Game preview: Madison Bumgarner looks to solidify status as a dominant postseason pitcher


There remains minimal doubt that the San Francisco Giants are built for the postseason. The biggest component of their perennial success in 2014 can be chalked to the snot-rocketing southpaw taking the ball in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday night: Madison Bumgarner. The Giants’ ace is at his best under the bright lights of the national spotlight. At 25 years old, Bumgarner might not boast as much regular season hardware as fellow left-handed stud Clayton Kershaw, but he’s monstrously more successful in the playoffs, a trend that doesn’t figure to end anytime soon.

The Giants couldn’t have lined-up their rotation any more perfectly for the NLCS. Bumgarner has a chance to give the Giants a swift advantage over a team the orange and black have defeated the past two times they’ve clashed with the pennant on the line (2002, 2012). The Giants undeniably feel confident with Bumgarner on the mound, especially considering that they’ve dropped back-to-back games started by Bumgarner just once since the All-Star Break.

October 7, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40) celebrates in the clubhouse after defeating the Washington Nationals 3-2 in game four of the 2014 NLDS baseball playoff game at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Since the start of the second half, Bumgarner has recorded a 1.57 ERA over 23.0 innings in three starts following a Giants loss in his previous outing. That trend bodes well for San Francisco in Game 1. “MadBum” is not only resilient, but he’s also unshaken. The two-time All-Star has been dominant on the road all season, posting a 12-4 record with a 2.07 ERA in 19 starts (wild-card game included).

In all fairness, Bumgarner has struggled to some degree against the St. Louis Cardinals, though, as do many lefties, including the aforementioned Kershaw. Bumgarner owns a 3-4 record with a 3.97 ERA and 1.081 WHIP in seven career starts against St. Louis. All three of his wins in opposition of the red birds have occurred at Busch Stadium, the site of Game 1.

The key for Bumgarner’s success remains static tonight as in recent starts: get ahead of hitters early in the count. That could be problematic with Gerry Davis behind home plate. Statistical analysis reveals that Bumgarner isn’t exactly a big fan of Davis’ strike zone. He’s allowed five earned runs while issuing seven total walks (one intentional pass) in 13.0 innings over two starts. For Bumgarner to be successful, he needs to pound the zone early in the count, using a mixture of his two-seam fastball and slider.

Oct 6, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40) pitches during the first inning against the Washington Nationals in game three of the 2014 NLDS baseball playoff game at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In his loss against the Washington Nationals in Game 3 of the NLDS, Bumgarner threw just 17 first-pitch strikes while facing 29 batters. To compare, he threw 24 first-pitch strikes against the Pittsburgh Pirates while facing 33 batters in his wild-card game gem. The left-handed hurler is 1-1 on the season against St. Louis, struggling from the get-go in his loss.

Bumgarner’s biggest struggles have occurred in the first inning throughout the season, posting a 5.73 ERA while facing the top of the batting order during the regular season. That hasn’t been the case in the postseason, though. Bumgarner hasn’t allowed a first-inning run in two postseason starts, recording a 1.13 ERA over 16.0 innings. If he’s able to demonstrate the ability to get ahead of hitters on Saturday night, it could be smooth sailing for a pitcher who is steadfastly becoming one of the most reliable big-game pitchers in all of baseball.