SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants can be excused for wondering how the 2016 regular season unfolded as it did.
With the possible exception of first baseman Brandon Belt during the season's first half, no position player delivered the type of career year that typically accompanies a team's ascent -- which, in the Giants' case, was their march to the Major Leagues' best first-half record. Though San Francisco's starting pitchers excelled, the Giants clearly performed at less than their best individually while thriving overall.
The across-the-board slump that gripped the Giants through most of the season's second half also was an anomaly. But they reclaimed their game, as well as their confidence, just in time to cement their postseason bid. San Francisco captured the National League's second Wild Card berth and will oppose the New York Mets on Wednesday at Citi Field (Wednesday on ESPN, 8 p.m. ET) for the right to advance to the Division Series against the Cubs.
Here's a look at five days that shaped the Giants' eventful season.
April 26: San Francisco mustered four hits and went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position in a 1-0 win over the Padres. This limp offense didn't matter, because the night belonged to Johnny Cueto. The right-hander allowed seven hits while pitching the first of his three complete-game victories this season against San Diego. The Giants totaled four runs in those games, but their bats didn't matter with Cueto on the mound. Embarking on what would be a 13-1 start, Cueto set the tone for San Francisco's first half with this gem, which happened to be his 100th career victory.
June 8: A 2-1 win over the Red Sox illustrated the Giants' ability to do what was necessary each day to win. They finished 28th in the Major Leagues in home runs, yet Brandon Belt and Mac Williamson went deep against David Price. The Red Sox ace allowed only one other hit, so the Giants needed to resort to the long ball to generate even minimal offense. Manager Bruce Bochy used three relievers in the ninth inning to preserve the lead, a harbinger of the second-half bullpen woes that threatened to ruin the season.
June 19: Third baseman Matt Duffy, the glue of the 2015 Giants, strained his left Achilles tendon on this date in a game against the Rays. The Giants certainly didn't intend to jettison damaged goods when they swapped Duffy to the Rays a little more than a month later. But the Giants wanted left-hander Matt Moore, and had to part with an everyday player to get him. Trading the extremely popular Duffy was the best option. Duffy's injury only accelerated the process that led to the deal. Had Duffy remained healthy and able to increase his productivity, the Giants might not have considered this transaction. As is the case with all major trades, the coming years will determine the wisdom of this deal. It certainly helped in the short-term, as Moore went 6-2 down the stretch.
Sept. 20: The impact of the bullpen's slide cannot be underestimated. Bochy properly bemoaned the lack of a robust offense that could score late and turn slender leads into safe ones. Nevertheless, the fact remained that the bullpen was directly responsible for a franchise-record nine losses in games San Francisco led entering the ninth inning. Five of those defeats occurred in September, and that number might have continued to rise if Bochy hadn't tried Sergio Romo in the closer's role. Romo, who lost that job to Santiago Casilla in the 2014 season, silenced the Dodger Stadium crowd by converting his first of four consecutive save chances in a 2-0 win. No longer did Bochy have to tempt fate by employing a closer-by-committee strategy.
Oct. 1:Madison Bumgarner and Moore could be expected to subdue the Dodgers, as they did respectively last Friday and Sunday. But the biggest win in the Giants' three-game sweep of the NL West champions was authored by Ty Blach, who not only pitched eight masterly innings in his second big league start but also collected two hits off Dodgers uber-ace Clayton Kershaw while allowing just three. This 3-0 triumph reinforced the Giants' belief that they can defeat any team or any pitcher at any time.
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.