Game 1 starter Cueto a de facto second ace

Game 1 starter Cueto a de facto second ace

CHICAGO -- The Giants will play their second postseason game Friday. But they won't necessarily use their No. 2 starting pitcher.

Johnny Cueto will receive the pitching assignment for the Giants in the opener of the National League Division Series against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field (9 p.m. ET/6 PT on FS1). To get here, the Giants confronted the New York Mets in Wednesday's NL Wild Card Game with left-hander Madison Bumgarner, who covered himself in glory by fashioning a four-hit shutout.

Bumgarner remains the Giants' top choice to pitch such a critical game. However, winning the first game of any postseason series is almost essential. By sending Cueto to the mound against the Majors' best team in 2016, Giants manager Bruce Bochy isn't anticipating a dropoff in performance.

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 7 CHC 1, SF 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 8 CHC 5, SF 2 video
Gm 3 Oct. 10 SF 6, CHC, 5 (13) video
Gm 4 Oct. 11 CHC 6, SF 5 video

"I think you look at Johnny and Bum, they're both No. 1s," Bochy said Thursday. "We would be comfortable with them in any game. So the fact that we used our guy [Bumgarner] to get here and that we have Johnny, sure, that's a nice luxury."

Few other teams possess the kind of luxury that Cueto represents. Signed to a six-year, $130 million deal as a free agent last December, Cueto finished 18-5 in his first season as a Giant. His .783 winning percentage ranked third in the NL, and his 2.79 ERA was fifth-best. His 5.6 pitchers' WAR tied him with Los Angeles' Clayton Kershaw for fourth in the NL.

As Giants president and chief executive officer Larry Baer said when Cueto signed, team officials asked each other, "What single move can we make to improve our chances to return to the World Series and win the World Series? And the one word was 'Cueto.' "

Though Cueto offered relatively few words during his interview session with reporters, he clearly seemed eager to perform.

Must C: Giants advance to NLDS

"I like to pitch [when] it's a sold-out crowd, with everybody cheering for me or against me," he said. "That kind of motivates me."

After his lone regular-season start against the Cubs -- a seven-inning, one-run no-decision in Chicago on Sept. 4 -- Cueto said, "I hope to God I get to pitch against the Cubs in the postseason."

Reminded of that statement, Cueto called it "nothing special. I just said it because they have a very young and talented team, and I feel in a series like this that the best team should win."

Cueto's career efforts against the Cubs have resulted in a standoff: He's 9-8 with a 3.24 ERA in 24 regular-season starts. That includes a 5-5 record with a 3.07 ERA at Wrigley Field.

None of that, Cueto realizes, will mean anything Friday night.

"When you get to this stage, you have to actually show up and you have to win," he said. "It really doesn't matter what happened in the past."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.