Cain shrugs off post-perfect hangover


Cain shrugs off post-perfect hangover


SAN FRANCISCO In what was his most effective outing since a perfect game on June 13, Giants pitcher Matt Cain made it be known after a 9-3 win over Colorado on Saturday his struggles since that historic performance havent kept him up at night.

Thats just a bunch of noise from the media, according to Cain, who pitched seven-and-a-third effective innings and gave up just two earned runs in recording his 11th win.

You guys (the media) have just kind of put that out there. That hasnt been something Ive been worried about, Ive been worried about just going out there and pitching and trying to get guys out and help the team win, Cain said.

The numbers were hard to ignore, though. Cain was just 2-3 with a 4.40 ERA since he was perfect on that June night, allowing 29 earned runs in 57-and-a-third innings in his last nine starts. The Giants were just 2-6 in Cains previous eight starts before Saturday, after going 11-3 in the 14 before that.

REWIND: The perfect game page

Manager Bruce Bochy hopes that Cain has returned to form.

He had command, the ball was moving, he pitched very effectively, all of his pitches worked. I sensed some determination out there today, Bochy said. Hes so good, and has done such a great job this year, and this was the Matt Cain that we know.

Cain said: I felt good last start (a loss to St. Louis on Monday), I just didnt make some pitches I needed to. Today, I felt like I was able to make just better quality pitches at times I needed to make them, and a little more consistent with getting ahead and throwing strikes early and getting defensive swings.

What was the difference?

I was on the plate more and I wasnt out in the middle more today, he said. I was able to be around the outer-thirds of the plate a little bit better. That was good, and something Ive been kind of working on the last two starts and in between in the bullpen sessions, too.

Of course, it helps that the Giants were able to get on Colorado starter Drew Pomeranz early and often, including a two-out, RBI single by Cain himself in the second inning. Pomeranz exited after surrendering four runs in four innings, while reliever Josh Roenicke didnt fare any better with four runs surrendered in the two innings that followed.

The Giants held a comfortable 5-0 lead after five, and increased it to 8-1 after six. Each of San Franciscos nine starters had at least one hit.

San Francisco has notoriously struggled to score runs at home this season, and had just two combined in its last three games at AT&T Park. The Giants busted out of that in a big way on Saturday.

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You go through your streaks, good and bad. You have your ruts. We were bound to come out of this, Bochy said. You start doing some good things offensively, and today we did. Again, it was really everybody doing something to help out and get the line moving, as we say.

Cain said: Thats always been a huge key for any starter, when the guys go out and jump on somebody early and get some runs early.

Buster Posey, who has thrust himself into the MVP discussion since the All-Star break, continued his torrid pace with a 2-for-4 performance, including one walk, a two-run home run and two RBIs. Hes 43-for-97 (.443) with nine home runs and 32 RBIs and has hit safely in 23 of 26 games since the Midsummer Classic.

His team-leading 19th home run of the season, on a change-up from Pomeranz in the third inning, gave the Giants a 4-0 lead. It was just the 18th home run by a Giants player at AT&T Park this season.

Im comfortable hitting here. I see the ball well. Its a big ballpark but the gaps are big too, so you have to take advantage of that, said Posey, who added that he believes the ball carries better at AT&T Park in day games.

Posey sat out on Friday night when the Giants were blanked by the Rockies in the first game of the series. He returned to bat fourth on Saturday.

Hes our cleanup hitter and that guy is usually the guy that the club feeds off. But, hes going to need an occasional day off, Bochy said. Hell get another day or two, or I dont know how many hell get from this point on. You cant throw him out there every day. And thats why I mentioned its going to take everybody doing something.

Cain hopes that Poseys surge can fly under the radar, something his struggles after the perfect game did not do.

Hes just been on fire, and thats something that hopefully we can just keep quiet and let him keep doing it, Cain said.

That, too, is unlikely.

Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be


Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be

Martin Jones was a Boston Bruin for less than a week.

The “Original Six” franchise acquired Jones from the Los Angeles Kings on June 26, 2015. Four days later, Jones was traded back into the Pacific Division, this time to Northern California.

The Sharks gave up a first round pick and prospect Sean Kuraly for Jones. It seemed like a fairly high price at the time, but it’s one San Jose was happy to pay: No goalie started more games than Jones over the last two seasons, and the team signed him to a five-year extension this summer.

The first Jones trade in 2015 set off a flood of goalie transactions, as five netminders were traded during Jones’ extremely brief Boston tenure. One of those was Anton Khudobin, who will start for the Bruins as Jones backs up Aaron Dell against  his “former team” on Saturday night.

Khudobin was traded from Carolina to Anaheim, where he started seven games before getting sent down to the AHL. He then signed with Boston in 2016, returning to his former club as the Bruins tried to fill the hole that trading Jones left behind entrenched starter Tuukka Rask.

Jones and Khudobin will have taken vastly different paths to their respective creases on Saturday night. The former enters the game as his club’s undisputed franchise goalie, and the latter the unheralded backup.

Naturally then, Khudobin’s been the better goaltender this season.

Among the 46 goalies that have played 200 five-on-five minutes this season, Khudobin’s .962 five-on-five save percentage was the best entering Saturday, according to Corsica.  So, too, is his .954 save percentage off of high-danger shots.

Jones, meanwhile, ranks 27th (.920) and 14th (.833) in those respective categories.

What does it all mean? For one, it’s early in the season, and the fact that Khudobin’s made seven fewer starts undoubtedly plays a role in his superior performance to Jones.

Mainly, it speaks to just how fickle goaltending can be.

The Bruins backup is arguably getting the nod Saturday night because of how bad the man ahead of him has been. Rask, once one of the league’s best goaltenders, has steadily declined over the last three years and reached a new low this season: This year, he’s 40th out of 46 qualifying goalies in five-on-five save percentage.

Jones has demonstrated this, too. He’s stopped a lower percentage of low-and-medium danger shots at even strength than the last two seasons, but has stopped a higher percentage of high-danger shots.

Plus, he’s played behind one of the league’s best penalty-killing teams after playing behind one of its worst last season, and has benefitted from a corresponding bump in his shorthanded save percentage.

So much of what a goalie does is out of their control. Yet who’s playing in front of them, what kind of shots they see, and how often they see those shots all can affect their performance.

Khudobin and Jones are living proof of that this season.

Time is now for Sharks to experiment with new lines


Time is now for Sharks to experiment with new lines

The San Jose Sharks were shut out for the first time this season on Thursday night, but it sure didn't feel like it.

You’d be forgiven, albeit mistaken, if you didn't think the loss was their first goose egg of the season. San Jose’s been one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league this year, and has scored two or fewer goals in all but two of their six games in November.

The Sharks controlled play, but their raw possession numbers were misleading: Through the first two periods, San Jose was outshot 23-18, and poured it on in the third looking for the game-tying goal.

In order to break out of his team’s extended slump, head coach Peter DeBoer appeared to throw his lines in the proverbial blender. The changes weren't very significant, though, as DeBoer worked mostly around the edges.

Joe Thornton remained with Joe Pavelski, while Melker Karlsson and Timo Meier rotated in on their wing. Joonas Donskoi swapped in with Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl, and on and on.

The core pair of each line remained intact, while DeBoer swapped complimentary wingers. Subtle changes, unsurprisingly, didn't lead to drastically different results.

He’s been amenable to bigger changes at times, briefly breaking up longtime linemates Thornton and Pavelski last Sunday against Los Angeles. The bottom six, especially the fourth line, has mostly been a revolving door.

That's a start, but far from enough. 

As long as the Sharks struggle to score, similarly significant changes are in order.

DeBoer shouldn't want to sacrifice the team’s defensive dominance, or its strong possession game. But, the Sharks haven't scored enough through 17 games to justify using the same forward combinations. 

In Thornton and Pavelski’s case, those struggles date back to last season. For just about everyone else, the sample size is getting increasingly more significant as the season approaches the quarter pole.

The Sharks bench boss expressed a willingness to mix up his power play units earlier this week, and needs to do the same at even strength. It's time to try Pavelski on Couture's wing, Meier on Thornton's, or any number of permutations.

Tweaking around the edges hasn't made much of a difference, so far more comprehensive adjustments are not only welcome, but necessary. Of course, DeBoer may not find the perfect lineup solutions.

At this point, though, it's worth a shot. It's hard to imagine the Sharks scoring any less than they have so far this season, and the Sharks need to explore if any line changes can provide a remedy.