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Giants rely on aces in push for postseason

San Francisco's second-half struggles not affecting Bumgarner, Cueto @TracyRingolsby

DENVER -- For all the struggles the Giants have faced in the second half of this season, they are still clinging to a potential NL Wild Card spot.

Rest assured, the rest of the National League has noticed.

View Full Game Coverage

DENVER -- For all the struggles the Giants have faced in the second half of this season, they are still clinging to a potential NL Wild Card spot.

Rest assured, the rest of the National League has noticed.

View Full Game Coverage

And it makes the other contenders uncomfortable.

While the Giants have struggled to find consistency with the fourth and fifth spots in their rotation they feature a Big 3 that can dominate, particularly with the maturing of Jeff Samardzija, the No. 3 starter behind the proven duo of Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto.

Video: ATL@SF: Bumgarner strikes out five over seven innings

First, though, the Giants have to get back to the postseason, which is proving to be a challenge. After putting together the best record in baseball before the All-Star break (57-33), the Giants have struggled. Entering Wednesday night's series finale at Colorado with a 17-31 record since the All-Star break, they have seen a 6 1/2-game lead on the Dodgers become a four-game deficit.

The Giants are No. 1 in the battle for the two Wild Card spots, but they went into Wednesday night only one game ahead of the Cardinals and 1 1/2 games in front of the Mets.

"We have to get there [to the postseason] before we get too caught up about what might be," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

They do, however, have an advantageous remaining schedule.

After Wednesday, their final 23 games are in NL West stadiums. They open a three-game series in Arizona on Friday night and will be in California for their final 20 games. Thirteen of their final 23 games are against teams with losing records -- the three against the D-backs, seven against the Padres and three games against the Rockies. They have two three-game series with the Dodgers and host the Cardinals in a four-game series at AT&T Park next week.

There are no guarantees, however, as the Giants have found out in the second half of the season. They went into Wednesday looking for back-to-back victories for only the fourth time since the break and the first time on the road since they won in Oakland on June 30 and Arizona July 1.

"We have to fight our way to get [to the postseason]," Bochy said. And if they do, Bochy admitted, "I like our chances with the pitching depth of our staff and its versatility."

Bochy should like the chances with postseason-proven starters like Bumgarner and Cueto.

Video: SF@CHC: Cueto tosses seven frames of one-run ball

Bumgarner, who made his Major League debut in 2010, is 7-3 with a save and 2.14 ERA in three postseasons that ended with the Giants as World Series champions. Two years ago, he not only won two starts against the Royals in the World Series, but on two days' rest, he earned a memorable five-inning save in Game 7.

Cueto was the No. 1 starter for the world champion Royals last year, capping off his season with a two-hit, complete game against the Mets in Game 2 of a World Series that went five games.

Samardzija, who like Cueto was an offseason signing for the Giants, made his only postseason appearance by pitching an inning of relief for the Cubs in the 2008 NL Division Series. He has started to show a consistency this season that has been missing, though.

Samardzija has equaled his career high of 11 wins and is on pace for a winning record for the first time in the five seasons he has been a starter in the big leagues.

Video: SF@COL: Samardzija strikes out nine in 3-2 win

"His last five or six starts have been pretty good," said Dick Tidrow, a former big league pitcher and current Giants senior vice president, player personnel and senior advisor to the general manager. "His delivery has improved. He is learning how good he can be now."

The last two spots have been a concern for the Giants. Matt Cain and Jake Peavy, who opened in those roles, have battled injuries and inconsistency and are now in the bullpen. Matt Moore was acquired from the Rays in advance of the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline to fill one spot, and Albert Suarez, who opened the season in the bullpen, made his ninth start in Wednesday's final against the Rockies.

Bumgarner (14-8, 2.51 ERA), Cueto (14-5, 2.92) and Samardzija (11-9, 4.00) have put together seasons that compare favorably with other top starting trios. The Giants are a combined 50-35 in their starts, and they have a combined 3.12 ERA.

"They give us hope," said Bochy.

And that's no secret around the National League.

Tracy Ringolsby is a national columnist for

San Francisco Giants