Madison Bumgarner has blossomed into a full blown “Ace” in 2014. He’s always been a good pitcher, but this season he emerged from the shadows of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain to be the Giants’ undisputed best pitcher.
The other sign that he is the team’s ace — and this goes against my “stats guy” ethos — is that confidence the team has to mark down a win when his name is announced as the probable starter. Fangraphs had the odds of a Giants win yesterday at 48%. That seemed about 20% too low, based purely on my irrational trust in Bumgarner.
With the way he dealt with the Royals last night, it will be hard to imagine losing that trust any time soon.
Bumgarner pounded the strikezone, throwing 71 of his 106 pitches for strikes. He was consistently ahead of the Royals, getting first pitch strikes to 21 of 26 batters allowing him to dictate the game.
He changed sight lines on Kansas City’s hitters, pounding the top of the strike zone with 48 of his 61 fastballs and going below the zone with 15 of his 17 curveballs. He even broke out a couple slow curveballs at 67 mph just to toy with the Royals.
Poor Mike Moustakas saw this 67 mph curve after three 93 mph fastballs and an 88 mph cutter. He never stood a chance. Just to rub it in a bit more, here is the same pitch captured in slow motion.
All that said, Bumgarner wasn’t perfect last night. He didn’t have the same sharpness that he showed in earlier in the postseason, especially during his gems against Pittsburgh in the Wild Card game or at St. Louis in Game 1 of the NLCS. Early in the game he missed some spots, but was good enough (or fortunate enough) that he didn’t miss over the plate.
When he did get into trouble in the third inning after an error and a double, he and Posey were masterful at attacking the Royals’ aggressiveness. He got Alcides Escobar to go after four straight pitches at his shoulders, he overpowered Nori Aoki with 94 mph fastballs before making him look foolish on a curveball in the dirt, and he didn’t give into Lorenzo Cain before getting Eric Hosmer to ground out weakly on a slider.
It was almost like it took him having to deal with this high stress situation to settle down, as it was smooth sailing for the next four innings (minus one mistake to Salvador Perez with the game all but over).
Bumgarner got the Giants a pivotal Game 1 win — he put doubt into the minds of Royals fans, he swung home field advantage in the Giants’ favor going forward, and made the Royals hitters dread the thought of potentially having to face him in Game 5. All in a nights work for San Francisco’s 25-year-old ace.