Madison Bumgarner

Bumgarner gets Opening Day nod over Cain, as he should

Madison Bumgarner San Francisco Giants

Today Bruce Bochy announced his rotation, which will look like this:

  1. Madison Bumgarner
  2. Matt Cain
  3. Tim Hudson
  4. Tim Lincecum
  5. Ryan Vogelsong

A lot of people are surprised that Bumgarner got the honor over Cain, even though Bumgarner was the best pitcher on the staff last year by a wide margin. Most probably assumed Cain would be the team’s Opening Day starter for the second consecutive year because Tim Lincecum got the nod for four straight openers (2009-12), even though he wasn’t the same pitcher in 2010-11.

Cain started on Opening Day last year after leading the team in winning percentage and ERA in 2012. But despite pitching better in the second half, he had what most would consider a disappointing 2013. Cain gave up over a home run per nine innings (1.12, to be exact) for the first time in his career, while Bumgarner increased his strikeout rate to almost one per inning while lowering his HR/9 to 0.67.

With only one lefty in the rotation, it doesn’t really matter how Bochy lines up his starters. Since Bumgarner, 24, looks like he may be on the verge of becoming a perennial Cy Young candidate, it makes sense for the Giants to showcase their youngest starter as the ace he is. Besides, this isn’t a big deal since Bumgarner and Cain are buddies.

Since teams have different off days, No. 1 starters don’t always go against other No. 1s. After a quick look at the schedules to see if Bumgarner could go against Clayton Kershaw in the Giants’ second series of the season, it doesn’t appear likely. The Giants start play in Arizona on March 31, and Bumgarner’s next turn would come on Saturday, April 5 at Chavez Ravine.

The Dodgers start with a doubleheader in Australia on March 22. One would imagine they’d reset their rotation with a week off, which means Kershaw’s second start of the season would take place March 30. Unless the Dodgers use their April 3 off-day to skip one of their last two starters (which wouldn’t make much sense), Kershaw’s third start of the season would be on Sunday, April 6 … against Cain.

Bochy’s decision to give Bumgarner the ball first caught a lot of people off guard, but it’s a smart move to reward production instead of going with a veteran by default. Sure, Cain has the résumé to remain the team’s first starter of the season. But if we’re talking about the past, one can make equally strong cases for Lincecum or Hudson.

A quick story before we move on to other topics …

At the Amici’s charity event last year that Bochy attended with his wife to benefit the San Francisco Homeless Prenatal Program, I got to chat with the Giants manager in an informal setting for the first (and only) time. The conversation was off the record, but I imagine he wouldn’t mind me sharing one thing. When I brought up how much I appreciated Bumgarner’s dry sense of humor, Bochy smiled and said, “He’s one of my favorites.”

With Bumgarner under contract for several years and Bochy’s job security looking rock solid, Bumgarner may end up with an Opening Day streak that lasts longer than Lincecum’s. However, today’s decision shows that if Cain or any of the other starters pitches better than Bumgarner in 2014, they’ll probably pitch on Opening Day in 2015.

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