On Sept. 5, 2010, the Giants and starter Jonathan Sanchez faced off against Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium in the rubber game of a weekend series. At the start of the day, San Francisco was in second place in the National League West, two games behind San Diego. In his start, Sanchez went seven innings, allowed three hits, struck out nine, walked one and came away with his 10th win of the season, as San Francisco defeated Los Angeles 3-0. Sanchez's effort on that Sunday evening began an extraordinary string for the Giants' pitchers -- one that when all was said and done encompassed three weeks and 18 games.
Most Consecutive Games with Three runs or less allowed in a single season since 1901
1917 White Sox
1906 White Sox
1908 White Sox
For 18 straight contests, Giants starters Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Barry Zito and Sanchez went to the post, did their work and finished their day without allowing any more than three runs. Perhaps inspired by that level of work, Giants relievers maintained the dominance, keeping every opponent under the four-run mark. That 18-game streak of allowing three runs or fewer -- the longest for any particular team since 1917 -- vaulted San Francisco into first place, legitimized talk of the Giants having perhaps the best starting rotation in the game, and presaged a magnificent run through the postseason that concluded with a World Series title.
Before the games begin in earnest for the 2011 season, and before the Giants' starting staff takes on the Phillies arms or the Athletics' starters for bragging rights as the best in baseball, one last look back at 2010 seems reasonable: to recollect what has already started to fade into memory, to place into perspective and context and to celebrate.
In 2010, Zito threw 199 1/3 innings (over 33 starts) and struck out 150 batters. It was the seventh time in his career Zito reached at least 150 K's -- tied for the 11th most by any left-hander in history.
Sanchez, who led the NL with an average of 6.61 hits allowed per nine innings, also finished third in the league with an average of 9.54 strikeouts per nine. With his year, Sanchez became the 16th left-handed pitcher under the age of 28 to allow less than seven hits per nine and average more than nine strikeouts per nine.
If Sanchez was particularly skilled in preventing hits while racking up strikeouts in the regular season, his first start in the postseason took those twin abilities to a higher level. In the third game of the NL Division Series against the Braves, with the series tied at 1-1, Sanchez stymied, flummoxed and silenced the Atlanta offensive attack to the final tune of 7 1/3 innings pitched, two hits, one run and 11 strikeouts with one walk. Sanchez's effort:
Most Seasons with 150-PLUS STRIKEOUTS by a Left-Hander
Made him the 12th southpaw to strike out that many in a postseason game and his two hits allowed were the fewest for any left-hander with that many strikeouts.
Marked the sixth time in postseason history a pitcher -- in his postseason debut -- had struck out at least 11 and walked no more than one.
As seen in the table directly above, the Giants received two extraordinary debut efforts in the 2010 postseason. Sanchez's gem came only three days after Lincecum authored one of the most dominant starts witnessed on the postseason stage. In Game 1 of the NLDS, Lincecum allowed two hits, struck out 14 and walked one in a complete-game shutout and compiled one of the highest game scores in the postseason history.
Lincecum's 14 strikeouts in Game 1 of the NLDS were also tied for the seventh most in a postseason game, and were the second most ever for a Division Series contest. Tim Lincecum and strikeouts: the two have gone hand in hand since the righty made his debut in 2007. Rocketing out of the starting gate like few in the history of the game, the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner has enjoyed an historic beginning when it comes to strikeouts:
Lincecum's 907 K's through his first four years are the most since the pitching distance was moved to 60 feet, six inches in 1893.
Through his first four seasons, Lincecum has averaged 10.07 strikeouts per nine innings -- the best ever. The second-closest pitcher -- Dwight Gooden -- is at 8.69.
Lincecum has led the league in strikeouts in each of the past three seasons. The last pitcher to do that before turning 27 was Bob Feller, from 1938-41.
To take a true measure of Lincecum's meteoric introduction, one can go beyond strikeouts. Through his first four seasons, Lincecum owns a 142 ERA+: the fifth best for any pitcher with at least 800 innings pitched.
While Lincecum and his breathtaking effort got the Giants rolling in the 2010 postseason, the penultimate flourish came from the left hand of 21-year-old Bumgarner. Bumgarner had made his season debut in late June, was excellent in July (4-2 in six starts with a 2.27 ERA), beset by a difficult August (1-1 in six starts with a 5.29 ERA) and then -- like his mates Sanchez, Lincecum and Matt Cain -- brilliant in September (just 2-2 in five starts, but with a 1.13 ERA). And then, like the rest of that starting staff in October, Bumgarner showed he still had a bit of thunder and lightning left in his pitching arm.
Most Starts with at Least Seven IP and No More Than One Run Allowed since 2006
In Game 4 of the World Series, Bumgarner -- the fifth-youngest pitcher to ever make a start in the Fall Classic -- faced down a potent Rangers offense and gave the Giants eight shutout innings of three-hit ball. And like the earlier efforts of Sanchez and Lincecum, Bumgarner's start had the list-makers typing furiously. A couple of the highlights, historically speaking:
Bumgarner's game score of 80 was tied for fourth best for a World Series starter less than 22 years old.
Perhaps somewhat fittingly, Matt Cain concludes this look back at the Giants' starters in 2010. For much of his time in a Giants' uniform, Cain has been on the periphery, overshadowed by Lincecum's 10,000 watt brilliance, a Jonathan Sanchez no-hitter, a Barry Zito free-agent contract, even the high expectations of the highly touted Bumgarner. But while the stories seemingly abound for the others, Cain has quietly gone about his business, eaten up a large volume of high-quality innings, and been a wonderfully dependable and accomplished starting pitcher in the Major Leagues.
Through 2010, Cain has thrown 1095 innings, won 57 games and compiled a 126 ERA+. Since 1920, that final figure is tied with Don Drysdale and Dave Stieb for the 13th best by any pitcher through his age-25 season with at least 1,000 innings.
Zero ERA in a Single Postseason, Min. 15 IP
Since Cain's first full season in 2006, he has thrown the eighth most innings (1,049 1/3), put up the seventh best ERA+ (125) among pitchers with at least 900 innings and has the sixth best OPS+ against (81) among pitchers with 900 innings. And since 2006, Cain has made 39 starts in which he has gone at least seven innings and allowed no more than one run; like the other ranks mentioned, these 39 starts put him comfortably within the top 10 in the Majors.
If most of the baseball world had assembled a structured and expectant definition of Cain's capabilities prior to the beginning of the 2010 postseason, the right-hander's work in October presented an expanded tableau of possibilities. While Lincecum, Sanchez and Bumgarner all offered explosive, single-game examples of their prowess, Cain's work, across all three rounds of postseason play, was the most consistent and perhaps most impressive. Making one start in the NLDS, one in the NL Champion Series and a third in the World Series, Matt Cain -- under the glaring lights, amid the great expectations, colored by the potential of a single moment altering the landscape and narrative -- maintained his course, did his work, and threw up zero after zero after zero. When the final out was recorded and the Giants had captured the franchise's first title since 1954, Cain owned a postseason resume that read 21 1/3 innings pitched, 13 hits surrendered, 13 batters struck out and a lone unearned run allowed. And with that effort, Cain emerged from out of the shadows of his fellow starting pitchers and their stories, and jumped from the periphery to the center of the stage.
Roger Schlueter is a senior researcher for MLB Productions. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.