SF Giants Prospects

San Francisco Giants: What the playoff rotation should look like

By Michael Dixon
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Madison Bumgarner is the San Francisco Giants best pitcher, but where does he fit into their postseason rotation?

Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

What should the San Francisco Giants rotation look like in the playoffs? Well, that depends on a few things.

Let’s get a few assumptions out of the way right now.

  1. The current NL West standings will hold. After the Dodgers series this week in Colorado, this isn’t a foregone conclusion. Even though Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke are both scheduled to pitch against the Giants next week in Los Angeles, it’s not impossible to think that the Giants will chase them down. Still, it is a long shot and for the sake of preparation, it’s best to assume the toughest road possible.
  2. The Giants will have their spot as the No. 1 Wild Card secured before the season’s final day. Also pretty likely. Even if the Giants are swept in Los Angeles, the rest of their schedule is significantly favorable to what the No. 2 Wild Card team (likely Pittsburgh) will have to face.

If either of those things don’t end up being true, then Madison Bumgarner should start on the final day. But if they do, what should that October rotation look like?

Game 1: Wild Card Playoff

It’s really tempting to go with a hot hand like Jake Peavy or (especially in San Francisco) Yusmeiro Petit here. If the Giants were to do that and get a win, they’d be able to throw Bumgarner against the top seed’s best pitcher in Game 1 of the NLDS, which would likely mean Stephen Strasburg or Clayton Kershaw.

But a loss in the Wild Card Game means that the NLDS wouldn’t happen. That’s certainly not to say that the Giants couldn’t throw Bumgarner and still lose. But in a win or go home game, you have to throw your best pitcher and live with the results from there.

Bumgarner is also a natural pick, as he’s scheduled to start on the last game of the season. Assuming the Giants couldn’t win or lose any seed based on the results of that game, holding Bumgarner back and throwing someone like Tim Lincecum (or a September call-up) is the easiest and most sensible idea.

The only problem is that it would knock Bumgarner back to Game 3 or 4 of the NLDS. But again, you have to get to the NLDS before you set your rotation up, so MadBum has to get the ball here.

The NLDS is a little more complicated. The ideal rotation does differ based on the opponent, so let’s look at both the Nationals and Dodgers.

NLDS vs. Washington

Given how poorly he’s pitched recently, this may not make the most sense at first, but Hudson makes a lot of sense for a few reasons.

No. 1: His success against Washington

[table id=77 /]

Those two wins on the bottom row are the only two times the Giants have beaten the Nats in 2014. He’s got a good history in that park and vs. that team, so it makes a lot of sense to roll the dice with Huddy in Game 1. Especially because…

No. 2: The Giants are playing with House Money

A Game 1 start would likely come against Stephen Strasburg without Madison Bumgarner to counter and all of the expectations would (and should) be on the Nationals to win that game. If Hudson goes out and has a rough start, who really cares? Realistically, that’s a game the Giants have to expect to lose. A win shapes things up great and potentially throws a huge wrench in how the series sets up for the Nats.

Not as much goes into this thought. Peavy has been very strong since coming over to the Giants. The Nats have a deep rotation that can be ordered in any number of ways — including holding Strasburg off in Game 1 — so we may not know who this would come against at this point.

But regardless of that, this one should have Peavy written all over it.

This one is even easier than Peavy in Game 2. Bumgarner is the best pitcher on the team and you want to get him on the hill as soon as he’s ready.

I may be a little more likely to flip Games 3 and 4 depending on what the series looks like, but that thought only goes so far. Also, if Bumgarner starts Game 3 and the Giants win the series, it lines him up for a Game 1 start in the NLCS.

Ryan Vogelsong may seem to make more sense, but I like Petit more here.

His consistent success in San Francisco is just too much to ignore. Much like Peavy, ride the hot hand.

Regardless of who wins of Game 1, if Hudson throws well there and the series gets to a Game 5, he should get the nod.

Conversely, if he does not throw well, Vogey needs to be the starter. Regardless of who the starter is, the other guy needs to be ready to go as soon as he’s needed. The same goes for Tim Lincecum, and anyone else on the team.

NLDS vs. Los Angeles

The Nationals and Hudson were unique, as San Francisco has had awful luck against Washington for the last few years. So, Hudson’s success is really important. Against the Dodgers, things can go a little more to form.

If the Game 1 start can’t be Bumgarner’s, Peavy makes the most sense, as he’s been so strong for the Giants over the last two months. Now, some of this sentiment might change if Peavy struggles against the Dodgers on Monday, but he’s been the Giants best starter for a while. You’ve got to ride your hottest available hand against Clayton Kershaw, and that’s Peavy.

Vogelsong can be dicey. There’s no doubt about that. But some of the same ideas that were in play for Game 1 vs. the Nationals are in play here. Likely going against Zack Greinke, the Giants have very little to lose.

Now, if you think it makes sense to basically concede Kershaw’s game and try to beat Greinke, then flipping Peavy and Vogelsong makes more sense. But even at that, I like this idea a lot more. The Game 1 starter is also the likely Game 5 starter, and I’d rather have Peavy in that spot than Vogelsong.

Plus, Vogey has pitched just well enough this year to make me think an upset is possible.

Same logic applies as in the hypothetical Washington series. Get your best pitcher out there as soon as you can and put him in line for the NLCS, should you get there.

Again, these games could be flipped, which would mean Petit in Game 3 and Bumgarner in Game 4. If the first two games in Los Angeles are split, it would guarantee a Game 4, so having Bumgarner pitch the game to either win the series or prolong it makes some sense.

But you have to get your best pitcher out there as soon as possible, which means Bumgarner then Petit, not the other way around.

You pretty much have to roll with your Game 1 starter in Game 5. In an elimination game, nobody gets a long leash — especially against Clayton Kershaw — so Bruce Bochy would have to be sure that the bullpen is ready to go as soon as Peavy falters.

Still, based on the rotation of the series and how things are going right now, Peavy has to get the ball in this one.

The NLCS and World Series are a little too far down the road to think about a pitching rotation. Those will depend on who pitches well in the previous rounds, and how many games those series last.

The Giants may or may not make it that far, but this is the rotation that would give the San Francisco Giants the best chance to make a long playoff run.

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