By now, San Francisco Giants fans have undoubtedly heard plenty about their team's starting pitching struggles in 2013. But even with the lackluster performance that defined Giants pitching last season, there's plenty to look forward to in 2014, particularly when it comes to the aces of the rotation.
While Madison Bumgarner shouldered the bulk of the load in 2013, Matt Cain faltered early in the season. By the time he recovered, the Giants were well out of contention.
But given each starter's success in the second half of the season (and Bumgarner's success throughout), Cain and Bumgarner could form one of the best front ends of any rotation in the majors, if not the best, in the coming seasons.
Yes, that's a bold statement, especially when considering that the Los Angeles Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, and the Detroit Tigers' duo of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer is potentially just as scary.
But before you write off Cain and Bumgarner, take a look at just how promising this season is for both pitchers.
Cain is the more questionable of the pair, judging from his 4.00 ERA and eight wins in 2013. But in his last 18 starts of the season, Cain recorded 14 quality starts, including nine of his last 10 games.
That led to a sparkling 2.36 ERA in the second half—a total eclipsed by only eight other players in the majors with over 70 innings in that span.
Of course, the starter who ranked one spot ahead of Cain in second-half ERA, besting him by 0.06 of a point, was Bumgarner. But that wasn't anything new for MadBum, who finished with a 2.77 mark on the season, good for eighth in the majors.
Unsurprisingly, the only other duo from one team to feature in the top 10 in second-half ERA, aside from Cain and Bumgarner, were Kershaw and Greinke who finished first and third, respectively. Those two are the current gold standard for regular-season success, but there's also something to be said for postseason experience and success, both of which Bumgarner and Cain possess in droves.
Indeed, Bumgarner has tossed 15 scoreless frames in his World Series career, and Cain owns a 2.10 career postseason ERA thanks to his astounding 21.1 scoreless innings in 2010.
That's something neither Kershaw nor Greinke can speak to. Those who watched the 2013 NLCS are familiar with Kershaw's playoff shortcomings; that was nothing new, as he's now 0-3 with a 7.23 ERA in his NLCS career for an overall postseason 4.23 ERA.
Greinke has been just as poor, with a 4.30 ERA in 37.2 career postseason innings.
The bottom line: If you're looking for regular season stats, Greinke and Kershaw are your guys. But for those who prefer proven success in October (as well as in the regular season), there is no better pairing than Cain and Bumgarner.
For now, the Dodgers pair of Kershaw and Greinke reigns supreme to Cain and Bumgarner overall. There's even an argument to be made for Verlander and Scherzer's supremacy. But if Cain and MadBum both turn in ace-worthy numbers in 2014, their postseason numbers and sustained success over the past several seasons would make them the de facto No. 1 pitching duo in baseball.
All statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.