Madison Bumgarner was already recognized as the Giants' ace, but he put an exclamation point on that designation on Wednesday in the NL Wild Card game. With Matt Cain on the disabled list due to having bone chips removed and Tim Lincecum slowly losing everything that made him a special pitcher not that long ago, Bumgarner has had to be the man in San Fran. When given the opportunity to send the Pirates home and the Giants to Washington to take on the Nationals in the NLDS, Bumgarner seized it. It was yet another brilliant postseason performance to place on a resume that's longer than you'd expect for a 25-year-old.
It's too soon in the postseason to accord Bumgarner the status Lincecum and Cain have achieved in previous Octobers. In 2010, en route to a World Series victory, Lincecum made five postseason starts, appeared in six games, and pitched 37 innings with a 2.43 ERA, one of which was an all-time great start to open the NLDS. In 2012, it was Cain's turn to shoulder the load while Lincecum pitched primarily out of the pen: Cain logged five starts and a 3.60 ERA over 30 innings, and helped the Giants to their second title in three years. Bumgarner was there in both instances -- he hasn't allowed an earned run in the World Series in two starts and 15 innings, a stretch that began as a rookie in 2010 -- but he wasn't assigned as much of the workload and responsibility as the aces he's worked alongside.
They're aces no more, at least not for 2014 purposes, so it's fallen to Bumgarner to fill that role for a Giants team that will need one if they plan on getting as deep into these playoffs as they did in their last two visits. He's been that guy in the regular season for two years now, with consecutive seasons of sub-3.00 ERA ball and over 200 innings in each. His first playoff start as the official, unquestioned Giants Ace went along similar lines.
No Pirates baserunner reached third base until the eighth inning, and that was thanks to defensive miscues. Even this did not slow him down, as he struck out the next batter, then induced an inning-ending grounder before coming back out for the ninth. In nine shutout innings, Bumgarner managed 10 strikeouts against a single walk, allowed four hits and only threw 109 pitches -- 79 of those strikes. It was his most dominant postseason outing even with the four hits, and that's a difficult thing to do when you've pitched the playoff games Bumgarner has.
Photo credit: Justin K. Aller
Brandon Crawford made things comfortable for the Giants early with the first-ever grand slam for a shortstop in postseason history, off Edinson Volquez, whose inconsistent command spelled his doom. The Giants kept chipping away at Pirates' pitching throughout the night until they were up 8-0, giving Bumgarner a lead he in reality did not need, as he was in control of the Pirates from the start. The crowd was out of the game almost entirely at the first sign of scoring, despite a raucous start that even began with chants of "USA!" before the national anthem was sung.
That'll happen in a single-game elimination contest after a mid-game grand slam off a pitcher the fans never truly grew to trust.
Where the Giants go from here is clear: they have the pitching, between Bumgarner, Jake Peavy, and Yusmeiro Petit, to make something happen against even a team as talented as the Nationals. For the Pirates, things are also clear, even if they're a little less happy at present. They still have their talented youth in the minors and in the majors, they still have Andrew McCutchen, and they still have the front office that has helped turn this once moribund franchise around. That's not necessarily comforting for fans mere moments after the end of their team's season, especially for fans of a team that hasn't advanced past the NLCS since 1979, but 2015 still looks promising.