The Giants aren't going to the playoffs this season, that much is clear. Tuesday's 1-0 road loss to the St. Louis Cardinals dropped San Francisco to six games below .500, with 24 left to play.

Next season offers considerably more optimism. The Giants should enter the season with an established outfield of Mike Yastrzemski, Kevin Pillar and Alex Dickerson, and some of the prospects they acquired at the trade deadline already have contributed at the major-league level, or are expected to do so soon.

But if San Francisco is going to compete for a playoff spot, it will need more pitching performances like the one it got from Dereck Rodriguez on Tuesday at Busch Stadium.

Over seven innings, Rodriguez limited the red-hot Cardinals to just five hits and one run while striking out seven. He's penciled into next season's rotation, but starts like that should provide some much-needed confidence heading into what will be an important spring training for the 27-year-old right-hander.

"It's been an up-and-down year for him, and that's including going from here to Sacramento," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Rodriguez, who fell to 5-8 with a 5.15 ERA after the tough-luck loss. "I'm sure he'd like to finish strong. I think it would be very big for him.

"He looked very determined tonight. Good bounce-back off a tough start and, I mean, he really pitched well. 


"Yeah, I think it would be important for him as he goes into the offseason to pitch well this month."

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In terms of next year's Giants rotation, Jeff Samardzija is a lock. Madison Bumgarner is too, if he's re-signed (duh). Logan Webb has looked great over his first three starts and isn't going anywhere. Tyler Beede has a live arm, but he needs to get more consistent. And then there's always the possibility of a free-agent addition or two.

Rodriguez' strong showing against the Cardinals wasn't the only development that could have a considerable impact on San Francisco's rotation next year, although it was the most positive. Bay Area News Group's Kerry Crowley reported that Johnny Cueto experienced back tightness after throwing a bullpen session earlier in the day, and he's no longer expected to pitch against the Dodgers later this week. 

Cueto is coming off Tommy John surgery and will turn 34 in February. He's under contract for two more seasons at $21 million per, with a club option in 2022. Tuesday's setback doesn't mean the Giants can't count on having Cueto in the rotation moving forward, but if Rodriguez can maintain the form he showed against the Cardinals, that won't be as big of a concern.