Brandon Crawford opened the 2013 season hitting like an All-Star-to-be, drilling five home runs by April 21 (he had four all of 2012). But the power dried up, and the 26-year-old's offensive contributions dipped from noteworthy to barely adequate—though his fielding remained spectacular.
Bruce Bochy continued to pencil CrawDaddy in the eighth spot in the lineup versus right-handers and left-handers, only sitting him when minor injuries dictated it.
(Note: As massive Arizona reliever Heath Bell lost his balance while attempting to beat Crawford to first base just after the All-Star break, I feared my next article would be about an injury. The Giants lucked out—especially considering what happened to Tim Hudson not long after.)
Gradually, my daily personal scorebook displayed more 4-3s than a 1990s Best Buy ad as June wore on. It didn't appear Crawford would ever go yard again—memories of Steve Decker floated to the forefront.
Crawford had six RBI the entire months of June and July and suffered through a streak of seven straight hitless games at one point.
What hits he did register were often grounders trickling through the infield. Crawford managed six extra-base hits—all doubles—during that June/July period.
Bochy began pinch-hitting for him and eventually sitting him against left-handed pitchers.
In Philadelphia at the close of July, Crawford enjoyed a reunion with his long-lost power stroke, ripping an impressive homer off J.C. Ramirez. He then turned around a Chris Archer (Rays) heater two nights later. In fact, Crawford drove in five of the Giants' eight total runs at Tampa—nearly matching his total for the preceding two months combined.
Getting zero from his table-setters, Bochy started his third-year shortstop in the two-hole when SF returned home for a four-game set against the Milwaukee Brewers.
How did he respond? How about six hits in his first 10 official at-bats, including two doubles (one of which fell about two feet short of clearing the 24-foot Willie Mays wall)?
Fifteen games below .500 overall as of this Aug. 24 writing, the Giants are 16-14 when Crawford drives in at least one run. Going further, the team has won eight consecutive games when the Brandons (Crawford and Belt) both post an RBI.
Obviously, it's absurd to expect that 90 times a season, but their lukewarm production in June/July played no small role in the Giants' shocking fall from contention. It almost physically hurts to imagine how different the '13 Giants season shakes out if Crawford hadn't slumped and if Belt hadn't resisted his new batting grip for so long.
In the weeks leading up to Matt Cain's first disabled list stint in his nine MLB seasons, he had finally reverted back to the pitcher who started the 2012 All-Star Game, threw a perfect game against the Houston Astros (the equivalent of a four-hit shutout against any other big league club but still), owned a 2.93 ERA from 2009-12 and won 61 percent of his decisions over that span.
He'd gone at least seven innings in five consecutive starts—winning two—after a season marred by inconsistency, uncharacteristic command problems and rare visible frustration on the mound.
The Horse, as Giants broadcasters intermittently refer to him, has long been renowned for his cool under pressure as well as an uncanny ability to mask any and all emotion—from everything to a small strike zone to watching relievers cough up his leads (this year alone, the usually stingy Jeremy Affeldt has frittered away two Cain wins).
In his Aug. 17 start, Cain took home plate umpire David Rackley to task for not ringing up Marlins slugger Mike Stanton for offering at a pitch that knocked him down. In true Frank Robinson fashion, Stanton rose to his feet and hit the next pitch about 4,000 feet.
It was at least the second instance of Cain openly chastising an ump this year—and it's just not something Giants fans are accustomed to witnessing.
An even rarer sighting: Matt Cain missing a start, as he became the latest Giant forced to the sidelines by the baseball itself after absorbing a Gaby Sanchez shot off his pitching arm Aug. 22 against Pittsburgh.
If there's any consolation to having an ace pitcher knocked out of a start in the fourth inning, it's this: Cain was likely going to lose that game anyway. He had been up in the strike zone from the beginning, and Pirates outfielder Garrett Jones made sure one of his mistakes ended up wet. In fact, the pitch before Sanchez's fateful liner was thrown closer to the on-deck circle than home plate.
More of a letdown than his hot-and-cold mound performance, Cain hasn't contributed anything offensively this year. Since he first hit AT&T Park, the big fella could be counted on for one or two homers a year and several RBI. His paltry three hits this year—all singles—came in a five-AB stretch back in May.
In fact, the Giants pitching staff has gone into a collective funk at the plate after routinely contributing to the offense early in the year. No SF hurler owned a hit in the month of August before Madison Bumgarner singled Aug. 24 versus the Bucs. He was also the only pitcher to reach base all month (via walk Aug. 13). Not good.
What is good is that Cain did not end up with a fracture and is expected to begin rehabbing this week, per Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle. Yusmeiro Petit, who threw 5.1 innings in relief of Erik Surkamp before being (for all intents and purposes) outrighted back to Triple-A, will make Cain's next start Aug. 27 at Colorado.
To view State of the Giants: Crawford & Cain V1, click here.