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Madison Bumgarner-Johnny Cueto Duo Can Be Best of Giants' Title Era

It's an even year, San Francisco Giants fans. And that means—well, here's the thing. You want honesty?

It means nothing.

There is no mystical energy that binds the galaxy together and decrees the Giants must hoist a Commissioner's Trophy in 2016. Yes, they won titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014. That's a fascinating numerical anomaly, but it's not a harbinger of things to come.

On the other hand, here's something that could help San Francisco add to its gaudy championship heap: the dynamic duo of Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto.

The Giants built each of their recent World Series runs around pitching. In 2010, it was a young, homegrown rotation headlined by Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. In 2012, it was Bumgarner and Cain, with a surprise assist from redeemed albatross Barry Zito.

And in 2014, it was basically Bumgarner all by himself, including one of the most transcendent postseason relief appearances in baseball history in Game 7 of the Fall Classic:

Last year, the Giants led the National League in batting average and finished among the top five in hits, runs and OPS. Yet their starting pitchers posted a 3.95 ERA and were a mixture of inconsistent and mediocre after Bumgarner. Unsurprisingly, they missed the playoffs.

Also unsurprisingly, the Giants front office made pitching a priority this winter. First, it inked Jeff Samardzija to a five-year, $90 million deal. Then, it nabbed Cueto for six years and $130 million.

Samardzija, an All-Star in 2014 who led both leagues in earned runs and hits allowed last year with the Chicago White Sox, is an intriguing reclamation project who should benefit from San Francisco's strong defense and the spacious confines of AT&T Park.

But the real prize is Cueto, a legitimate ace-level arm who joins Bumgarner to form one of MLB's best lefty-righty tandems, especially now that Zack Greinke has left Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers for a mercenary's payday in Arizona.

So where do Cueto/Bumgarner rank in the pantheon of Giants' title-run twosomes? We won't know the answer until the season plays out, obviously, and we see whether San Francisco actually makes a title run.

But let's say S.F. does charge back into the October picture. If Bumgarner and Cueto replicated their 2015 regular-season numbers, here's how they'd stack up against Lincecum/Cain from 2010 and Cain/Bumgarner from 2012:

Bumgarner and Cueto would have the highest combined WAR, if that stat does anything for you, and the highest strikeout total. It's tough to discount Lincecum at the height of his powers coupled with vintage workhorse Cain. But Johnny and MadBum are squarely in the mix.

Bumgarner, quite simply, just keeps getting better. He's eclipsed 200 frames in each of the last five seasons, has kept his ERA under 3.00 for three consecutive campaigns and has made three straight All-Star teams.

And he's locked into a ridiculously affordable contract with the Giants through 2019, assuming they pick up a pair of $12 million team options (a safe assumption).

Cueto's 2015 numbers, meanwhile, were skewed by a late-season slide that saw him post a 4.76 ERA after a trade-deadline swap from the Cincinnati Reds to the Kansas City Royals.

Many theories were floated to explain his K.C. malaise, including an elbow strain that cost him a couple of starts in May with the Reds. That may have limited the pool of offseason bidders, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post noted:

But the Giants conducted an MRI and were apparently satisfied. "His elbow looks great," San Francisco general manager Bobby Evans said, per CSN Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic. "It really looked good."

Speaking of which, Cueto looked more than good in his final start of 2015, a complete-game masterpiece in Game 2 of the World Series against the New York Mets.

That gem didn't erase all doubt about Cueto's struggles with the Royals, but it was about as emphatic a punctuation mark as anyone could hope for.

Still, he languished unsigned while David Price and Greinke inked contracts north of $200 million. And he "settled" for his deal with the Giants, which allows him to opt out after two years if he thinks he can get more on the open market.

For now, he can settle into a pitchers' yard with an all-world catcher in Buster Posey and a widely respected pitching coach in Dave Righetti.

"It's already a great rotation," Cueto said of the group that will include himself, Bumgarner, Samardzija, veteran Jake Peavy and a recovering Cain, per the Associated Press (h/t "I will just come here to complement the rest of the guys."

The Giants are hoping he can do more than complement. They want him to turn the clock back, just a couple ticks, to 2014, when he led the Senior Circuit in strikeouts and innings pitched with his vast repertoire and signature herky-jerky delivery.

Putting that guy next to a still just 26-year-old Bumgarner is a scary thought for opposing hitters. Heck, Cueto won't be 30 until February, meaning time as well as stuff is on this duo's side.

They may not have that much in common, the dreadlocked right-hander from the Dominican Republic and the tree-chopping southpaw from North Carolina. And there are legitimate questions about durability on Cueto's part.

But they've got the Giants. They've got immense combined ability and potential. And they've got an even year ahead.

Probably that last bit means nothing. Then again, it could mean everything.


All statistics courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

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