Elite Bumgarner sets tone for Giants rotation

May 23rd, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO -- With all due apologies to Jake Arrieta, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner is the best pitcher in the National League.

Kershaw and Arrieta have the regular-season hardware and Greinke the numbers, but none of them have Bumgarner's three World Series rings.

Bumgarner's 4-0 record and one save with an 0.25 ERA -- 14 hits and one earned run -- in five World Series games is what legends are made of and separates him from the rest of the NL elite.

"There are so many good choices and, sure, I'm going to be biased because of what he's done for me and this organization," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Sunday night before Bumgarner threw 7 2/3 innings of three-hit ball in a 1-0 win over the Cubs at AT&T Park. "He's young and strong. He's a great teammate. If you were selecting one player to start an organization, he's got all the attributes you'd want if you went with a pitcher."

Bumgarner not only pitched well, he drove in the only run of the game with a fifth-inning double. It was the first time in his seven-year career Bumgarner won a 1-0 game, previously going 0-23 in 29 starts with only one run of support.

The left-hander sets the tone for the rest of the Giants' starting rotation, which is on a roll now right behind him going into Monday night's opener of a three-game series against the Padres that will end this six-game homestand.

The Giants have won 10 of their last 11 to reassert themselves in the NL West, and in this latest run, the rotation has recorded 10 quality starts -- six innings having allowed three runs or fewer.

In eight of them, the starters allowed one run, and Sunday was the first time during that span a starter had allowed none. Bumgarner has done it three times in his last three starts, allowing a single run in the first two, none Sunday, and winning all three.

"He competes, man, he competes," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's out there with one purpose. I mean, his stuff's good, don't get me wrong, but people talk about the heart. What have you got going on inside? He's got a lot. I can understand why you want him in a big game and why they love him here."

The Giants won the World Series in 2010, '12 and '14, and this is again an even year. Starting pitching was the anchor to all those title seasons and Bumgarner is the only starter who contributed mightily in winning each title. What kind of impact does he have on the the rest of the rotation? In 2016, the front-line pitchers have already recorded 28 quality starts in the club's first 46 games.

"It's pretty good, but really, we're not paying much attention to the kind of run we're on," Bumgarner said. "Everybody takes their day. It's one day at a time and they're not worried about what the last guy did or what the next guy's going to do. They're just going out there trying to do their job."

The only recent outlier was Jake Peavy's 1 2/3 innings of seven-hit, five-run ball in an 8-1 loss to the Cubs on Friday night, matching the shortest start of his career. That's the Giants' only loss since May 10.

The Giants are 21-7 in games started this season by Bumgarner and newcomers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, 6-12 in games started by Peavy and Matt Cain.

Cain has come on in his most recent three starts after a series of right arm injuries truncated his previous two seasons. Peavy, despite the most recent drubbing, has shown signs of recovery as well.

With everything humming, Bochy said Peavy's spot in the rotation is secure.

Asked if Peavy, 3-6 with an 8.21 ERA, was on a short leash, Bochy said:

"I don't have a leash on him right now so I don't know how long a leash I have. That's my confidence in Jake. The five starters are going to continue to go and, no, we're not moving anyone around."

Bochy's confidence in Peavy goes back to the days when the right-hander was 20 years old and came up in the Padres system when Bochy was the manager there.

Bochy's confidence in Bumgarner harkens back to his rookie year of 2010 and went into full bloom in 2014 when Bumgarner won four times in five postseason starts, saving Game 7 of the World Series against the Royals in Kansas City only three days after starting and winning Game 5 right here.

For his 2-0 record, save and 0.43 ERA, Bumgarner was named MVP of a World Series that came down to the very last pitch.

"It's very impressive what he's done in the postseason," Bochy said. "There's no question that what he did in '14 is the best postseason a pitcher's had in the history of baseball. We probably wouldn't have won Game 7 without him. At least I didn't think we could win without him being out there. It was pretty incredible."

At 26, it's not as if Bumgarner is slowing down. He's just as tough, just as effective, and he's 6-2 with a 2.17 ERA. The best of the best in the NL.