COHN: A whole heap of trouble for NL West champs
Published: Saturday, October 6, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, October 6, 2012 at 10:43 p.m.
SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants have trouble.
In Game 1 of the division series, the Reds lost their starting pitcher Johnny Cueto minutes after the national anthem, Cueto throwing a pitch and grimacing like someone shot hot lava into his back. Terrible way to start a series on the road. Just then you thought, “These Reds have trouble.”
The Giants were luckier than the Reds. They didn’t lose their starter. Matt Cain was healthy as a horse, but maybe that wasn’t good luck after all. He gave up two home runs in the first four innings, the first a two-run job on a hanging breaking ball to Brandon Phillips.
And he gave up a big whopper to Jay Bruce that sailed over Triples Alley into the stands — a shot that should have been tracked from the control tower at San Francisco International Airport. Cain, grim-faced, got yanked after five innings, not what the Giants had in mind. Later he said, bravely, “We’ll be fine. Today’s done with.” Maybe, but the Giants are the team that lost the opener 5-2, and they are the ones with trouble.
What kind of trouble?
It is trouble when your ace pitches like a deuce. Oh, let’s give Cain credit. He was at least a six in a standard poker deck, but not a picture card, not even a jack. The ace is supposed to win the first game of a series, make a statement, stop the other guys cold. It’s what Juan Marichal, Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson did. But Cain, who is good but sometimes gives it up, most definitely gave it up. At the worst possible time.
The Reds scrambled brilliantly after Cueto limped off the mound and out of the game and into the clubhouse. They eventually brought in Mat Latos, supposed to be their Game 3 starter, and they never looked confused or upset, even though they had plenty to be confused about. They didn’t have trouble but the Giants sure did.
It is trouble when most of your good hits — searing line drives — go directly to Reds fielders. In 2010, the liners found gaps and the Giants caught every break. “I thought we had better at-bats than it looked like,” Bruce Bochy said afterward. Sure, but most of those good at-bats were outs.
It is trouble when you have only one more game in your place and the other guys still get three games in theirs, and they impolitely started the series by taking one in your yard.
It is trouble when your hitters have no power and have trouble coming from behind, Gregor Blanco standing at the plate mesmerized with the tying runs on base in the bottom of the eighth and not taking the bat off his shoulder as the umpire rang him up. He thought the pitch was outside, but still.
It is trouble when the wheels come off in the top of the ninth. But it is encouraging when the Giants come back in the bottom of the ninth, and it is not encouraging when the comeback fails because Buster Posey strikes out swinging.
And it definitely is trouble when the starting pitchers who follow your alleged ace all have questions dangling over their heads like thought bubbles over the heads of characters in a cartoon strip.
The question over Madison Bumgarner’s head:
Mad Bum pitches Game 2 today, a must win since some wordsmith invented that cliché. So we ask, can Bumgarner find his stuff which he seemed to misplace? Late in the season, he lost three in a row, then had a no-decision giving up 11 hits and five runs in 4«, then won two in a row and all seemed well until he got blasted his last start of the season — no way to prep for the playoffs. Bochy said Bumgarner has benefited from some rest. So, Can Bumgarner find what he lost and found and then lost again?
After him come three guys Bochy doesn’t even want to name. Well, he knows their names but he won’t tell who’s pitching when. They are, in a sense, unmentionable. That’s because of the questions dangling over their heads.
The question over Barry Zito’s head: Can this gopher-ball artist, who miraculously won 15 games, keep the ball inside Great American Ballpark?
The question over Tim Lincecum’s head: Will Lincecum ever be Timmy again, the phenomenon who blew away batters and was called The Freak? Will the two-time Cy Young Award winner even merit a start in this series?
The question over Ryan Vogelsong’s head: Does Vogelsong, who cracked up in a pitching sense the second half of the season, now have his full complement of marbles in a pitching sense?
Those are serious questions for a team with a surprisingly shaky rotation heading into a miniature ballpark in a pitching sense where hitters just abuse pitchers in a hitting sense.
Here’s a bonus question in our imaginary cartoon: Can the 2012 Giants get out of the trouble they most certainly are in? That’s the big question.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn @pressdemocrat.com.
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