In the aftermath of perhaps the most dominant individual offensive performance in the 109-year history of the World Series, the San Francisco Giants send young lefty Madison Bumgarner to the mound with an opportunity to earn his team a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Detroit Tigers.
Giants Manager Bruce Bochy entrusts Bumgarner with the tall order of taming a potent Tigers lineup, despite enormous postseason struggles in 2012. Bumgarner gets the nod mostly because San Francisco needed to use Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain in Games 6 & 7 of the NLCS, and won't have either available until the series shifts to Motown.
Bumgarner doesn't have to be perfect to get the job done, especially if slugging third baseman Pablo Sandoval continues to rake like he's Babe Ruth.
Sandoval is undoubtedly a gigantic story, emerging in Game 1 of the Fall Classic to crush three home runs in his first three plate appearances; a feat that had never been accomplished in World Series history. Even though the Giants pummeled the Tigers 8-3 at AT&T Park on Wednesday night, the storyline shifts as the first pitch of Game 2 approaches.
Bumgarner has been awful in the postseason, allowing 15 hits and ten runs in eight innings pitched, good enough for an 11.25 ERA. The Giants assure people that Bumgarner has fixed a mechanical flaw in his delivery, however. The southpaw will be tested against a Tigers lineup that features Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and powerful first baseman Prince Fielder.
It's not like that will deter Bumgarner and the Giants. San Francisco has outscored opponents 28-4 in their past four games.
Cabrera and Fielder combined for two hits and one RBI in seven at bats in their Game 1 defeat. Bumgarner has limited lifetime experience against both Tigers sluggers (Cabrera 1-for-3, Fielder 3-for-7 with one RBI).
It'll be crucial for Bumgarner to keep the Tigers in the park, as he's allowed three home runs in his two losses this postseason. The slinging left-hander is typically stout when pitching in the friendly confines of AT&T Park, recording a 10-3 record and 2.38 ERA in 15 regular season starts, but was knocked around by the Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLCS.
In NLCS Game 1, Bumgarner failed to finish the fourth inning and was relieved by Tim Lincecum.
Lincecum threw 32 pitches in 2.1 innings in Game 1 of the World Series, but said that he'd be ready to go if necessary for Game 2. He'll serve as a safety net for Bumgarner if the southpaw struggles for the third time this postseason.
Early run support for Bumgarner could be paramount in determining whether or not the left-hander will be effective. Bumgarner has had spotty control at best in the postseason and an early lead could enable him to throw more strikes.
The Giants have scored in the first inning in each of their last three games, and have had an inning in which they've scored at least three runs in all of their past four games.
Bumgarner will be opposed by Bay Area native Doug Fister, who's won both of his postseason starts. However, Fister hasn't been unhittable.
Fister has given up twelve hits in 13.1 innings pitched, and has also walked six for a WHIP of 1.35.
That's not a formula for success against a scrappy Giants lineup that feasts on long at bats, often creating run-scoring opportunities by methodically wearing down opponents through the simple concept of putting the ball in play.
The Giants' contact rate of 81.4 percent ranked among the best in baseball during the regular season, and they haven't missed a beat this postseason. Marco Scutaro has been relentless while compiling a .500 batting average in the NLCS, while also collecting his seventh multi-hit postseason game in Game 1 of the World Series.
Fister needs to keep Scutaro off the bases if Detroit is going to even the series.
The same can be said for lead-off hitter Angel Pagan. The top of the Giants order have accounted for 19 of the 61 runs they've scored in the postseason. The table-setters will ultimately determine whether or not Fister can escape a bounty of base runners.
Fister could face gigantic issues if he's forced to pitch to Sandoval and Posey with runners on base, possibly forcing Tigers Manager Jim Leyland to call upon his highly unreliable bullpen earlier than anticipated.
The Tigers will try to freeze the red-hot Giants to claim home field advantage, guaranteeing three home games at Comerica Park in Detroit, and they need to beat Bumgarner to do it.
The Giants are still hungry, and they have a whirlwind of confidence headed into battle behind a 16-game winner with a chance to take a commanding lead in the 2012 World Series.