Entering play Tuesday, the San Francisco Giants are the worst team in baseball. With an abysmal record of 11-22, they are 9.5 games back of the first-place Colorado Rockies in the NL West, and are seven out of the second and final NL Wild Card spot. If they could go back to April 2nd and do it over again, they would. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.
Now in the second week of May, chalking it up to simply a “slow start” is no longer accurate. While it might have been a valid excuse in early, mid or perhaps even late April, that ship officially sailed with the turning over of the calendar to May. At this point, the Giants struggles are rooted deeper than that.
Like any last place team, the Giants haven’t had just one thing go wrong. The bullpen has been far from its sharpest, they have been plagued with injuries, and luck certainly hasn’t been on their side either. But the biggest area of concern, and perhaps the one most responsible for putting the team in the position they are in, is that of woefully inconsistent starting pitching.
Inconsistency of Starting Rotation a Major Factor in San Francisco Giants Struggles
In fairness, the Giants really have two problems. Sure, they have allowed the most earned runs of any starting staff in the major leagues, but they have also scored the second fewest. Having one of the worst offenses in baseball certainly doesn’t help, putting an unfair amount of pressure on their starters to be flawless every night.
The fact of the matter, however, is that the Giants are built on their starting pitching. Their formula to win is to get quality outings night in and night out, and scrape just enough runs across to come out on top more often than not. It’s a formula that has worked for them before, and there is no reason why it can’t again with the talent manager Bruce Bochy has at his disposal. But the only way that formula has any chance of success is if the starting pitching holds, and to this point in the season, it hasn’t come close.
Nobody on the Giants staff has epitomized its collective inconsistency better than Matt Moore. In three of his past six trips to the hill, Moore was roughed up for nine earned runs against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and 11 earned runs combined in two outings versus Colorado. In two other starts over that span, Moore put forth seven and eight strong innings respectively of one-run ball and allowed only five hits in those 15 combined innings. There is no question that Moore has the tools to be a very effective Major League starter, but that doesn’t matter if he can only bring his good stuff to the ballpark once for every three times he gets the ball.
That’s not to pick on Moore, who certainly isn’t alone here. After a string of very solid starts to begin the campaign, there was reason to believe Matt Cain had rekindled his old form with a sparkling 2.30 ERA in the month of April. But that came to a crashing halt on Friday in Cincinnati, as the 32-year-old was blown up for nine earned runs in three and a third innings of work. Meanwhile on the flip side, Jeff Samardzija had a forgettable first month of the season, going 0-4 with a 6.32 ERA in April before settling in for a dominant eight-inning shutout of the Dodgers in his most recent start.
Add it all up, and the numbers aren’t pretty. Despite Samardzija’s brilliant effort last time out in Los Angeles, his ERA still sits above five. Moore currently has the worst ERA of the lot with a 6.52, while Cain’s skyrocketed up to 4.70 after Friday’s nightmare. Even Johnny Cueto, who has been San Francisco’s best and most consistently solid starter to date, has posted an abnormally high ERA mark at 4.50.
On paper, the Giants starting staff has the potential to be among the best in baseball, and the flashes of dominance we have seen this season only reinforce that sentiment. But through a month and a week of the 2017 MLB season, it has been anything but.
With Madison Bumgarner’s non-baseball injury sustained in a dirt-biking accident likely to hold him out until after the All-Star break, the Giants have no choice but to roll with what they have. That means they are going to need to get quality outings from their starters on a more consistent basis if they are to engineer a turnaround, or they will continue to dwell in the NL West cellar. Yes, the offense needs to be better, but they are not built to out-slug teams. It just isn’t in their DNA. Rather, Giants baseball is predicated on the foundation of elite pitching and defense, with timely hitting coming second.
This Giants team is too good to have a record this bad. The players know it, the front office knows it, and heck – even Dodger fans who spend 365 days a year despising the Giants know it. But while this may be uncharted territory for a number of the Giants core players, the reality is they have dug themselves into a deep, deep hole early in the season. The question now becomes what can be done to turn this thing around, and although more is needed on the offensive side of the ball, a potential resurgence lies squarely on the shoulders of the starting rotation. The good news is they have 129 more games to make amends.