The last time these two pitchers faced off, Aaron Harang got his only win since Memorial Day. Harang threw 7 innings of 7-hit, 2-run ball while striking out 7 and walking 2. It was a start reminiscent of his excellent stretch of pitching in 2006 and 2007. He followed that start with a similar one against the Nationals but took the loss as the offense failed to score a single run in his defense. He's pitched much better of late overall, going at least 6 innings in 6 straight starts. The only disastrous start he's had in that stretch was the game against the Padres where he gave up 5 runs in the first inning before settling down to throw 6 shutout innings after that. Despite pitching better, and keeping his team in all but one of the games, Harang has gone 1-5 in those 6 games. As we all know, it's because he's a loser and a terrible pitcher.
Matt Cain, as you can tell by his 12-4 record, is not a terrible pitcher. Believe it or not, an argument can be made that Harang has been the better pitcher this season. Granted, it's not a strong argument, but the performance of the two pitchers is much closer than their records and ERAs would imply. For instance, Hardball Times' xFIP (a fielding independent metric that normalizes for home run per flyball rates, something that is believed to be somewhat naturally variable) puts Harang (3.94) ahead of Cain (4.35). Then again, a similar stat like tRA rates Cain ahead (4.03 to 4.83).
The point though is not to show that Harang is a great pitcher or that Cain is a crappy one. Rather, I'm just trying to point out that some of the numbers that we use to traditionally eyeball how good a pitcher has been are faulty. There is a lot that happens to affect a pitcher's line that is out of the pitcher's control (run support and defense being the top two). And it can be dramatic enough to the point that a pitching match-up like this one, which looks like a total mismatch, is actually a lot closer than it might first appear.
The Reds losing streak stands at 5. Hopefully it can end today.