carry edmondson/usa today sportsMichael Crabtree caught two passes for 68 yards in his season debut Sunday.

carry edmondson/usa today sportsMichael Crabtree caught two passes for 68 yards in his season debut Sunday.

Giants starters finding their groove

Matt Cain put together another solid outing on Sunday, which is a positive sign for the Giants, despite the 10-2 blowout loss to the Baltimore Orioles.

After a horrendous first half, Cain is throwing like an ace again, posting a 2.38 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP in five starts since the All-Star break, and he isn't the only Giants starter who is dealing right now.

Over the last 16 games, the Giants' rotation has produced 13 quality starts and a 2.27 ERA, an encouraging development as the team looks toward the 2014 season.

A successful Giants team will always need starting pitching unless team president Larry Baer decides to bring the fences in at AT&T Park. The Giants stormed through the playoffs in 2010 thanks to the 1-2 punch provided by Cain and Tim Lincecum and they did it again last year with help from Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito.

But the rotation came off its hinges in the first half this year: Cain's ERA was 5.09, Vogelsong's was 7.19 when he broke his right hand in May and Zito turned into Mr. Hyde whenever he pitched on the road.

On July 26, the rotation's ERA was 27th in the majors.

With so many problems to fix at the plate, the picture would be really bleak if the Giants needed an overhaul on the mound, too. But if Cain continues to find his rhythm, the rotation could be one of the best in National League down the stretch.

If there is a bright spot to the Giants' season, it is Madison Bumgarner's emergence as a legitimate stopper. Bumgarner is a former first-round pick and he's only 24 years old. He eats up innings like “Pac-Man” and right now he's third in the NL in WHIP, fourth in opponent's batting average and seventh in ERA.

If Cain returns to ace form, the top of the rotation should be as good as ever with Bumgarner serving as the new anchor.

As usual, this leads us back to Timmy. If Lincecum shows consistency over the next seven weeks, the Giants will need to re-sign him in the offseason, even if it costs them $50 million over three years.

Lincecum is the swing guy in this rotation. If he's on, Giants pitching stacks up with any rotation in the league.</p>

And Timmy doesn't need to win Cy Young awards, be the No. 1 guy or even the No. 2 to be a smart investment for the Giants. If he averages a strikeout per nine innings and keeps his walks down, he's a better-than-average No. 3 and no less of a risk than comparable free agents, including Dan Haren, A.J Burnett and Josh Johnson.

Throw in, Vogelsong, who tossed a decent game Friday, and, Gaudin, who is 5-2 with a 2.42 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP this year, and the rotation is reliable one through five.

The Giants' offense is a mess right now, though, and general manager Brian Sabean will need to make a few changes to tune up the engine. But if the rotation stays hot through September, he'll have a good foundation to work with heading into the offseason.

Paul Gackle is a contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at pgackle@sfexaminer.com and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.

GiantsMadison BumgarnerMatt CainPaul Gackle

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