A) Tired Arms. There's a definite element of fatigue going on here, and the fact that all five of our starting pitchers have consistent shut-down innings, featuring excellent stuff with high velocity and good snap on the breaking pitches leads us to believe that we're not carrying injuries. But then the blow-up inning arrives, and everything goes haywire. Listening to the KNBR broadcast the other day, Mike Krukow made the observation that when pitchers get tired, they start to lose consistency in their "arm slot", which is the location at which a pitcher releases the ball in his delivery to home plate. When the arm slot wavers, location becomes an issue and bad things happen. Look, these guys won two World Series in three years, and the cumulative effect of going so deep into the postseason twice can't be underestimated.
B) Growing Up. So we've got Cain at 28, Lincecum at 28, Zito at 34, and Vogelsong at 35. Considering that the acknowledged peak performance age for athletes is 27, we've got two guys on the cusp and two guys over the edge. (Bumgarner is 23, so no worries there. Yet.) Not to say that pitchers can't continue to perform at an elite level well into their thirties, but inevitably, velocity drops, location issues arise, the breaking pitches lose their edge, and the pitcher himself has to come to terms with that. Which is exactly what Lincecum is going through right now. In the 2012 postseason, he came out of the bullpen and was absolutely lights out, looking like vintage Timmy. So he still has the stuff. It's a matter of dealing with the unrelenting attrition of age, and the psychological ramifications of not being the guy anymore. Which, to a greater or lesser extent, is what we all have to deal with at some point. It's just that those guys have to do it in the media spotlight with hundreds of millions of dollars on the line.
C) Focus. This certainly relates to points 'A' & 'B', but it's a slightly different issue, because independent of age, fatigue, contract issues, and the like, the ability to bear down, shut out the noise and distractions, and just make the pitch is precisely why these guys make the big bucks... and we don't. We here at The Pitch & The Diamond realize just how incredibly difficult it is to be a big league pitcher, having played a bit of ball when we were young. We weren't terribly good at it, but we were good enough to get by, and we know what it takes. In baseball as in anything, all the physical gifts in the world don't amount to a hill of beans if: 1) you don't work harder than everybody else, and 2) you can't focus when the pressure is at a fever pitch. Kinda like in music. It comes down to preparation and performance, both of which are utterly dependent upon one's ability to focus. As to why the guys on the bump are being inconsistent with their focus, we can only imagine that there are a plethora of contributing factors, the aforementioned being the most important. However, the fact that it's May is a great consolation. And we're hitting like crazy. And we're scoring runs like nobody's business. And our defense looks stellar. And our bullpen is solid. And we have Bruce Bochy. Yeah... we're gonna be okay.
At any rate, it is far, far better to start off the season lukewarm and get hot after the All-Star Break. And hey, the Giants are 19-12 as of today, and we're in 1st place in the NL West. As we've said for the last few years, if we can stay within five games of 1st place and hover above a .500 record, we'll be just fine. Sabean will likely pull another rabbit out of the hat with a mid-season trade (alá Ross in 2010 and Scutaro in 2012) and we'll be just fine. So hopefully we put a dodgy April behind us, and this will all seem like a sweaty, grimy, uncomfortable dream come July. This is only the beginning.
As to the Arsenal, we're saving a lengthy post regarding the Greatest Team in London til after tomorrow, for on Wednesday, Chelsea meet Tottenham. This is a crucial match for the third and fourth place slots, for if Chelsea wins, Arsenal is within spitting distance of forth place, and all we have to do is win our next two matches against bottom of the table teams. Easier said than done, but Arsenal is having a run of relative quality at the moment, so the End is in sight, and things are looking up. Our destiny is in our hands, lads. Let's do this. Happily, we've made great strides in our focus and consistency (there it is again) in the last two months, and it looks as though we'll squeak into one of the top spots yet again, and thereby qualify for Champions League play next year. And even if Spurs win tomorrow and Chelsea loses, the brass ring is still within our grasp, as both Chelsea and Spurs have difficult matches ahead of them, and points may very well be dropped. And we lead on goal differential, which may very well prove to be crucial. So there we are.
Speaking of The Beginning and The End, how about them Warriors? And them Sharks? Admittedly, we are not huge hockey fans, and we could care less about basketball, but the fact that yet another (and another!) Bay Area sports team is doing well in the playoffs is encouraging, to say the least. This sort of winning mentality is contagious, after all. So good luck to the Sharks and the Warriors. May all your dreams come true.