behind Bumgarner.
Here’s what the big three combined to do over the weekend:
Matt Cain: 8 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 7 K
Bumgarner: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 11 K
Lincecum: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 7 K
Total: 22 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 7 BB, 25 K
That potential for pitching dominance is why Sabean has invested $67.75 million of the club’s $137 million payroll into the starting rotation. Sabean has poured half of his available resources into the rotation in order to increase his margin for error throughout the rest of the roster. If the big three continue to pitch like they did this weekend, the Giants are almost assuredly going to remain atop the National League West again in 2013.
It’s an uphill climb for the rest of the NL West right now because no other team has the starting pitching stability that the Giants have. Last year, the big three, Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito combined to make 160 out of the 162 starts. The only two turns through the rotation missed by the starting five were due to a rain-out and the team clinching the division early.
The starting five has made all 38 starts for the Giants so far this year. While the rotation has had its share of struggles, the fact that they’ve each taken the ball every time their number has been called has kept the team from having to turn to Triple-A for replacement-level dreck.
The Giants had the big three of Cain, Bumgarner and Lincecum clicking on all cylinders in 2010 when Bumgarner made his rotation debut and again in 2011. Last year, Lincecum fell apart, and this year, Cain and Lincecum have both struggled at times.
Yet when you look at what those three have done in their careers with the Giants, you can’t help but be appreciative. Cain has a 3.33 ERA, three All-Star appearances and three top-twelve finishes in the Cy Young voting over nine years with the club. Bumgarner has thrown nearly 600 innings of 3.11 ERA ball for the Giants before even turning 24. Lincecum has gone 82-58 with a 3.34 ERA and the two Cy Young awards over his seven years in San Francisco.
The Giants won two World Series titles for a lot of different reasons, but the work of Cain, Bumgarner and Lincecum has been instrumental. To get back to the promised land this season, the Giants will need more of what they saw this weekend out of the big three.