As April fades into May, we see that both the Chicago Cubs (17-5) and San Francisco Giants (11-12) sit atop the standings in their respective divisions, despite the different routes they have traveled to get there.
Even though they are currently tied for first place in the National League West, courtesy of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ six game losing streak, the outlook has not been brilliant for the San Francisco Giants in April. They were crushed Friday night in New York by the Mets, 13-1, and they dropped a 6-5 decision on Saturday evening, as the Mets extended their winning streak to eight.The Cubs are 8-2 in their last ten games and missed the opportunity to break their franchise record for wins in April because of Saturday’s rainout with the Atlanta Braves (5-18).
The Giants, on the other hand, were swept in their first four games of the most recent homestead by the Arizona Diamondbacks, before rallying to take five of the final six between the San Diego Padres, who they swept, and the Miami Marlins, who dropped two of three.
Between Jake Peavy (1-2, 8.61 ERA, 2.00 WHIP) walking guys on Friday night, and Matt Cain (0-3, 7.00 ERA, 1.59 WHIP) hitting batters with pitches on Saturday, the Giants were giving runs away like they were going out of style. Granted it would have made no difference on Friday, but those two hit batsmen in Saturday’s game cost Cain his first victory this season.
Of course, prior to doubling their run production for Cain on Saturday by scoring three runs, the Giants had managed to score only three runs total in Cain’s first four starts, shades of deja vu from early on in his career, when the longest tenured Giants gained sympathy for his lack of run support.
Still, there is no getting around his 7.00 earned run average and his 1.59 WHIP in the opening month of the season. As much as he has looked good on the mound, especially early on in games, Cain needs a shakeup, or maybe a shakedown, to stir things up and activate his confidence.
Otherwise, the Dodgers are going to get their act together, and leave San Francisco behind while it continues to allow Cain to try and pitch his way back into some semblance his former self.
Peavy is actually worse statistically than Cain, despite going seven innings against the Marlins eight days ago, while giving up just two runs. That’s the frustrating part with both Cain and Peavy, the fact that both have looked sharp at times, and clueless at others.
Despite the sagging back end of the rotation, there are some incredibly bright spots for the Giants, including the fact that they have struck out the fewest of any teams in the National League (155); only the Los Angeles Angels (123) have whiffed fewer times in all of MLB.
Angel Pagan is batting .315 with 17 RBIs in the early going, but it is his positive attitude that has been the most noteworthy component of the team’s new left fielder. Pagan’s willingness to put the team first when Denard Span came on board, by shifting from center field to left, paved the way for the smooth transition in the outfield.
Bruce Bochy’s strategy of batting Pagan ninth, giving the team two consecutive speedsters in the batting order after the first inning, has proven to be an effective tool in light of Pagan’s quick start. The former Met has epitomized the role that chemistry plays within the Giants organization, and it is showing up in more tangible ways as far as batting average and production as the season wears on.
Johnny Cueto’s 4-1 win/loss record and his 2.65 ERA are examples of his contributions on the field, but it is his charismatic presence that cannot be underestimated, as far as providing leadership and motivation to the team. His ability to stay on an even keel no matter what is going on around him, contributes to the team’s ability to respond accordingly.
The Giants seem to be more relaxed when Cueto is on the mound, a reflection of the Dominican native’s ability to keep the team loose. The season is still early but it is obvious that the one-two punch of Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto will be an effective combo against any other two starters in the league.
Of course, when it comes to pitching, the Cubs with a team ERA of 2.39, have almost half the earned run average of the Giants, 4.70.
The season may be only one month old, but this has got to change if the Giants are going to be able to establish the confidence needed to make a serious run at a fourth title in seven years.
That being said, confidence does not seem to be lacking on the Cubs these days.