Madison Bumgarner Day is no longer “Win Day,” and that’s a problem.
In 2016, almost undoubtedly a juiced ball year, Madison Bumgarner is arguably having his best season. Higher strikeout totals and WAR, lower ERA. After a slower-than-expected start to the season, marked by slower-than-expected fastballs, the Giants’ ace kicked into gear and they won 10 consecutive Bumgarner starts.
Since then, the numbers are staggering, and rather depressing for the Giants. But it’s not Bumgarner who’s changed. Over his last eight starts his ERA is 2.38 (slightly above his season mark of 2.09), he’s averaging 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings (right on pace with his overall strikeout numbers this season), and he’s walking fewer batters (1.6 BB/9) than he did before.
The Giants are 2-6 during those starts, averaging just 3.1 runs scored per game despite one of those games being a 12-6 win over the A’s. That include’s today’s 2-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, which turned on an unearned run in the fifth inning.
This runs counter to what kept the Giants afloat in May and propelled them ahead of the pack in June. Bumgarner on the mound used to mean an automatic win. Now, without a single position player performing better than expectations (other than maybe Mac Williamson) in recent weeks, the Giants can’t even count on a series win at home against the team with the second-worst record in the National League.
Time is running out (to make a trade without worrying about who clears waivers)
Other than wait for Joe Panik and especially Hunter Pence to return, which would both provide energy and give Bruce Bochy the ability to give Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt some much-needed rest, the only other options are patience and hope. Hope for better play in the days and weeks ahead, and hope for at least one deal this week.
The problem: this year’s trade market is awful, with impossibly high asking prices for late-inning relievers, which may be why the Giants are reportedly interested in Andrew Cashner. I know most of you don’t play fantasy baseball, and even less care about anyone else’s fantasy team, but I’ve owned Cashner in previous seasons … the Giants would be very smart to stay far, far away, even if they have this idea that making him a reliever in his contract year wouldn’t end disastrously.
Edinson Volquez is a possibility if the Giants want Matt Cain (or even Jake Peavy) insurance, but Wade Davis is “probably not realistic” according to one report.
The outfield market is well-stocked compared to the pitchers we know to be available. But the names all come with questions. Despite strong production when he played, Carlos Beltran left a bad aftertaste. Despite collecting roughly three hits per game for the first few months of the 2012 season, Melky Cabrera made the Giants nauseous. The A’s would never trade Josh Reddick across the Bay. Most of the others (Yasiel Puig, Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, Melvin Upton Jr.) are in the Giants’ division and come with their own questions and price tags. The Reds are supposedly looking for a “top prospect” in talks regarding Jay Bruce (who drilled a homer to right off Bumgarner today), which makes little to no sense for the Giants — not when Pence could be just around the corner and Mac Williamson is showing signs that he may be ready to transition to a full-time role relatively soon.
Yet it seems obvious — this team needs a little help to pull out of this 2-9 tailspin. The Giants look tired and can’t even beat the bottom-feeders, the same teams they got fat on during the second half. And looky-here, the Nats are in town tomorrow. The Giants aren’t crying about this recent stretch, but they aren’t winning either. Confidence, hitting, pitching and defense come and go, and it’s probably better for them to endure their roughest stretch in July than in September, when teams’ rosters are set. Well, as long as their injured regulars can return and/or they acquire some help by 1 pm on Monday.