SAN FRANCISCO -- The last time the Cubs visited AT&T Park, the Giants gave them a reminder that for all the talent lined up in a dugout, there is always a great equalizer: starting pitching. Matt Moore nearly dragged the Giants back to Chicago, and the Cubs have been open about how terrified they were of facing Johnny Cueto in a winner-take-all game.
This series provided a similar reminder. The Giants face an overall talent deficit most days, and they are a heavily flawed team, but they can still compete in the National League if they have a strong rotation. A day after Ty Blach held the Cubs down, Madison Bumgarner did the heavy lifting in a 3-1 win.
"That's going to be critical for us to get this rotation back to who we are," manager Bruce Bochy said. "That's our strength and it got away from us this year. That's who we are. It's going to be important that we throw the ball well the next six to seven weeks."
That process has started already. The Giants are 6-3 in August with a 2.85 ERA that would be even shinier if not for Matt Moore's continued struggles. Blach has five consecutive starts of at least seven innings and he has a 3.00 ERA over that span. Since returning from the disabled list, Bumgarner has gone at least 6 1/3 innings in every start except for one where he was pulled early in a blowout so he could return four days later in place of Matt Cain. He has a 2.52 ERA in the second half.
"I really thought he would come back and be pretty much the same guy we've always seen," Bochy said. "His stuff is the same, his command -- everything is just right there."
Bumgarner was never particularly concerned. During a rehab assignment, he was confident he would return to his old self. The key for the Giants now is to get others to the same point. They will run Matt Moore back out there in hopes of him finding a solution. They believe Jeff Samardzija's peripherals will lead to better hard results. Johnny Cueto is expected back, and expected to be much better.
That is a path to being better. Wednesday's game also showed how narrow it is. Even with Bumgarner's performance, the Giants needed some defensive sloppiness from the Cubs to actually get the late lead. But if you're looking for a reason why the Giants should be competitive next year, here it is.
"I know we've had a couple of rough spots here and there," Bumgarner said, "But this staff has got as much potential as anybody's. The thing about potential is it doesn't do you any good -- you've got to go out and do it, and that's what we're working to do."