Liotta: Cain's subpar season a cause for concern

Questions, so many questions.

So allow me a few more moments to come to grips with last week’s transformation of the 49ers.

Call it my genuine four-corner stall by starting out talking about the Giants.

With Tim Lincecum and his pursuit of the NL Cy Young Award foremost on the minds of Giants fans — more on that in a moment — I think a bigger question begs asking: Was this season a step forward or a step back for Matt Cain?

With a week to go in 2008, Cain finds himself posting his second straight season of double-digit losses. What concerns me most is that, since the start of the 2007 season, Cain’s winning percentage is more than 100 points lower than the Giants’ winning percentage during the same time period.

Cain reminds me of what Frank Robinson used to say about pitchers. Frank didn’t care about 15 wins or 20 wins. Frank cared about how many more wins than losses a pitcher recorded. He loved Sandy Koufax, and thought Nolan Ryan was mediocre. Frank would love Lincecum because he is going to finish plus-14 or plus-15, while Cain is going to finish minus-8 or minus-9. Frank would have no time for Cain.

Can Lincecum win the Cy Young? Even though Brandon Webb won his 21st — and Lincecum lost his most recent outing — I still think “The Franchise” has a shot. He’ll have two starts the final week to draw almost even. Webb may be the frontrunner, but Lincecum is gaining on him down to the final yards of this marathon of a baseball season.

Now, on to the 49ers. Could Mike Nolan’s coaching future with the Niners survive Joe Nedney’s potential game-winning field goal sailing wide at the end of regulation last week in Seattle? No way, I thought. Who could have predicted they would be the ones playing keep away in overtime?

Give Nolan credit. The Niners have played hard for him throughout his tenure. If he’s finally found a competent quarterback in
J.T. O’Sullivan, we might find out if Nolan has the goods to be a successful head coach in this league.

This afternoon’s game against the Detroit Lions is a must-win for the 49ers. With the next five weeks reading at New Orleans, home vs. New England, home vs. Philadelphia, at the New York Giants and home vs. Seattle, the 49ers can’t cough up another one like they did back on Week 1.

Random thought

> With Lane Kiffin being accused of insubordination and Monta Ellis allegedly lying about his offseason injury, Oakland suddenly rivals any major sports market for off-the-field soap opera drama. New York with A-Rod and Madonna? Minor-league stuff compared to the intrigue in the East Bay.

Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at tliotta@sfexaminer.com.

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