Starting pitching has been the San Francisco Giants' engine through their three World Series runs. The rest of the club's parts have been supplemental, allowing that strong motor to drive to the trophies while everything else runs just well enough.
Even when the rotation was not completely dominant during the regular season, such as last year, it has come through magnificently during the postseason.
This season the starters have not looked so bad. Their 3.90 combined ERA ranked fifth in the National League heading into Tuesday night's series opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers at AT&T Park. But those results have been somewhat top heavy, with Tim Lincecum's blast-from-the-past success and Madison Bumgarner's last four starts leading the way while others have been mildly effective (Chris Heston), mostly ineffective (Ryan Vogelsong) or injured (Jake Peavy and Matt Cain).
That is why Tim Hudson's start Tuesday, arguably his best of the season, is a hugely encouraging sign for a team looking for rotational depth. The 39-year-old pinned down a potent Dodger offense over 6¹⁄³ shutout innings, leading the Giants to a 2-0 win that brought them to within 3½ games of first-place Los Angeles.
Hudson exited to a standing ovation with one out in seventh, giving the Giants hope he can revert to 2014 first-half form that made him an All-Star with a 2.87 ERA.
“That gives us a pretty good chance to win against a team we need to beat,” Hudson said of his outing. “I made just enough pitches to keep us in it.”
The Dodgers have been the NL's best offense since the start of the season. They lead it in telling categories like home runs, on-base percentage, adjusted OPS, weighted on-base average and weighted runs created plus. While they have torched the rest of the league, the Giants have snuffed them.
They have five quality starts against the Dodgers in seven games. The rest of baseball has managed just 11 in 31 games. At AT&T Park, the Giants' pitching has been downright dominant against Los Angeles, holding it to a .205 average (27-for-132) and six runs over four games, all Giants wins.
This win is big as the Giants close the gap between themselves and the Dodgers. Bigger over the course of the next four-plus months is Hudson if this is a glimpse of what he can be going forward.
He has shown flashes this season, putting together consecutive starts of seven and eight innings with three runs allowed in each. But he followed those by allowing six runs and 15 hits last time he threw at AT&T. Then he failed to complete six innings in Houston last week. Hudson said the problem was locating his sinker.
Sidestepping his way through a powerful Dodger lineup, though, shows Hudson is still capable of pitching like a frontline starter. If that is what he gives the club, and Peavy and Cain can dabble in the fun once they return, this Giants rotation can go from decent to the best in the NL West, minimizing the possible need for a mid-season trade.
“He just needs to be able to locate,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He's still got the stuff.”