'Super excited' Webb, Gausman set for G1, 2

Belt 'shooting for' possible return by start of NLCS

October 8th, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO -- rose to the occasion in the biggest start of his young career on Sunday, firing seven strong innings to help the Giants clinch their first National League West title in nine years. An even bigger assignment now awaits the 24-year-old right-hander: Leading San Francisco into the postseason.

Manager Gabe Kapler announced Wednesday that Webb will start Game 1 of the National League Division Series tonight against the rival Dodgers, with following in Game 2 on Saturday.

"I’m super excited," Webb said. "To be able to throw the first game for the best team in the league is pretty cool. I’m super excited for it."

Kapler said the Giants decided to go with this order to prioritize extra rest for Gausman, who led the Giants with 33 starts this year. Still, the decision also highlights the club’s confidence in Webb, who is 10-0 with a 2.40 ERA across 20 outings since May 11. Webb’s 20 consecutive starts without being charged with a loss are tied for second in franchise history with Jack Sanford in 1962 and Rube Marquard from 1911-12. Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell holds the record with 22 from 1936-37.

"First and probably foremost, I think Webby’s body is just bouncing back really, really well," Kapler said. "I think at this stage, I think it’s always good when we can get Gaus an additional day. It’s always good when we can get anybody an additional day. I think overall, recovery is what we're thinking about. I just want to reiterate, both guys are 100% healthy, strong and ready to pitch. It’s just the way we felt, that from a rest and recovery standpoint we can have both pitchers at their best."

Gausman posted a sterling 1.73 ERA in the first half, but he struggled to sustain that level of dominance in the second half after losing his feel for his splitter. Gausman recaptured his All-Star form over his final two starts of the regular season, though, delivering encouraging outings against the Rockies and Padres to end the year with a career-best 2.81 ERA.

He’ll take the mound on Saturday on six days’ rest, which the Giants believe will help him be at his best in his first career postseason start (having previously appeared out of the bullpen in four games with the Orioles and Braves).

"The extra days seem to bring out the best velocity from Gaus, the best action on the split," Kapler said. "A little bit more endurance in-game. I think Gaus expects to get even more life and stuff with the postseason adrenaline. The combination of those things is what makes us feel good about the way we’ve set it up."

Kapler said the Giants remain undecided on their Game 3 starter, but with the Dodgers winning the NL Wild Card Game, the Giants will likely lean toward starting left-hander Alex Wood, who won a World Series title with Los Angeles last year. Kapler said he also expects Webb and Gausman to be available to pitch in a potential do-or-die Game 5.

"He’s honestly more excited [for me] than I am," Webb said of Gausman. "It’s been pretty cool. It’s the type of person he is. No matter who throws [Game 1 or 2], we’re both going to be available for [Game 5]. We’re both confident in whatever game we can throw in."

Belt update
First baseman spoke to reporters on Wednesday for the first time since fracturing his left thumb last month and said he remains optimistic about returning to play in the postseason, though he acknowledged that he isn’t expecting to be on the roster for the NLDS. Kapler said Tuesday that the "dream scenario" would be for Belt to return for the NLCS, an ambition the 33-year-old veteran shares.

"That’s been the goal from Day One, get out there during the NLCS," Belt said. “Whether that’s possible or not, I don’t know. It all depends on how the bone recovers and whatever. That’s what I’m shooting for. I want to get back out there as soon as possible. Obviously the Division Series is not at play here, but as of now, the NLCS is. That’s what I’m working toward and if it doesn’t happen, I’ll just get ready for the World Series."

Belt is wearing a brace on his left hand, but he’s been taking ground balls at first base with his glove and expects to continue doing some work in the cage, where he’s been tracking pitches and taking one-handed swings. He said the hairline fracture, which he suffered when he was hit by a pitch while squaring up to bunt against the Rockies on Sept. 26, is located between his thumb and his index finger, which is where he holds his bat.

"I was pretty bummed out," Belt said. "At first, I just didn’t think it was broken. I’ve broken the same thumb before. That one, I knew right away. This one, it didn’t hurt that bad. It was numb after the initial pain, but I didn’t really think it was broken. I thought it was just bruised."

Belt’s injury is a major blow to the Giants, as he crushed a team-high 29 home runs with a .975 OPS before experiencing his latest setback. He will be eligible for free agency this offseason, so it remains to be seen if he’ll have a chance to suit back up for the Giants if he doesn’t recover in time for the postseason.

"It’s the worst possible time to have an injury, and I try not to get too upset about it and just stay focused on getting back out there," Belt said. "That’s what keeps me positive."