Matt Cain proves beatable in postseason for first time

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The Giants were so dominant in the 2010 postseason that Matt Cain had no chance to match Cole Hamels’ feat from 2008. Hamels went 4-0 and his team won all five of his starts as the Phillies marched to a World Series victory.

Cain, on the other hand, pitched just three times as the Giants cleaned up two years ago. Starting once each series, he allowed only one unearned run over 21 1/3 innings as San Francisco won its championship.

Until now, that was the only time the Giants had reached the postseason in Cain’s seven big-league seasons, meaning Cain entered his Game 1 start tonight with a 0.00 ERA. Unfortunately, it didn’t last for long. Cain left a curveball up to Brandon Phillips in the third, and Phillips deposited it into the stands in left for a two-run homer. In the fourth, Jay Bruce was able to yank a changeup out to right, making it 3-0.

With the Giants yet to score, Cain was removed for a pinch-hitter after five. He was at just 75 pitches and likely would have been good for two more innings, but this is the postseason and the Giants needed offense. They went on to lose 5-2.

For Cain, it was the first time he allowed two homers since the July 21. It happened five times during the regular season, yet two of those five outings came against the Reds.

The early exit makes Cain a candidate to come back and pitch Game 4 on short rest. The Giants haven’t announced their starters beyond Madison Bumgarner on Sunday, but expectations were that it’d be Tim Lincecum in Game 3 and Barry Zito in Game 4. Cain in Game 4 now seems a whole lot more likely, particularly if the Giants are down 2-1.

But that probably doesn’t scare the Reds. Cain has allowed 11 runs over 18 innings the three times he’s faced Cincinnati this year. While he’s plenty good, he suddenly appears vulnerable.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.