MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

No pressure: Giants playing with house money

With 3 recent titles and little hype, San Francisco has nothing to prove in NLDS

No pressure: Giants playing with house money

CHICAGO -- Like a neighbor who never seems to return the things he borrows or an uninvited guest at the holidays, the Giants rolled into Wrigley Field for Thursday's workout. They had endured a long day of bus rides and airplane travel but still looked like trouble when they arrived.

Johnny Cueto had pictured this day a little more than a month ago, when the Giants played a four-game weekend series at the storybook ballpark with the ivy-covered walls. He said then that he wanted the chance to try to knock off the Cubs, who find themselves in the unaccustomed role of World Series favorites.

Shop Giants postseason gear

"I hope to God we do [get back to Chicago]," Cueto said after pitching well in a 13-inning loss. "That's when we're going to find out [if we have what it takes].''

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

This National League Division Series will be telling for both sides. While the Cubs didn't come out and say it, you know San Francisco is about the last team they wanted to face after piling up 103 victories in the regular season.

Playing with house money after winning the World Series three times in the last seven years and wearing their every-other-year armor, the Giants are about as dangerous of an early opponent as any could face.

When Madison Bumgarner shut out the Mets in the NL Wild Card Game on Wednesday, it gave the Giants a 35-14 record in the postseason under Bruce Bochy. They're not going to have to give back their World Series rings if they lose to the Cubs.

After all, they didn't know how much more baseball they were going to be playing at this time last week. But by going 5-1 on their season-ending homestand, including a sweep of the first-place Dodgers on the final weekend, they held off the Cardinals to grab a spot in the Wild Card Game.

Bumgarner gets final out

Sergio Romo came to the rescue of the Giants' imploding bullpen in mid-September, and late in the season Bochy saw his best hitters start to work at-bats the way they did in putting together the 57-33 record they had at the break.

Suddenly they're like Bob Dylan in 1963. They're freewheelin'.

"You have to look at how we got here," Bochy said Thursday. "The big thing about the game right now is it's all new now. Both teams start from zero. Both have the same record. Even with that said, the fact we're here at this point, you can look at it like we're playing with house money a little bit. That may take a little pressure off.''

Bochy on challenge vs. Cubs

Cubs manager Joe Maddon was a coach on the Angels' staff in 2002, when they entered the postseason as a Wild Card and ended up beating the Giants in the World Series. He guided a Wild Card Cubs team to the National League Championship Series last year.

"Sometime maybe, [and] this is just conjecture, but the fact you've worked so hard to get to that point and you just exhale," Maddon said. "You're a Wild Card team and all of a sudden you just let it fly. You feel like you're playing with house money a little bit so you just let it go.''

Cueto faces the Cubs' Jon Lester in Game 1. He delivered a complete-game victory for the Royals in last year's World Series before signing a six-year deal with the Giants.

"When you go to this stage, you have to show up and win these games," Cueto said. "It doesn't matter what has happened in the past."

Pence on even-year success

Sometimes what has happened in the past can be a very good thing. Just ask Giants veterans like Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Hunter Pence, Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla and Romo, among others. They've known nothing but victory in October.

The Giants have been on one of the wildest runs we've seen in sports, somehow kicking 11 consecutive opponents to the curb in postseason series or Wild Card Games while never going to the playoffs two years in a row.

They're not going to be intimidated playing a No. 1 seed, not after beating top seeds in 2014 (a 96-win Nationals team) and in 2010 (a 97-win Phillies team in 2010, which had gone to the World Series the two previous years).

"They're good," Maddon said. "They know how to do this. You could see how well they reacted [Wednesday] night. Not only Bumgarner, but the entire group. They're formidable."

Dangerous too.

"Look at their team, watch how they play," Maddon said. "I don't see one scared bone in anybody's body. They're just out playing the game of baseball -- playing it hard, trying to play it right."

The Giants have to lose a postseason series some time. But will this be the one?

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.