The San Francisco Giants weren’t as lifeless in Game 1 of the NLCS as they seemed a week ago during Game 2 of the NLDS, but Madison Bumgarner’s stuff was worse than we saw during that outing. After six days off, the Giants probably hoped that we’d see Bumgarner’s arm recover fully from his outing on Aug. 20 in Los Angeles that seems to have started all this.
Instead, Bumgarner allowed six earned runs, two home runs and nine baserunners over 3.2 innings.
Oh, it’s hindsight at it’s finest. But this pattern of Bumgarner pitching poorly started with eight shutout innings and 123 pitches on August 20. During that fantastic start at Chavez Ravine, Bumgarner’s four-seam fastball had an average speed of 91.8 mph (max 93.8), according to Brooks Baseball’s PitchFX Tool. He threw 68 four-seamers that evening, and only two two-seam fastballs (average speed: 92.25 mph).
Since that start, Bumgarner’s average four-seam fastball velocity has never reached 91.8 mph, and has steadily dropped to an average of under 90 mph in each of his last five starts.
And the problem isn’t just related to velocity. In that last great start in L.A., Bumgarner got 15 “whiffs” (swings-and-misses), six from the four-seamer and nine from his slider. Here are his whiff numbers for each of the starts that followed, with the slider number in parentheses.
“I think [he’s] just struggling with command,” Buster Posey said after Game 1. “Breaking balls not getting buried in. It doesn’t have quite the same finish on it. I’d say that’s the main thing.”
In a related story, Carlos Beltran hit a slider over the left field wall to knock Bumgarner out of Game 1.
What Bumgarner thinks
-Q: How do you feel your stuff was tonight?
-BUMGARNER: Uh, not very good. I mean, that’s the way it’s been the past few starts. Not a whole lot of life on the ball. But at the same time you’ve still got to find a way to make pitches.
It’s just in cases where stuff might not be as sharp , you’ve got to find a way to get it where it’s supposed to go. Just missing over the plate a little bit on some of them.
-Q: How did you feel compared to your last start?
-BUMGARNER: About the same.
-Q: Are you basically just gutting through it at this point in the season?
-BUMGARNER: Yeah, I mean… trying to. Trying to just cut back on stuff in between and just go out there and try to fight through it make pitches. Just having a hard time with it right now.
-Q: Are there any health issues?
-BUMGARNER: No, body feels great. Just, like I said, the stuff’s not where it normally is.
It’s not a good sign that Bumgarner is cutting back on his work in between starts, because it means nothing else — video work, mechanical tweaks, etc. — is working. But shutting him down for the rest of the season isn’t an option. Or is it?
“He came out with good stuff, but it dropped a little bit,” manager Bruce Bochy said when asked if a change to the rotation was coming. “We’ll talk about it tonight, tomorrow, and as we get to Game 5 what we will do. But, he’s one of our guys. He’s had a great year, and we’ve seen what this kid has done for us during the season and in the postseason. But, it’s something that we’ll discuss.”
It sounds like Bochy, Dave Righetti and Brian Sabean have a difficult decision to make in regards to Game 5. One decision that has probably already been made: keep Bumgarner’s pitch count below 120 for the rest of the time he’s on the club.
— Tim Lincecum as a reliever is a luxury item. A really shiny, highly-coveted luxury item with the way he’s pitching right now (as opposed to the Jeff Keppinger-style “we’ll call him one so we don’t piss off his agent, who knows an offer isn’t coming” luxury item). If Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain are all pitching to their capabilities, sure. At this point, it might make sense to let Lincecum take Bumgarner’s place in the rotation and make Bumgarner the emergency reliever like in Game 6 of the 2010 NLCS against Philadelphia.
— No, you can’t just shut Bumgarner down. Not when Guillermo Mota is lurking.
— What a frustrating day of Bay Area sports Sunday was (uh, Niners — wha’ happened?), and if you included Stanford’s overtime loss to Notre Dame you could call this past weekend one of the more disappointing in recent memory. I halfway expected Andre Ward to lose on Sunday night in some unannounced title bout.
— In case you missed the Joe Buck “Frisco” thing, here it is. At least based on the Facebook response, it seems like there are people out there who not only say “Frisco,” but are pretty strong supporters of a local’s right to do so.
— The Giants’ two extra-base hits came from the No. 7 (Gregor Blanco’s triple) and No. 8 (Brandon Crawford’s double) hitters.
— Everyone will call this a “bullpen series” after Game 1. Short sighted? Sure. But when both bullpens combine to pitch 10.2 innings in which only two hits and three walks are allowed, it’s hard to blame people for jumping to conclusions.
— That included a perfect inning from Jeremy Affeldt, something that didn’t seem so likely (this soon, anyway) after he took that spill down the dugout stairs in Game 5 of the NLDS.
— Pablo Sandoval made his second error of the postseason; no other Giants position player has made one error.
— It’s about time for the Giants to win a home game so it doesn’t become a thing. As someone who’ll be in attendance for Game 2, Monday would be a good time for the Giants to figure out how to win in San Francisco again.