In a perfect universe, or at least a perfect 2018 universe, or at least a manager’s perfect 2018 universe, a baseball team would have five starting pitchers, who would all stay healthy. A team that has played 110 games, such as the Giants, would feature five starting pitchers who had all pitched 22 times (give or take as they reshuffle the rotation around breaks).
That is not the Giants. That is not anything resembling the Giants. The Giants have used nine starting pitchers. One wasn’t supposed to make the Majors this year, or perhaps ever; he leads the rotation in ERA and FIP. One was supposed to be a camp invite whose sole purpose was to be the emergency option should the Giants have a massive collection of injuries; he leads the team in starts. One was supposed to be a somewhat nice prospect who would only pitch if the more highly-regarded prospect struggled; he’s second on the team in starts.
It’s been weird, and then some. Here’s how the starts break down:
Derek Holland: 20
Andrew Suárez: 18
Chris Stratton: 18
Ty Blach: 12
Madison Bumgarner: 11
Dereck Rodríguez: 10
Jeff Samardzija: 10
Johnny Cueto: 9
Tyler Beede: 2
Look at that again. It’s wild.
It’s easy to critique the Giants for thinking they had the talent to compete this season. And then you realize that their top six starters in innings pitched, in order, are Holland, Suarez, Stratton, Bumgarner, Blach, and Rodriguez.
It’s August 3, and the Giants have gotten 163.1 innings combined out of their first, second, and third starters. Starters who they had every reason to believe were healthy.
Seen through that lens, it’s rather miraculous that the team has made it 110 games into the season with a record floating above .500, however meekly. These pitchers aren’t supposed to be here, at least not in this capacity.
And yet they are. There’s been no consistency or familiarity for the rotation; it’s different each week, as injuries, match-ups, and the hot hand determine the rotating cast of hurlers. It’s no way to win, but it’s the hand the Giants have been dealt, and the dealer is, at times, themselves.
The emergency starters have pitched well, and likely earned jobs for next year, but look around and it’s easy to see the disadvantage the Giants face. The Dodgers have five pitchers who have started 14 or more games. The Diamondbacks have three who have started at least 22.
San Francisco represents the antithesis of the collected, consistent, predictable rotation that managers strive for. And it’s both a reason for their struggles, and a reason to be impressed by their successes.
It’s August 3. The Giants rotation is Madison Bumgarner, Dereck Rodriguez, Derek Holland, Chris Stratton, and Ty Blach. They’re a stone’s throw away from being a stone’s throw away from the playoffs.
Make of that what you will.