When the San Francisco Giants came limping home from what is becoming an annual spring tail-kicking in Southern California, there could've been a considerable panic growing and spreading from China Basin.
Not only did the hometown nine get swept by a white-hot group of San Diego Padres, but they also dropped two of three to the hated Los Angeles Dodgers for a 1-5 jaunt through SoCal.
Of these five losses, three would've conspired to demoralize a lesser ball club.
A loss to the Friars that saw SD muster a single run on a single hit was the cherry on top of a very unappetizing road trip sundae (although the fifth loss would follow on get-away day).
Even worse, the offense—everyone and their grandmother know the bats could sabotage an otherwise special Gent season—torched a pair of miserable Bum starters and then went into a deep, dark cave.
During the four-game losing jag that finished off the roadie, los Gigantes managed five runs. The team's worst fears were materializing on the diamond.
Like I said, a normal baseball squad would've been getting skittish.
Mercifully, the 2010 Giants do not appear to be garden variety.
They look very much like a franchise blessed with not one, not two, not even three , but FOUR men to send bump-ward who are capable of stopping the bleeding when the gushing gets worst.
With Barry Zito picking up where he finished 2009 and Jonathan Sanchez showing signs of his long-awaited breakthrough to consistency, the Gents could be looking at two more front-end guys to take the ball in the first inning.
If Zito and Sanchez can form a southpaw combo similar to the right-handed version established by Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, the whole pitching staff could exceed what were scarily grandiose pre-season expectations.
The starters have been so scintillating, we could (but won't) gloss over perhaps the best pitcher in Major League Baseball.
Lincecum has been every bit the Freak, twirling 27 innings over four starts while suffering only three earned runs (1.00 ERA) and 25 baserunners (0.93 WHIP).
In even sunnier news for National League hitters, Lincecum appears to have cleared up one of the few holes in his arsenal by polishing his control to the tune of 32 strikeouts against six walks (5.33 K:BB).
What else? How about a .192 BAA and a .491 OPSA?
Shockingly, the Franchise has won all four contests.
Cainer will make his fourth start o' the year on Sunday and, although the Kid got off to a bit of a slow start, he's gotten better with each turn.
He's yet to take a decision, but San Francisco's No. 2 should have at least one "W" to show for a 1.13 WHIP, 3.86 ERA, and 12 K against only three walks.
Sanchez might be No. 4 on the depth chart, but his stuff begs for higher placement and it will get its wish should the lefty continue to string performances together like his two most recent outings.
The adrenaline of the home opener probably claimed him as a victim in Jonathan's first start of the year.
Since being unable to escape that fifth inning, the 27-year-old with as much magic in his noodle (that's a baseball synonym for "arm") as either Lincecum or Cain has been dirtier than Lloyd Blankfein and Goldman Sachs .
He's thrown absolute stink for 15 innings, tallying 21 strikeouts against 10 baserunners. Not walks—there've been six of those—10 total baserunners .
Ironically, the only run Sanchez allowed since the opener also cost him a loss so he's only 1-1 in those 21 absurd frames (as well as on the year, with a 0.98 WHIP and a 1.86 ERA).
Last, but certainly not least anymore, is the New Barry—new vis-a-vis Barry Bonds and new vis-a-vis the last three years of Barry Zito. Well, 2.5 years if you want to be totally accurate.
The story behind Baked Zito is not as beautifully simple as his 3-0 record, which includes an eight-inning masterpiece against the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday. Nor is at as simple as pointing to his 27 1/3 IP, 1.32 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, or his 19 el-take-o-el-hike-o's.
All those blinding digits speak volumes, but they don't tell why the $18 million man might make these four starts the 2010 rule rather than the exception.
For that story, you'd have to watch the dude pitch and see the focused determination on his mug. You'd have to witness the confident swagger and wry smile after he sent the great Albert Pujols back to the dugout with a backward-K in the score sheet.
You'd have to flinch along with the batter as that crisp, looping curve ball snaps over the black of the dish.
You'd have to understand Zito's only been touched for a quartet of runs and only allowed the opposition to cross the plate in two of his four trips to the mound.
He surrendered three tallies against the Pittsburgh Pirates—one with the Giants ahead 3-0, another in a 6-1 game, and a third with the score 7-2. His fourth earnie came on the gopher ball served up to Ramirez by Sergio Romo.
In other words, Barry Zito has yet to be on the rubber to see a meaningful 2010 run score against him—three inconsequentials, a little charring from Romo's bit of arson, and that's all she wrote.
Think about that.
Think about Jonathan Sanchez should Zito falter, Matt Cain should both the lefties stumble, and the trump card in Tim Lincecum if things head south in a hurry.
The best way to kill a losing streak is to trot out a stopper in shining armor and the San Francisco Giants might just have four of those.
Which means those streaks don't stand a chance, and San Francisco has a very good one.