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Bumgarner, Cueto rebounding in '18 key to staff

MLB.com @sfgiantsbeat

SAN FRANCISCO -- A look back at the efforts of the Giants' starting rotation last year enables them to look forward to this season.

Giants starters were durable, ranking second in the Majors with 958 2/3 innings in 2017. They were precise, also ranking second best in the big leagues by averaging 2.6 walks per nine innings.

SAN FRANCISCO -- A look back at the efforts of the Giants' starting rotation last year enables them to look forward to this season.

Giants starters were durable, ranking second in the Majors with 958 2/3 innings in 2017. They were precise, also ranking second best in the big leagues by averaging 2.6 walks per nine innings.

• Power behind Posey could perk up SF in 2018

The apparent quality of the Giants' rotation is why the club was so highly regarded entering 2017. San Francisco's front five must perform even more durably this year to help the team improve upon its last-place finish in the National League West last season.

ROTATION IF SEASON STARTED TODAY

Madison Bumgarner, LHP
Johnny Cueto, RHP
Jeff Samardzija, RHP
Chris Stratton, RHP
Tyler Beede, RHP

STRENGTH

Consider how much better the Giants could be if Bumgarner and Cueto return just to their regular form. Bumgarner, who was sidelined for nearly three months after a dirt bike accident on April 20, went 4-9 and made just 17 starts, ending a streak of six straight seasons with at least 30. Cueto, who understandably devoted time and energy to caring for his ill father, went 8-8 with a 4.52 ERA, his highest since his rookie season in 2008. Compare those performances to their average full-season records entering 2017 -- 15-10 for Bumgarner, 13-8 for Cueto. Thus, returns to the norm from them could represent an extraordinary boost for the Giants.

Video: SF@COL: Cueto fans seven over five frames

QUESTION MARK

Expect spirited competition for the rotation's final two spots this spring. Stratton would appear to have the inside track at one spot, given his strong finish last year. Beede, having gained considerable experience at Triple-A and in the Arizona Fall League, might be ready for his Major League closeup. But to make the season-opening rotation, they'll have to withstand pressure from pitchers like left-handers Ty Blach, who spent most of 2017 in the rotation, and Andrew Suarez, who has piqued manager Bruce Bochy's interest.

Video: CHC@SF: Blach goes seven strong innings, notches RBI

WHAT MIGHT CHANGE

A year ago, the Giants couldn't afford to do without Samardzija, who led the National League in innings (207 2/3) and tied for fourth in quality starts (20) while ranking sixth in strikeouts (205) and fifth in WHIP (1.14). But if the Giants begin feeling squeamish about keeping their player payroll below the $197 million collective bargaining tax threshold, they might not be able to afford keeping him and the $18 million per season that they owe him through 2020.

Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast.

San Francisco Giants, Tyler Beede, Ty Blach, Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Stratton