SAN FRANCISCO — When the Giants departed spring training in Scottsdale at the end of March, the biggest question surrounding the club was whether its starting rotation was capable of keeping the team in contention.
At the end of a 107-win season, the Giants’ pitchers left no doubt.
Kevin Gausman was an All-Star, Logan Webb was one of the majors’ best pitchers during the second half, Anthony DeSclafani enjoyed the best season of his career and Alex Wood consistently helped the Giants bounce back from tough losses.
As San Francisco prepares to host Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Friday against the winner of a wild card game matchup between the Dodgers and Cardinals, a rotation that ranked third in the majors with a 3.44 ERA is well positioned to maintain its success.
“I feel like we’ve been good all year,” DeSclafani said of the rotation. “I don’t think we’ve been anything short of awesome and really solid throughout the whole year. Obviously we’ve had some ups and downs, but we’ve been really strong. I don’t think there’s any reason we can’t carry that into the postseason.”
Giants manager Gabe Kapler hasn’t announced a starter for Game 1 of the NLDS, but he has two strong candidates in Gausman and Webb as both pitchers ended the regular season on a high note.
The likeliest choice appears to be Gausman, who will have an extra day of rest after tossing seven innings of one-run ball against the Padres on Saturday. Gausman’s performance was his best since the All-Star break and it followed another outstanding outing in Colorado where he racked up a season-high 25 swings and misses over six innings against the Rockies.
If Gausman pitches Friday, that would set Webb up to start on Saturday with an extra day of rest between outings after the 24-year-old righty turned in one of the most memorable regular season showings in Giants history on Sunday. With a division title on the line, Webb tossed seven innings of one-run ball before giving up three singles in the eighth inning of game that was already well in hand.
Webb was ultimately charged with four earned runs, but he excelled for most of the day, hit his first career home run and became the first Giants pitcher in nearly two decades to score three runs in a game.
“What we saw was as (Webb) gained more confidence, that confidence was sort of wearing off on his teammates,” Kapler said. “We started to believe in him as a guy that could take the ball every fifth day and be as good as any starter in the league and I think that was objectively true in the last four months of the season.”
Giving Gausman and Webb an additional day of rest between starts makes sense for the Giants because both pitchers could be available to San Francisco in a potential NLDS Game 5. With Games 1 and 2 set for Friday and Saturday and Games 3 and 4 scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, a possible Game 5 wouldn’t take place until Thursday, October 14.
The other question the Giants must answer is determining whether DeSclafani or Wood will pitch Game 3. After Wood tossed six shutout innings against the Diamondbacks in a 1-0 win on Wednesday, Kapler said he’ll be considered the Giants’ third or fourth starter in the postseason, and it’s possible the club will wait to see whether the Cardinals or Dodgers win the wild card game to decide on a starter.
The Cardinals’ top hitters –Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt and Tyler O’Neill– are all right-handed, so it could make more sense for DeSclafani to pitch Game 3 if the Giants play St. Louis. The Dodgers have a more balanced lineup and Wood has better numbers than DeSclafani against Los Angeles this season, but it’s possible the elbow injury left-handed slugger Max Muncy suffered in Sunday’s regular season finale could keep him out for the NLDS and become a factor in the Giants’ decision.
“To have a quality year, to contribute to this team, these guys and this organization, it’s been a blessing,” Wood said after his last start. “That’s the best way I can describe it and hopefully the fun is just beginning.”
As the Giants continue to sort through their options, veteran right-hander Johnny Cueto is not currently a candidate to make a postseason start. It’s unclear whether the Giants would keep two young right-handed relievers, Zack Littell and Kervin Castro, on their NLDS roster ahead of Cueto, but the 14th-year veteran is one of the few pitchers in the organization with extensive playoff experience.
Cueto pitched well in his first career appearance out of the bullpen on Thursday against Arizona as he threw 2 1/3 innings of one-run ball while giving up three hits and a walk. He indicated shifting from having a spot in the rotation to pitching in relief was uncomfortable, but it’s possible he could help the Giants in the same way Tim Lincecum did when Lincecum was used in relief during the 2012 postseason.