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Giants' pitching staff capable of big-time turnaround

San Francisco could make another World Series run after rotation's 2013 woes

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- In the last two even-numbered years, the San Francisco Giants won the World Series.

As a natural progression, this would seem to offer positive prospects for 2014. And the Giants could win a third straight championship in an even-numbered season -- if they are able to pitch something like they did in '10 and '12.

In fact, it would be fine if the Giants pitched like they did in 2011, when their 3.20 team ERA was second in the Majors. They just can't afford anything like the 4.00 ERA they had in '13. It was un-Giant-like. But it didn't have to be a sign of irreversible pitching decline.

Maybe it is asking a lot for the Giants to regain their former pitching form. But many of the same pitchers who formed dominant staffs in those championship seasons are still on board. True, they didn't pitch up to that form in 2013, but in the era of competitive balance, nobody is supposed to win two World Series in a row, much less four.

The starting rotation of Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Hudson, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong would require some bounce-back seasons to get back to a pre-2013 level. But there is a track record in each case in which success is the rule, not the exception.

The core of a successful bullpen is on hand as well. If a few Arizona outings have been shaky among members of the Giants staff, welcome to the Cactus League. The air is dry, the ball travels, this is no place to make a lasting judgment on a Spring Training ERA. But it does make Bumgarner's 0.00 ERA after 17 innings even more remarkable.

Cain, after throwing well in a Minor League game against an Angels Triple-A squad Friday, was asked if the Giants' pitching staff was where it needed to be at this relatively late Spring Training date.

"Yeah, I think so," Cain said. "I think mentally we know what we need to do. I think we all see that in each other. I think we need to get off to a good start, but even if we don't, we don't need to panic about it, just go out there and keep doing what we can do."

And there is nothing wrong, Cain says, with having high expectations; individually, collectively, any way at all for the Giants pitchers.

"That's where we want to be, definitely," Cain said. "We expect a lot of ourselves and each other and I think that's a good thing, it motivates us."

The organizational pitching depth has impressed manager Bruce Bochy, although it also made a round of roster cuts on Friday more difficult.

"This is the best group of young pitchers that we've had since I've been here," Bochy said at Scottsdale Stadium.

The battle for the final two bullpen spots has no shortage of capable candidates and no shortage of competition. All of this is encouraging for the manager.

"It's been very competitive and these guys have done a great job," Bochy said. "I think it's going to go down to the last few days before we know who has the final two bullpen spots. They're all throwing the ball well, it's going to come down to what we think suits our 'pen best."

All in all, the Giants pitching situation, Bochy believes, is where it needs it should be as Spring Training moves into the home stretch.

"Yeah, it is," Bochy said. "I think our starters are on track, we've got them healthy, they're stretched out. The bullpen has been coming around, throwing the ball well. I mean Javy [Lopez] had a hiccup [Thursday].

"But we're healthy," Bochy said, knocking on the wood of the desk in his office. "That's the biggest thing as we get close to the end of camp. We're healthy and the guys are stretched out and now it's just a matter of finalizing the last two spots in the bullpen.

"These [roster decisions] are always tough this time of year. These kids pitched well and that makes it even tougher. We've got some good arms here in camp. It's been very competitive and it seems like that brings out the best in everybody."

Two candidates for bullpen jobs didn't make the decisions any easier Friday night, as they both excelled against Oakland. Yusmeiro Petit started and threw four shutout innings, striking out seven, while lefty David Huff threw three hitless innings. Four Giants pitchers combined to shut out the A's, 3-0, on two hits while striking out 12 Oakland batters.

The game served to underscore Bochy's point about the pitching.

"What you have to like is how well they've all thrown, how competitive they've all been," the manager said. "Including the kids we sent down today."

Much of the baseball world, when its attention has been drawn to the National League West, has been attracted by the Dodgers' star power, not to mention the Dodgers' economic reach. This is understandable. But the Giants could have an answer for the Dodgers, if the Giants can pitch something like they pitched in the three years prior to 2013. Yes, it is asking a lot. But it is far from asking the impossible.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for

San Francisco Giants, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Hudson, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong