The winner of the division automatically makes the playoffs, but the second place team will be in a dogfight to make one of the two wild-card playoff spots. Atlanta looks like they should make it, so if the Giants do not win their division, they will be battling the Cardinals and Pirates for the remaining playoff berth.
With the restructured playoff format this year, the two wild-card winners will play a one-game playoff for the right to advance. This is a very real possibility for the Giants.
If the Giants play in this one-game wild-card matchup, who would be the best candidate to start that game on the mound for San Francisco?
First of all, let's dismiss the idea of Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum. Zito has had a positive year, especially if you rank him a No. 5 starter. However, at this point in his career, he is simply not reliable enough to start a make-or-break game of this magnitude.
Lincecum, who is a two-time Cy Young Award winner, has not been the same dominant pitcher he was a few years ago. He can still be an effective pitcher, but he has lost the air of invincibility that he once had.
Ryan Vogelsong has pitched very well over the past two seasons and was a candidate for this job. However, Vogelsong has struggled in his last two outings and may be showing signs of fatigue. He should definitely be a playoff pitcher, but not the man who throws a one-game, all-or-nothing contest.
That leaves the Giants with two very strong options, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. Both have pitched very well this season and have also shown the ability to rise to the occasion in big-game situations.
In the 2010 postseason, Bumgarner made four appearances, starting three games. He threw a total of 20.2 innings, allowing 18 hits and five walks. He struck out 18 and had a record of 2-0.
Bumgarner compiled an ERA of 2.18 and WHIP of 1.113 against the Braves, Phillies and Rangers, three of the best hitting teams in the game. What made this even more impressive is the fact that Bumgarner was only 20 years old at the time. Now at age 22, he is an even better pitcher than he was then.
Bumgarner again showed his poise as he threw eight shutout innings against the Dodgers, as the Giants won the opening game of a critical series, 2-1. This win put the Giants back in first place in the NL West.
As great as Bumgarner has been in clutch situations, there is only one pitcher that should start a one-game playoff, Matt Cain. I would have Bumgarner start the opening game of the following series, assuming the Giants won the one-game playoff.
Matt Cain, affectionately known as "The Horse" in San Francisco, is the most reliable and consistent pitcher on the Giants' staff. The 2010 postseason is where Cain best proved his ability to perform in the clutch. He started three games and had a record of 2-0.
Cain's performance was outstanding. In 21.1 innings, he did not allow a single earned run. His WHIP of 0.938 epitomized his dominance.
Cain again proved his status as one of the game's best big-game pitchers just a week ago. The Giants were reeling after the suspension of one of their offensive stars, Melky Cabrera. Cain went out and pitched eight strong innings, helping to get the Giants back on track with a 10-1 victory.
Reliability and consistency are trademarks of Matt Cain. He is the best choice on the Giants' pitching staff to pitch any must-win game.