Kevin Gausman has seen September baseball with the Giants before.
He started four games in September last year with a spot in the expanded playoffs on the line. Gausman had a 2.35 ERA in those four appearances, striking out 29 batters in 23 innings, and opponents hit just .159 against him. He even threw a perfect 1-2-3 ninth inning against the San Diego Padres on the final game of the season, but the Giants fell short and lost their third straight game to end the year and their playoff hopes.
This is a whole new year, a much better team and the Giants have never needed Gausman more. Specifically, they need the version of Gausman that toed the rubber last September and the first half of this season, making him an All-Star for the first time while looking like a legitimate Cy Young candidate.
Forget a 60-game season and expanded playoffs -- Wednesday night against the Milwaukee Brewers very well could be Gausman's biggest start in a Giants jersey so far.
When Gausman made his final start of the year last season, it was his 11th appearance and 10th start as a Giant. Through 11 appearances -- all starts -- this season, there weren't many pitchers better in all of baseball than Gausman. He sported a 1.40 ERA to go along with 83 strikeouts and only 16 walks through 70 2/3 innings.
However, in his last 11 starts, Gausman has a 4.23 ERA with 64 strikeouts and 26 walks in 55 1/3 innings. Opponents hit .249 off him in that span, compared to .163 in his first 11 starts.
Gausman hasn't thrown a scoreless outing since June 5, which ended a streak of four straight scoreless starts. Still, there's good news to be found.
The 30-year-old right-hander had an atrocious July that resulted in a 5.11 ERA over five starts. He wasn't exactly ace-level in August, but it was much closer to the Gausman that Giants fans have been used to the past two seasons. Gausman went a perfect 3-0 last month with a 3.16 ERA over 25 2/3 innings. His strikeouts per nine innings dropped from 12.0 to 9.5, though the rest of his numbers took a positive turn.
Gausman struggled with his command in July, walking 14 batters and throwing three wild pitches in his five starts. In August, he cut his walks in half and had one less wild pitch, despite throwing exactly one more inning in the same amount of starts. He had an ugly 1.54 WHIP in July, and brought that down to a more manageable 1.29 WHIP in August.
His 3.86 strikeouts to walks ratio was his second-best for a month this season, and was even better than his 3.67 in June, when he had a 2.32 ERA for the month.
Gausman is coming off a start in which he tossed six innings, allowed just two earned runs and didn't walk a single batter. The Giants will need that and more on Wednesday night. Their lead in the NL West has shrank to just a half-game over the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Tampa Bay Rays now are tied with the Giants for the most wins in baseball.
Add in mounting injuries, plus a COVID-19 problem and the Giants need their ace back for playoff baseball, and that starts Wednesday night on Sept. 1.
Logan Webb already has answered the call for a Giants ace. Gausman has before, and he certainly can again when it matters most.