Stabilized bullpen faces toughest test yet

With Romo at back end, Giants relief corps will 'play a big part' vs. Cubs

Stabilized bullpen faces toughest test yet

CHICAGO -- The bullpen door never creaked open Wednesday night at Citi Field, so the Giants never had to answer the biggest question facing them as they roll into another even-year October.

Is their bullpen ready for the postseason?

For now, thanks to Madison Bumgarner's National League Wild Card Game gem, the question remains hypothetical. But at some point in the NL Division Series against the Cubs, perhaps even in Game 1 at Wrigley Field on Friday night (9 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. PT, FS1), Giants manager Bruce Bochy will have to climb out of the dugout and put a game in the hands of his relievers.

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

"It's going to play a big part in every series," Bochy said Thursday evening at Wrigley Field. "It's kind of nice last night it didn't play a part in it, but these starters aren't going to go nine every game."

San Francisco blew a franchise-record nine games in which they led in the ninth inning, with five of those coming in September and the most recent occurrence on Sept. 19 against the Dodgers. During that frustrating stretch, Bochy found himself searching for answers seemingly every time he walked out to the mound.

The next night, Sept. 20, Sergio Romo recorded a save to secure a 2-0 win over the Dodgers -- the first of four straight saves that thrust Romo back into the closer's role and stabilized a previously shaky bullpen.

The Giants' bullpen posted a 3.28 ERA the rest of the way and didn't permit an earned run over the season's final five games as Bochy mixed, matched and leaned heavily on Romo in the ninth.

"You have to have your guys down there that you believe in, which we do," Bochy said. "It's really settled down and it has done a much better job here recently."

Steady bullpens have been a hallmark of the Giants' championship runs. In 2010, '12 and '14, San Francisco's relievers posted a 2.42 ERA and ate up 156 innings in 48 games. Those groups were consistent in personnel and production, led by the core of Romo, Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez and Santiago Casilla.

But even then, the Giants rarely assigned full innings in front of their closer. Bochy prefers a setup-by-committee.

"We do mix it up, I think, a bit more than most clubs," Bochy said, "and it's worked for us."

Romo's resurgence has helped calm concerns of a bullpen blowup over the past two weeks, but this year's relief corps has already been marked as the Giants' biggest Achilles heel, one of several reasons they limped through the second half.

The Cubs may have noticed, too. Their focus is to quickly rid themselves of the Giants' four-deep rotation -- Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Bumgarner and Matt Moore -- and take their chances with the bullpen.

Morris previews Giants vs. Cubs

"I think as a group, we do a good job of grinding, getting into the bullpen," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "That's what we want to do."

There are no bullpen doors at Wrigley Field, only a pair of mounds in foul territory. The Giants' best bet may be for theirs to remain unoccupied, but they won't shy away from their back-end arms when they need them.

"With Romo helping stabilize things and calming things down a little bit, it's kept guys in their roles, and they have done a good job," Bochy said. "That is more who we are."

Adam Berry has covered baseball for MLB.com since 2011. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.