Giants rode late surge, big arms to WC clinch

Giants rode late surge, big arms to WC clinch

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants confounded observers with an uneven performance in an even-numbered year.

Bound for a National League Wild Card matchup Wednesday against the New York Mets (5 p.m. PT, ESPN), the Giants entered the All-Star break with a Major League-best 57-33 record and looked destined at least to reach the World Series, which they won in 2010, '12 and '14.

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Then came a near-total collapse. The Giants foundered in every phase of the game as they quickly built the Majors' worst record in the season's second half. They dropped 11 of their 13 games after the All-Star break, including the first six. San Francisco also endured two four-game losing streaks and a pair of three-game skids in the second half.

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"We went through a lot of adversity this year," Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner said. "It seems like we always do."

But just when missing the postseason seemed possible for the Giants, they regained enough equilibrium to claim the National League's second Wild Card spot. They outscored opponents, 38-11, while winning five of their final six games, including Sunday's 7-1 decision over the Los Angeles Dodgers that concluded a three-game sweep of the NL West champions.

"Playing like we have been the last three days, we'll be tough to beat," Bumgarner said.

"You look at the pitching, the defense, the timely hitting -- this is more who we are," manager Bruce Bochy said as the Giants reached the postseason for the fourth time in seven years and for the 26th time in franchise history.

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Once again, the Giants' starting pitching sustained them. Bumgarner finished 15-9 with a 2.74 ERA and set a single-season franchise record for strikeouts by a left-hander with 251. Opponents batted a mere .212 off him. Free-agent signees Johnny Cueto (18-5) and Jeff Samardzija (12-11) proved essential. Cueto, the NL's All-Star Game starter, won 13 of his first 14 decisions. He was complemented by Samardzija, who compiled a 7-2 record in his first 10 outings, sagged in the middle of the season, then posted a 2.45 ERA in his final 10 games.

Giants on clinching Wild Card

Left-hander Matt Moore, a non-waiver Trade Deadline acquisition from Tampa Bay in the deal that forced the Giants to part with popular third baseman Matt Duffy, provided a late boost by finishing 6-2 in his final eight starts, including Sunday's decision.

The bullpen struggled during the second half, prompting right-hander Santiago Casilla to be removed from the closer's role. But former closer Sergio Romo stabilized the relief corps as he converted four consecutive save opportunities between Sept. 20 and Oct. 1.

"What he did to help calm things down was huge for us," Bochy said.

Must C: Giants clinch WC spot

Amassing enough offense was a constant challenge for the Giants, whose lineup lacked a .300 hitter and anyone who amassed at least 20 homers. Brandon Belt's 17 homers led the club.

"We can talk about bullpen issues, but the thing that got away from us was tacking on [runs]," Bochy said.

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. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.