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Another Giant October Win Shows Bumgarner, SF Could Be Challenge for Cubs

NEW YORK — If the Chicago Cubs are the team that wants to spend this month rewriting their history, the San Francisco Giants are the team that can spend October embracing theirs.

This is the team that knows no October disappointment, at least since their run of championship baseball began six years ago this month. This is the team that expects every big game to go the way Wednesday night's Wild Card Game went at Citi Field, when Madison Bumgarner pitched a four-hit shutout and Conor Gillaspie hit a ninth-inning home run and the Giants beat the New York Mets, 3-0.

The Giants expected this, and no matter how many times anyone says this is finally the Cubs' year, the Giants will expect to go into Wrigley Field and win there, too, starting Friday night in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.

"When it comes to playoff baseball," Brandon Belt said Wednesday, "we feel we're the best team."

They were the best team Wednesday, no matter how good Noah Syndergaard looked. "Dominating" and "unhittable" were the words the Giants used to describe the Mets' ace, but they never said "unbeatable."

Syndergaard didn't give up a run in the seven innings he pitched. He only allowed two hits. He struck out 10.

He doesn't get an "L" next to his name in the box score, but he lost this battle of aces with Bumgarner simply because seven shutout innings isn't as good as nine shutout innings.

"If I had a choice of one pitcher I'd want on my side in the postseason, it would definitely be him," Giants center fielder Denard Span said of Bumgarner.

The best news for the Cubs is that Bumgarner won't be on the mound Friday or Saturday at Wrigley. He'll pitch just once in the Division Series. Then again, that's exactly the situation the Giants faced two years ago, when Bumgarner threw a four-hit shutout in the Wild Card Game in Pittsburgh and the Giants headed to Washington to play the Division Series against the team with the league's best record.

Sound familiar?

Span remembers it well. He played for that Washington Nationals team.

"I was like, 'We're going to crush this team,'" he said. "I'm being honest."

The Nationals actually beat Bumgarner in Game 3. It was the only game he lost in six postseason starts that year. It was also the only game the Nationals won in that best-of-five series.

They went down, just as the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies and Texas Rangers did in 2010, just as the Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers did in 2012, just as the Cardinals and Kansas City Royals did later in that October 2014.

The Cubs are good, but are they better than all those teams that went in thinking they were going to crush—or at least beat—the Giants?

"I know how good they are," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "You just want a shot. We'll be ready."

As interesting as it might have been to see the Mets and Cubs play in a rematch of the 2015 National League Championship Series, Giants-Cubs was always the matchup that posed a greater threat in the Cubs' pursuit of history. While the injury-riddled Mets would have had to begin the series with some combination of Bartolo Colon, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman in Games 1 and 2, Bochy can pitch Johnny Cueto against Jon Lester in Game 1, then pick between Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore for Game 2 against Kyle Hendricks.

The Mets were the defending National League champs, but with so many guys hurt, they should be celebrated for even getting this far. The Giants, in contrast, are the team that reached the All-Star break with the best record in baseball.

Yes, better than the Cubs.

It's true that the Giants were nothing like that for most of the second half, when they had one of the worst records in the major leagues. But it's also true that sometime during the final week of the regular season, that team from the first half seemed to magically reappear.

"This team plays well when it matters the most," pitcher Jake Peavy said. "I think it showed."

They kept telling each other that they still controlled their own destiny, that they only had to find a way to start winning and keep winning. A week ago Wednesday, they were a game ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals for the final National League playoff spot.

The Cardinals didn't lose again, but neither did the Giants.

"It seems like it took getting our backs against the wall to see that team [from the first half of the season] come back," Belt said. "It's not the way you want it to happen, but right now, we've got all the confidence in the world."

They had it Wednesday, helped by having the best postseason pitcher in recent memory on the mound. But you'd better believe they'll have it again when they show up at Wrigley Field.

They might not beat the Cubs, whose 103 wins are deserving of their status as favorites. But after all the big October wins in those years since 2010—yes, in all the even-numbered years—would it really surprise you if they did?


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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