Gabe Kapler is a planner, exhaustingly so. When he, Farhan Zaidi and the staff create their season-ending rotation, they are trying to maximize the Giants’ odds to get to the postseason, but they all have an eye on what that would leave them with.
After Kevin Gausman’s start Thursday, everything now is written in pencil — and certainly not announced for an organization that tries to keep secrets.
Friday will bring a doubleheader in which Jeff Samardzija is likely to get the nod for one game, his first outing since Aug. 7 and perhaps last as a Giant. Tyler Anderson would be in line for the other end of the doubleheader, his last chance to impress before what could be a playoff run.
It stands as a monumental day that will help decide a playoff scramble that includes six teams (the Giants, Reds, Brewers, Cardinals, Marlins and Phillies) gunning for four spots. What cannot be ruled out is the Giants getting creative, as they did Wednesday, when Caleb Baragar served as the opener for Logan Webb, who was effective in his 5 1/3 innings.
If the rotation stays in order, Johnny Cueto would go Saturday and Drew Smyly would finish the season and series against the Padres on Sunday.
Cueto has had back-to-back poor starts and has not looked like himself for about a month, saying he hurt his hip in a late-August start in Arizona. He said his control issues Monday were not a result of his hip, which feels better, but he will be a concern.
“He came out of his last start feeling really good,” Kapler said over Zoom on Thursday before the Giants’ final game against the Rockies at Oracle Park. “I think it’s one of those things that we’ll continue to monitor. Obviously things like that can pop up at any time, but he came out of his last start feeling good — we have no concerns about him making his next start.”
That, in all likelihood, is the rotation that will hope to boost the Giants into the playoffs, with Webb in the wings already saying he can help out in relief whenever (and perhaps Gausman becoming a Sunday option, as well). If the group is successful, their best-of-three postseason series would begin Wednesday either in Los Angeles, Atlanta or Chicago.
Because of the three-day wait, the staff would be replenished. Unless Gausman pitches multiple innings Sunday, he would be the most likely Game 1 starter, having been their most dependable and electric all year. Smyly is the next best option, but if he throws Sunday, he would be better situated for a Game 3 start than Game 2.
It’s also possible Cueto and Smyly could tag-team Game 2; if the Giants are trusting Cueto (5.53 ERA) with one of their final two regular-season games, they are giving him the opportunity to prove he should be in the postseason rotation, too, and he’s been there and proven himself before.
With the amount of variables here — if the Giants win a few in a row, would they flip Cueto and Smyly to get Smyly in line for Game Two? — it is understandable why the Giants have been hesitant to announce anything.
The Zaidi regime values options, and their rotation depth and resurgent bullpen have given them plenty with three days of the season left.