After failing to reach the postseason in 2015, the San Francisco Giants spent a big chunk of change on a couple free agents who possess the one skill which brought them so much success over the last five seasons: pitching. Just 49 games into the new season and that strategy has paid off.
Outside of the outstanding pitching from Madison Bumgarner, the Giants were thin on decent starting pitching last year.
Tim Hudson was aging faster than milk on a hot summer day, Chris Heston was pitching nearly twice as many innings in a season than he was used to, while Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong were either hurt, throwing batting practice or unable to make it past the fifth inning. Oh, and they had a couple months of a mediocre Mike Leake.
Simply put: the pitching broke down quickly in 2015.
This season, however, the starting five has been their biggest strength, leading them to a 30-19 record atop the NL West. The expensive additions of Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto have catapulted the Giants into the top of the league. Including the ace, Bumgarner, the three have a combined 20-5 record with a 2.37 ERA, 206 strikeouts and 48 walks in 30 starts.
The three also combine for a 5.8 WAR thus far - the best three-pitcher combination on any team in the league according to Baseball-Reference.com. The Chicago Cubs are a close second with Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel and Jon Lester (5.6 WAR).
Despite their recent success, the Giants didn't just go out and buy Cueto and Samardzija knowing they would pan out - there was a risk.
Cueto had been up and down with the Kansas City Royals/Cincinnati Reds and was effective in only a couple games in the postseason. Meanwhile, Samardzija allowed the most hits and runs in the league last year with the Chicago White Sox.
Now that each of them pitch in AT&T Park knowing it's a pitcher-friendly park, have one of the best infield defenses in the league and the coaching staff headed by Bruce Bochy and Dave Righetti are considered elite in their own right, the stars have aligned in San Francisco.
The three haven't just helped the Giants in the games they start, but their ability to pitch late into the ballgame has been a tremendous way to save the energy of their bullpen for other games. With injuries to George Kontos and Sergio Romo early this season, a little extra rest for the other guys can only be a good thing in the long run.
In total innings pitched, Cueto, Samardzija and Bumgarner rank second, fourth and ninth in the MLB, respectively. In their 30 starts, they have pitched through the 7th inning 19 times. The Giants also lead the league in complete games with four, three coming from Cueto and the fourth from Bumgarner (all against the San Diego Padres, no less).
While Peavy and Cain have had rocky starts at the No. 4 and 5 spots, they have quietly settled down over the last couple weeks, helping propel the starting pitching closer to it's full potential.
With about 25 starts remaining for each pitcher, there's plenty of ceiling left for the Giants "Big 3," but in the meantime, let's appreciate how good they've been already.
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