Fooch's Note: As mentioned in the comments I COMPLETELY forgot about Brett Anderson, in large part due to his extended injury absence recently. For now I'll just pretend that I factored that in when I decided to look at the pitching at this particular point in time. In reality, I think it means I can do revisit this post at the end of the season and look at the top 5 at that point.
For whatever reason (cough***drug-testing***cough), 2010 has been the year of the pitcher in Major League Baseball. MLB is looking at potentially it's first sub-2 ERA pitcher since 2005 (ironically enough, Roger Clements), and with 16 pitchers holding sub-3 ERAs, it's been a great year for pitchers.
When I look around the Bay Area, the common theme between the A's and Giants is strong starting pitching. The Giants currently lead the NL wild card race, while the A's are trying to battle their way into the AL West race. Both teams are trying to do this with strong starting pitching. Both offenses certainly have their moments, but the two teams are dangerous because of their pitching.
Given Trevor Cahill's current run of 26 innings without giving up an earned run, I thought it would be fun to try and rank the top five starting pitchers in the Bay Area at this point in time. This isn't a ranking of who has had the best career to date, or who has the best pure stuff, or who has the most upside. Rather, it's a look at who is pitching the best out of all the starting pitchers in the Bay Area.
1. Trevor Cahill
First off, for those that know me, I'm an A's fan. So it's possible there is a little bias in this selection. Many folks might jump down my throat wondering how I could choose anybody but Lincecum. Tim Lincecum remains the most purely talented of the Bay Area starters. However, at this point in time, there are few pitchers on a roll like Cahill is currently on.
With his victory over the Rangers yesterday, Cahill has now gone 26 innings without giving up an earned run. More impressive than that is this: he has made 19 straight starts now where he's gone at least 5 innings and given up 6 hits or fewer. The only better such streak belongs to Nolan Ryan, who did it in 20 straight games. When you're being compared to a pitcher like Ryan, you're in rarified air.
What's all the more impressive is the fact that Cahill didn't even make the team coming out of spring training. After struggling through an up and down 2009 season, Cahill seems to be putting it all together, thanks in large part to a drastically improved ground ball to fly ball ratio. It remains to be seen how he'll do long term, but if he can keep rolling with that sinker, he could be the anchor of the A's rotation for the near future.
2. Barry Zito
This is another one that might scratch some heads. And yet, after scuffling through the first three seasons of his monster contract, Barry Zito has somehow regained his mojo. Zito had all around awful numbers from 2007-2009, but he's returned to impressive form over the last month and a half. Over his last 6 starts he's given up 10 earned runs, dazzling hitters with his filthy curve.
What is even bigger about Zito's 2010 resurgence is what he could do for the Giants in the postseason. Zito brings a veteran presence with an extensive playoff resume, including his huge game 1 victory over Johan Santana in the 2006 AL wild card playoff round. The Giants have excellent young pitching, but a veteran like Zito could be a difference-maker come playoff time.
3. Tim Lincecum
Lincecum hit some rough speed bumps this year and really struggled for the first time since his rookie season. Of course, in spite of these struggles, he's still rolling out a 3.15 ERA and is second in the National League in strikeouts. I'd imagine a lot of pitchers out there would give their left arm to struggle like that. Of course, when you're coming off back to back Cy Young awards, expectations are generally set rather high.
The Giants entire pitching staff needs to stay strong in these final months, but Lincecum is the driving force for them heading into the stretch run. Although his numbers aren't quite as spectacular as years past, he seems to be getting back into his groove lately. While he's 1-1 in his last 4 starts, the Giants are 3-1 in those games. Most folks would generally agree a pitcher's win total is not always reflective of his abilities, and that is particularly true for Lincecum in 2010.
4. Matt Cain
It should tell you something when the Giants ERA leader comes in 4th on this list. Since a brutal loss at the Washington Nationals, Cain has settled into a nice little groove, as the Giants have gone 4-1 in his last five starts, with wins against a variety of NL rivals and potential playoff opponents.
Cain has shown flashes of greatness, mixed in with some inconsistency at times. He appeared to settle into a groove last season and at times has carried it over to this season. While he can still occasionally get blown up, the Giants have to be hoping his latest run will continue. In his last five starts he's given up 3, 0, 3, 0, and 2 runs. Although he sits at 9-9, as mentioned above, wins and losses don't tell the full story.
Cain will face the Cubs, the Phillies and the Reds or Cardinals in his next three starts. The Giants currently sit 2 games back of the Padres in the West, .5 ahead of Philly in the wild card, and 1 ahead of St. Louis in the wild card. Needless to say, they'll need continued success from Cain to earn that playoff spot. If he can continue his recent run, the team should be in solid shape.
5. Gio Gonzalez
This was a close call with Madison Bumgarner as the other option. Bumgarner has had progressive worse results over his last four starts, but his strong rookie performance has to be encouraging for the Giants.
And yet, I still chose to go with A's start Gio Gonzalez. Most would declare that Gonzalez has been all sorts of inconsistent this year. He went from holding hitters to a .191 batting average in May to a .265 average in June and .271 average in July. However, amidst the inconsistency, Gonzalez has shown serious flashes of brilliance, particularly as of late. Dating back to his June 21 start against the Reds, Gonzalez has thrown 57.2 innings with an ERA of 2.49, a 1.27 WHIP and a little over 7 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched.
While Gonzalez can be inconsistent, when he's on, he can be as dominate as anybody on the A's pitching staff. Recently against Chicago, Gonzalez gave up 4 earned runs and struck out 11. A bit all over the place with one bad inning, surrounded by 7 innings of brilliance. If he can harness the brilliance, the A's will have a fine starter on their hands.