Is it Time to Worry About Matt Cain?

So far, 2014 has been a great year for the Giants. They’ve got the best record in baseball, they’re cruising along in first place, and the team’s been getting production from nearly everyone.

It hasn’t, however, been a great year for Matt Cain.

San Francisco’s right-handed ace has already missed four starts due to injuries. The first was a freak (not Tim Lincecum) incident. While making a sandwich before his start on April 24, he sliced his right index finger. He ended up missing two starts during “sandwich gate.”

More recently, he returned to the 15-day Disabled List with a strained right hamstring. It was retroactive back to May 22, and he’s expected to make his start this weekend in San Francisco. The right side of his body seems to suddenly be accident-prone, so is it time to start worrying about “the horse”?

Not just yet. Somehow, despite Brandon Belt’s broken hand, Buster Posey’s back, and Angel Pagan’s back, the Giants are winning. They’re winning a lot. And even though they’ve been without their big right-hander for one-third of the season so far, they’re still in first place. As with the other injuries, the team has stepped up. And the starting pitching has been no different.

Madison Bumgarner went 5-0 in the month of May. After giving up just four runs over his last five starts, Tim Hudson now has the second-lowest ERA in the Majors at 1.75.

But perhaps most impressively has been the production San Francisco has gotten from its fourth and fifth starters. Despite being inconsistent, Lincecum has been competitive, recording a quality start in five of his 11 games so far in 2014. His most recent game wasn’t technically a quality outing, but he did no-hit the Chicago Cubs in five shut-out innings of work. He’s giving his team a chance to win, and the Giants are capitalizing on those opportunities, going 9-3 in his 12 starts. His 4.18 ERA is a little worrisome, but Lincecum posted an ERA of 2.86 during May. Let’s hope he can carry that momentum (or momenTIM, if you will) in June as he faces off against Homer Bailey in Cincinnati on Tuesday night.

Fifth starter Ryan Vogelsong has also been impressive so far this year, far surpassing the expectations of many. He’s posted six quality starts in 11 games. His 3.45 ERA is third-best among Giants starters and 28th in the National League (among starters with at least ten starts), and one bad outing in Colorado (1.1 innings, five runs) skews that number. He’s already had three starts in which he’s shut-out the opposition, giving him one more than he had in all of 2013. San Francisco is 8-3 in his starts, making the team 17-6 when their fourth and fifth starters are on the mound. That’s pretty dang good.

In place of Cain, Yusmeiro Petit has been a capable replacement. In five starts, he’s 1-2 with a 5.81 ERA. He’s been inconsistent, but a work horse, allowing the Giants to give Cain the rest that he needs for his hamstring. So far, the team hasn’t missed the right-hander too much, but they’ll need him down the stretch. Cain’s 1-3 record isn’t accurate in describing how good Cain has been. His 3.66 ERA is decent, but his 2.30 ERA in his three May starts is downright impressive. He’s also gone at least seven innings in three of his eight starts, and his team will need those long starts and his strong arm for the playoff push.

All in all, it’s not time to panic yet on the mysterious injuries of Matt Cain. Let’s hope he’s getting the rest he needs and returns fully healthy, ready to keep the team in first place.

And for goodness sakes, somebody keep him away from Jeremy Affeldt.