Can San Francisco's Pitching Staff Live Up To The Hype ?

Don AugustContributor IFebruary 16, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO - AUGUST 26:  Tim Lincecum #55 of the San Francisco Giants jokes with Matt Cain #18 during batting practice before their game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at AT&T Park on August 26, 2009 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images for Reebok)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The San Francisco Giants pitching staff put major league baseball on notice last season by topping all of baseball in many categories.

The Giants staff was first in complete games (11), shutouts (18), and strikeouts (1302) and had the second best earned run average (3.55) in baseball. So it's no surprise that this year's staff, anchored by two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, has Giants fans thinking play-offs.

But is this wishful thinking?

A look at the numbers may lead you to believe it is.

On the mound, the trio of Lincecum, Matt Cain and Barry Zito look like a solid front end of a rotation. But the truth is only Lincecum has a winning track record.

The 25-year-old has a 40-17 record during his first three seasons in the majors and of course back-to-back Cy Young awards.

But after him, things get shaky.

Matt Cain enjoyed great success last season and because of it, he landed on the national league all star team for the first time in his career. But was his 14-8 record misleading?

Cain was 9-1 on June 20th and proceeded to go 5-7 the rest of the way. His second half swoon looked more like his first three full seasons when he struggled to a 28-42 record.

Which Cain will show up in 2010 ?

Barry Zito's struggles have been well chronicled since signing with the Giants. The numbers that hurt the most are his first half struggles.

Over the past two seasons, Zito is 1-14 through the month of May. That doesn't bode well for a team hoping to get off to a fast start. His second half numbers have improved (18-16 the last two seasons) but those wins mean nothing if a team is out of the race.

The Giants desperately need Zito to return to his glory days of 2001-02 when he posted a 40-13 record with Oakland. Since signing with San Francisco, he is 31-43 in three seasons.

Was his Cy Young season of 2002 a once in a lifetime performance?

The fourth and fifth spots in the rotation will most likely be held by Jonathan Sanchez and rookie phenom Madison Bumgarner.

Sanchez, despite holding a 17-24 record over his first two full seasons, will be penciled in as the fourth starter. The Giants are hoping his untapped potential, which showed last year with his no-hitter against San Diego, is ready to take center stage.

But with a 4.81 lifetime ERA and 21-30 career record, is potential all he will be?

Bumgarner, Joe Martinez, recently signed Todd Wellemeyer and minor leaguer Kevin Pucetas will get long looks as the fifth starter.

Wellemeyer has the experience of the group with a 29-29 career record but it's clear Bumgarner has the eyes of the organization squarely on him.

The 2010 Giants pitching staff has the looks of rotation that can make a run at the National League West Title. Lincecum has proved he has what it takes to put a team on his shoulders, but will those shoulders be strong enough to carry an entire staff to bigger and better things.

Or will he even have to?