Giants’ arms fuel sweep, but does this staff have legs?

This is my Friday column.

SAN FRANCISCO — Technically, Giants right fielder Justin Maxwell won Thursday’s game against the Dodgers with an RBI single down the third-base line in the bottom of the 10th. The final score was 3-2.

Technically, Joe Panik won Wednesday’s game with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth. The final score was 3-2.

Without those hits by Panik and Maxwell, the Giants might have lost this three-game series. Instead, they swept the first-place Dodgers.

But the Giants didn’t win because of their hitting. They won because they got three quality starts in a row — one from Tim Lincecum on Tuesday, one from Madison Bumgarner on Wednesday and one from Ryan Vogelsong on Thursday.

The Giants will go as far as their starting pitching takes them — that’s how the Giants work.

Is their starting pitching good enough to take them to the playoffs this season? Let’s take stock.

Ryan Vogelsong

Vogelsong gave up two earned runs in 6⅓ innings Thursday afternoon. Each earned run was a solo home run that came with two outs. He made two bad pitches all game.

And he lowered his ERA from 10.45 to 7.71.

Vogelsong wasn’t supposed to be a starter this season. He began the year in the bullpen and became a starter when Jake Peavy injured himself.

And Vogelsong was terrible, as you can tell from his flabby ERA. He needed to pitch well Thursday to keep his spot in the starting rotation, and he knew it.

“Honestly, I feel like I pitch better in these situations where my back is against the wall,” Vogelsong said at his locker after the game. “I feel like I’m back in 2011, when every start I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to get another one after that. I needed to go out and throw the ball well. Maybe this is the pressure I need … Maybe this what I need to get my head out of my butt, so to speak.”

Vogelsong might feel like he’s back in 2011. The reality is he turns 38 in July. Can the Giants rely on him to make 30 starts?

Probably not.

Madison Bumgarner

The Giants have to rely on Bumgarner. He is their best pitcher. And as a pitcher, he has been an equestrian this season.

He just might have a future in dressage. Talk about a natural on a horseback. Not so natural on the mound, though. Bumgarner The Pitcher looks shaky this season. His ERA is 4.63, and hitters are batting .295 against him.

This isn’t to say Bumgarner forgot how to pitch or suddenly became a bad pitcher. He is a great pitcher.

Is he also a tired pitcher?

That’s the key question. Bumgarner pitched 270 innings last season including the playoffs. The extra work may have taken a toll on his arm.

He used to throw one of the hardest, sharpest sliders in the Major Leagues — threw it about 88 miles per hour. It was faster than some pitchers’ fastballs.

But not this season. Bumgarner’s slider is traveling just 85 miles per hour and hitters have been crushing it. They’ve been crushing all of his pitches, actually.

Until Wednesday Night. Bumgarner held the Los Angeles Dodgers to two runs in 6⅓ innings. For the first time this season he looked like a pitcher and not a broncobuster.


Tim Lincecum

For the first time since 2011, Lincecum’s ERA after his first three starts is less than 5.63.

Is he back?

Yes and no.

His changeup is back — that’s his signature pitch. It darts sharply into the dirt like a split-finger fast ball. It hasn’t darted this sharply since Lincecum won his second Cy Young award in 2009.

But Lincecum needs more than one good pitch to have a good season. Good hitters recognize his changeup and lay off it — Lincecum rarely throws it for a strike. He needs a pitch he can throw for a strike.

Which brings us to his fastball. Lincecum struggles to throw it harder than 87 miles per hour. It’s almost as slow as Barry Zito’s fastball.

Lincecum threw 93 miles per hour when he won back-to-back Cy Youngs — he was a power pitcher. Now, he’s a finesse pitcher. He can’t blow fastballs by hitters anymore. He has to hit the corners.

Can he hit corners consistently for more than three starts?

Probably not.

Tim Hudson

Can Hudson make it through the entire season? He turns 40 in July.

Last season, he was a three-month pitcher. Before the All-Star break, his ERA was 2.87. After the All-Star break, it was 4.73. He fell apart, and we understand why. He’s old. We don’t fault him for being old.

The Giants are paying Hudson $12 million this season. That’s a lot of dough for a three-month pitcher, if he even is a three-month pitcher any more. So far, he seems like a one-start pitcher.

He gave up no earned runs during his first start which came against the San Diego Padres. His past two starts, Hudson’s ERA has been 6.00. His fastball is topping out at 87 miles per hour, and he doesn’t have a great off-speed pitch like Lincecum.

Hudson’s career might be finito.

Jake Peavy

Same goes for Peavy’s career, even though he’s only 33.

Peavy lasted two starts this season. Then he hurt his back, and now he’s on the disabled list. His ERA is off the Richter scale — 9.39.

And he won’t pitch in a game any time soon. Before Thursday’s game, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he’s going to “slow play” Peavy’s return.

As Bochy said this, Peavy was playing catch next to the Giants’ dugout. Peavy has been playing catch for the past two days. He might no longer have what it takes to be a major league pitcher, but he sure can play catch with the best of them.

Matt Cain

If only that were true for Cain.

Before Thursday’s game, I asked Bochy how Cain’s rehab is progressing.

“Still rehabbing,” Bochy said. “He’s not throwing yet.”

Cain can’t even play catch. He hasn’t pitched one inning this season. He strained his right flexor tendon in an exhibition game, and he’s been on the Disabled List since then.

The Giants are paying Cain $20 million to hang around the clubhouse and receive treatment on his forearm. Unless the Giants can trade him — not likely — they’ll have to pay him another $61 million over the next three seasons.

Cain might become the richest rehabber in baseball.

Chris Heston

Heston has the second-lowest ERA in the majors — 0.87. He is a 27-year-old rookie who has been in the Giants’ farm system for six years. The not-so-young right-hander throws a 90-mile-an-hour fastball, which makes him a flamethrower compared to most of the Giants’ starting pitchers.

Heston might be the second-best starter on the team next to Bumgarner. Who is the third-best starter, Vogelsong? Lincecum?

They pitched well against the Dodgers in April, but neither is a No. 3 starter in a playoff rotation.

The Giants don’t have a playoff rotation — they have Buckaroo Bumgarner. The rest is uncertain.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at

This article has 30 Comments

  1. I expected this piling on the Giants a week ago. I guess he was still too busy piling on the 49ers to write this one up.
    If the warriors had lost last night, we could have all predicted the next article. My only question is does it ever get old being so negative?

    1. Matt – You see this article as negative and piling on; however, many, or even most, of these questions an d concerns were being posed in the off-season. Considering the ages and physical conditions coupled with the injury histories of this staff, these are legitimate points of concern. I am sure if you were the fly on the wall within the front office of the Giants, you would be eavesdroppings on very similar or even more serious conversations. One of the greatest faux pas of championship organizations is to overpay and to hang on to players too long. Loyalties, if you can accept that term, sometimes can be a curse, especially in sports where age and injury are two of the greatest negatives. It, too, eventually became a curse for Al Davis and the Raider organization. Bill Walsh often was criticized for releasing or trading a player “too soon;” however, Bill’s response was that it was better to be one year too early than to be one year too late. The majority of baseball analysts, if you read a variety of periodicals, also saw these concerns for the Giants, so Grant is not alone. In fact, if you go back ands read some of the off-season blogs about the Giants, the biggest concerns were the amount of innings MB threw last season and the injury and age factors for most of the staff.

      1. I see it as negative. Is it reporting to write what is already known? I think not. Reporting is about bringing news to light. This is merely a thirteen year old ranting about issues as you said are obvious. Had the article brought up these issues with plausible and possible solutions, it wouldn’t come across as Chicken Little. How difficult would it have been to submit trade options, farm league possibilities, and actually “report” inside information as the title of the site states.
        The real reporting goes on in the comments section by much more astute fans without press passes.

  2. Good recap- thanks. I knew the team burned out Bumgarner last year he is not built for that much work and his motion is clearly not economical. If only the team scoring was on par with the pitching there simply would not be this day-in-day-out strain on the hurlers. Another analogy has been the 49ers during Harbaugh’s abject lack of offense during his storied divisional runs. Harbaugh’s defense made him appear to be a quality coach when as all the folks now know he was tremendously deficient in many areas to qualify as a good coach. Harbaugh’s players, obtained/ drafted greatly by the GM, made him look like a good coach. The reason the 49ers did not win a superbowl with Harbaugh can be attributed to his inability to coach. No wonder he lost the confidence of the locker room and I suspect some of his NFL largest staff.

    1. History lesson I’m forced to disagree with you here. Bumgarner has some of the most sound mechanics in the major leagues. His problem was he was’nt staying on top of the ball it effected the velocity of his breaking balls along with the movement. He started getting back on top of the ball in his start vs the Dodgers and everything is back to normal. Grant I differ with you on Lincecum in that he does have 2 pitches. He for the first time in his career is spoting his fastball and getting ahead of the count. A fastball of 88 or 89 mph is perfectly okay at the major league level if you can paint with it. Giants fans don’t panic remember base ball is a marathon not a sprint.

      1. Old Coach – I don’t consider “spotting a fastball” to be considered a pitch. It’s called “control.” If Timmy’s control is good, primarily because of sound mechanics and release point, he is able to work the edges of the plate better than if he is a scatter shot pitcher. No question, his change-up is his bread and butter and his out pitch, but when batters are caught looking for the change-up, and Timmy is able to paint the corners with his fastball, he definitely is effective and more likely to be sucessful. Bottom line, Timmy cannot be off because his velocity, or lack thereof, can not allow him to get away with a ‘mistake pitch.’ He could get away with a ‘mistake pitch’ several years ago, but he is a different hurler now.

  3. Well stated, OldCoach.
    The only thing I would add is that it’s painful watching Barbosa on the court.
    Can that guy make a layup…EVER???
    Oh wait…this is a baseball column.
    My bad…I thought that there were more important things going in sports right now.

    1. Some teams must think the 49ers will stink, winding up with high 2016 draft picks.

      If 15+126 isn’t enough to entice the Saints into trading back two slots, maybe 15+2016 4th will.

      It would be a typical day one Baalke move.

      1. Sorry, I forgot to reference “They probably won’t get him (Parker), though. The Miami Dolphins have the 14th pick…”

      2. I can imagine alot of scenarios where the 2016 picks might be better trade bait. Especially with teams that underestimate the 49ers record.

        Its a gamble though. We were burned 700 chart points in a trade with the Patriots, when the 49ers 2007 season didn’t go quite as hoped.

      3. I know you’ve put a lot of thought into this Brodie, but I respectfully disagree. I think most teams would still prefer a 2015 4th rounder over a 2016 4th rounder. Think of it this way – if the 49ers were looking to trade back from pick #126 and assuming they could find someone looking to trade up, do you think the 49ers would accept less than a 2016 4th rounder or expect more? I can’t see any scenario where the 49ers would accept less than a 2016 4th rounder in exchange, and I would imagine they would expect more.

        The same would go for any team that held pick 126 this year.

        1. If the Bucs or Titans offered to swap their 2016 4th for our 126, I’d say “yes” in a heartbeat.

          But you are correct from a historical standpoint. In all of Baalke’s trade forwards (that I remember)… we traded a current pick for a higher higher round in the next year… or the same round + a later pick,

          1. If the Bucs or Titans called the Patriots offering their 2016 first for this year’s 32, would Belichick say no?

          2. I wouldn’t accept the Bucs or Titans 2016 4th for our 4th rounder this year, and I don’t think any team would. Too many uncertainties between now and next year, and the old adage is a dollar in the hand today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow. Add in a 7th rounder this year and I might go for it.

            If Baalke offered the Dolphins (for example) a choice of our 4th this year or 4th next year, I’d be very surprised if they took the 4th next year option. If they take the 4th this year they have a chance of either using it on a player they want this year or converting that into even more draft capital next year (or combo of the two).

            1. OK, I’m convinced. No more 2016 doh-see-doh scenarios. I get way overboard with the chart stuff. In the next few days I will actually start talking about players.

              I do like Parker, though feet issues scare me more then they used to.

    2. To say you didn’t do your homework is an understatement Grant.
      1. Talk has been heating up that Parker may not even make it out of the top 10, so unless the 49ers trade up, I don’t see them having a chance at him. And even if they don’t, the odds of the Rams or Dolphins taking him are pretty high.
      2. Wright would be a place holder for Collins? In what universe?
      3. You make Gregory sound like the second coming of Aldon Smith, but if you looked into it, you would see he’s the second coming of Dion Jordan. Let’s ignore his character issues and the reports that he hasn’t inpressed in interviews. Let’s instead talk about his negatives on the field. For starters, Gregory is a one trick pony pass rusher that can easily be taken out of the equation. He makes one big highlight and then disapppears a good majority of the time. He’s fast, but he lacks anything in his aresenal to utilize if the one assigned to block is able to negate that advantage. If we were talking third round here, then it would make more sense in drafting him, but in the first round? I don’t think so.
      4. Comparing Jeffrey and Funchess is like comparing Jerry Rice and TO: it doesn’t mesh.

      Now let’s look at two prospects you all but ignored: Dorsett and Peters.
      Let’s start with Peters first. As the draft gets closer, it is becoming more and more apparent that Peters won’t be available for teams in the lower half of the first round and could possibly be the first CB drafted as well. Why select Peters? How about the fact that he fits the mold of the typical CB that Baalke loves to draft? Want more? He would be a great fit for Mangini’s defense, the kind that has to have a #1 CB. And wouldn’t you know it, the 49ers met with him at the Combine and his Pro Day.
      Now onto Dorsett.
      Latest talk has him potentially being drafted somewhere in the latter part of the first round. Baalke could easily trade back in the hopes of acquiring him there. Why Dorsett? Speed for one thing. He’s an absolute burner that (paired with Smith) could open thing up near the line for Davis, Boldin, and our RB corps. Sure he’s short, but he is willing to fight for the ball and is the holder of a gaudy YPC stat. The team met with him at the Senior Bowl and the Combine. Drafting him could give Kaep not one but two legitimate deep threats.

      1. 1. Parker still seems to be one of their top choices.
        2. Collins started 10 games in three seasons at LSU. He’s going to start 16 games as a rookie? In what universe?
        3. Gregory made 17.5 sacks in two seasons at Nebraska. Jordan made 14.5 sacks in four seasons at Oregon. Bad comparison.
        2. Rice and Owens had nothing in common athletically. Funchess and Jeffery do. Almost identical size, speed, length and explosiveness.

        1. I know the report was that Funchess ran a better time at his pro day, but he ran a 4.7 at the combine and looks slow on film. I don’t see him in the same mold as Jeffery personally.

          Parker is interesting because I think some teams have likely moved Perriman ahead of him and there is a chance he could be there at 15 imo. If he his, they should take him.

          I’m not a big Gregory fan, but he has decent numbers and talent to work with.

  4. Trent has brought SF to the doorstep of the draft with sufficient ambiguity about his intentions, as he hoped to. It occurs to me that his last 3 1st rounders were two DBs and a WR. Trent likes to invest in the trenches so it seems like he might be looking in that direction, or at least might consider it in tie-breaker between prospective players that drop to him.
    I don’t have confidence in any of my guesses right now, just along for the ride.

    1. “I don’t have confidence in any of my guesses right now, just along for the ride.”

      I agree completely, Brotha. I have all but given up trying to guess what Baalke will do. It will probably be a pick almost no one is predicting but that is an obvious Baalke kind of pick in retrospect.

      1. Yup. I’m imagining somebody from the Niners perusing the various comment sections, seeing my post, and saying
        “Well, we fooled the posers and amateurs. Let’s see how we do on draft day against the real guys.”

      2. While I also agree that I have zero confidence in any of my guesses as to who Baalke will pick, these mock drafts and analyses are useful, IMHO, because they provide a list of candidates that have been reviewed and analyzed. I’m comfortable with a number of the candidates put forth by posters here and by well known analysts. My biggest fear is that Baalke will make a WTF pick. Of course, on this blog, we are all amateurs and the pros should know better. Still I posted several times previously that in the 2013 and 2014 drafts, Baalke has primarily drafted players in the first four rounds that were on Mayock’s top 5 list. These were the years after the “WTF” AJ Jenkins pick and the overall disasterous 2012 draft. In the 2012 draft, Baalke only selected one player that was on Mayock’s top five list. I’m not trying to imply that there is something special about Mayock, only that sometimes consensus picks are that for a reason and trying to outsmart everybody by making bizarre picks doesn’t work.

        1. ESPN is running through their mock. For SF at #15 they have………wait for it …….Armstead.
          If I, and we, are all that wrong and they do grab Armistead I may have to retire myself from these speculations in the future.
          PS: Polian saying he thinks Greggory is too light to be a 3 down player, so questionable as a first rounder. He really does like Devin Smith.

          1. Armstead doesn’t bug me. If the 49ers love his potential he could actually be a BPA/Potential pick.

            He’s a gamble developmental pick. He could be a Kentwan or a star.
            He’s a gifted, likeable Sacramento kid. I hope he has a great career.

            What bugs me is how “national” (east coast) media bases its conclusions exclusively on headlines. If they took a few minutes to examine the roster, or the 49ers defensive fronts, alot less would be picking Armstead.

          2. There’s alot Devin Smith can’t do. I’d be surprised if he was drafted high. I’m not advocating taking him at 46.

            But he has one quality that I really like… he keeps his footing catching long passes, while the DBs fall all over the place.

            That’s what I loved about Mike Evans. Evans was a bowling ball, DBs were the bowling pins.

            Devin Smith is no Mike Evans. Not even close. But Smith has a little bit of that bowling ball quality.

            His highlights (for what their worth) also show him catching bombs in bad conditions like snow… still keeping his footing after the catch.

            As soon as I saw Devin Smith play, I thought he’d be perfect for Wilson’s scramble bombs. I’m hoping Seattle doesn’t get him with their 2nd rounder.

    2. BT,

      I hear ya. It’s been tough to predict what Baalke is thinking, especially in 2012 when he went against usual preference and selected small players with the first two picks.

      I’m not sure why, but I have a strong feeling that Peters is the guy this year. It goes against Baalke’s pattern of not drafting CB’s with higher picks, and it overlooks the need for a WR, but I just sense Peters is the exact prototype of CB Baalke covets. Good in all areas of coverage, makes plays on the ball, 6 foot and strong, not afraid to tackle and has the swagger you need at the position. I honestly think he fits what they like more than any other CB including Waynes.

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