Cueto seeking 18th win as Giants face Rockies

SAN FRANCISCO -- National League All-Star game starter Johnny Cueto might have limped his way into a wild-card appearance.

It'll depend how the 17-game winner feels Thursday night, and how the San Francisco Giants do the rest of the week.

Cueto is scheduled to return from a one-game absence caused by a groin injury when the Giants conclude a three-game series against the Colorado Rockies on Thursday night.

The Giants (83-75) will enter that game sandwiched between the New York Mets (85-74) and St. Louis Cardinals (82-76) in a duel for two wild-card spots in the NL.

The Mets lead the Giants by 1 1/2 games for the first spot. San Francisco in turn is one game up on the Cardinals for the final postseason berth.

The Giants had a chance to open a two-game gap over the Cardinals with four to play, but lost 2-0 to the Rockies on Wednesday night.

"You'd like to take advantage of the situation when the other team loses," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of the Cardinals, who were beaten 2-1 by the Cincinnati Reds in an earlier game Wednesday. "But (the Cardinals are) probably saying the same thing."

Had Cueto been able to make his start last Sunday at San Diego, he'd have been scheduled to pitch the second-to-last game of the regular season against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday.

That would have made him unlikely to get the call over Jeff Samardzija, and possibly even Matt Moore, in the NL wild-card game four days later.

But Cueto now would have more than ample rest to toe the slab in the loser-go-on-vacation game ... presuming his groin passes its test Thursday.

Cueto had been pitching well at the time of the injury. His 1.59 ERA in September is fifth-best in the NL among pitchers with four or more starts.

He's dominated the Rockies this season, going 2-0 with a 0.77 ERA in three starts, and in his career, recording a 6-2 mark and 2.19 ERA in 11 starts.

Cueto (17-5) also will be seeking to become the NL's fourth 18-game winner, a level he's reached twice previously in his career.

One longtime nemesis Cueto might not have to deal with Thursday is Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu, the NL's leading hitter with a .349 average.

Rockies manager Walt Weiss held LeMahieu out of Wednesday's game as a means of helping him retain his batting lead over Daniel Murphy of the Washington Nationals.

With four days remaining in the regular season, LeMahieu holds a .349-.347 lead over Murphy, who hasn't played since Sept. 20 because of a sore back.

It's possible Murphy won't play again in the regular season, especially with the Nationals having already clinched the NL East.

And if that's the case, Weiss insisted Tuesday he just might do the same with his guy.

"We'll play it by ear," he said. "Winning the batting title doesn't take one day. It takes six months. I don't know how it's all going to play out. I'd live to see DJ win that batting title."

LeMahieu is 3-for-10 (.300) against Cueto this season, and is a .333 (8-for-24) lifetime hitter against the first-year Giant.