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Giants could save MadBum for Wild Card Game

San Francisco still hoping to host Wednesday vs. Pirates or Cardinals

SAN FRANCISCO -- Until the Giants learn which team they'll try to beat in Wednesday's Wild Card Game, manager Bruce Bochy will attempt to make sure they don't beat themselves down, now that San Francisco has officially qualified for the postseason.

The Giants' sequence of four games against San Diego followed by two scheduled off-days preceding the showdown against either Pittsburgh or St. Louis will give Bochy ample opportunity to align the team's pitching and give tired regulars the proper balance of activity and rest to end the regular season.

Thinking in these terms became possible Thursday when Cincinnati posted a 5-3 victory over Milwaukee, the Giants' final obstacle blocking a Wild Card berth. Because that game ended in early afternoon, most Giants arrived at AT&T Park knowing that their long-assumed spot in the postseason was assured.

"We would have hoped to come crashing in the front door instead of sliding in the back door," Bochy said. "But this worked."

Even without knowing whom they'll face for the right to advance to the National League Division Series, it's virtually certain that left-hander Madison Bumgarner will start the Wild Card Game.

"We haven't really talked about it. But I think you can speculate," Bochy said of his choice of starters.

The Giants have no choice but to go with their best in the Wild Card Game.

"It's like Game 7 right out of the chute," shortstop Brandon Crawford said.

It's an unusual situation for the Giants, who had the relative luxury of beginning their 2010 and 2012 postseason runs with the Division Series.

"If I had my druthers, I'd rather have two out of three or three out of five to give it a little more margin for error," Bochy said. "That one [Wild Card] Game, I enjoy watching it. Now that I'm in it, I'd like to have two out of three."

If the season ended now, the Giants would travel to Pittsburgh to play the Wild Card Game. But the Pirates still have a mathematical chance of surpassing St. Louis for the NL Central title, which would create a Giants-Cardinals clash. The small sample size of regular-season results discourages speculating on which matchup would favor San Francisco the most. The Giants were 4-3 against St. Louis and 2-4 against Pittsburgh, though all but one of the Pirates games were decided by two runs or fewer.

Crawford noted that while St. Louis has more "big-name" players, such as left fielder Matt Holliday, catcher Yadier Molina and right-hander Adam Wainwright, the Pirates possess stealthier skill.

"They don't try to do too much," Crawford said. "They perform the fundamentals and play pretty good defense. And they have good [pitching]. It's a nice combination."

Bumgarner is tentatively scheduled to start Sunday's regular-season finale, which could bear significance if the Giants need a victory to secure the top Wild Card spot and home-field advantage along with it. But saving Bumgarner for the postseason makes more sense than spending the ace's energy in an attempt to bring the Wild Card Game here.

"Sure, that would be a really important game," Bochy said. "But we have another option that'll give us a good chance to win."

Possibilities include moving right-hander Jake Peavy's next start from Saturday to Sunday or giving Tim Lincecum a start -- though the two-time Cy Young Award winner hasn't started a game since Aug. 23.

Bochy also must monitor the care and feeding of three exhausted, aching regulars -- right fielder Hunter Pence, catcher Buster Posey and third baseman Pablo Sandoval. Though all of them started Thursday night's series opener against San Diego, they're unlikely to play extensively. Pence will want to maintain his consecutive-games streak, but his current slump suggests that he needs rest. Posey must soothe his aching back, and Sandoval only recently shook off the effects of a sore hip.

"These are important games, but you don't want to wear them down to keep that one game here," Bochy said. "You get to a point where you probably hurt yourself more than you help yourself [by playing them too much]. But with those two days off, it's easier to keep running your guys out there."

Chris Haft is a reporter for Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat.
Read More: San Francisco Giants, Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval