After beginning the postseason as one of the more underappreciated aces in baseball, Madison Bumgarner is now the foremost ace on everyone's mind.
Authoring one of the greatest postseasons in baseball history will do that for you. And make no mistake: The San Francisco Giants' 25-year-old southpaw has done just that.
For his latest feat, Bumgarner silenced the Kansas City Royals in Game 5 of the World Series with a four-hit shutout Sunday night at AT&T Park. A three-RBI night from Brandon Crawford and a two-run double by Juan Perez took care of the offense, and the Giants grabbed a 3-2 series lead with a 5-0 win.
As for Bumgarner, well, it's getting silly.
He was fantastic on his way to the World Series, and he's a big reason the Giants are now just one win away from their third championship in five years. He began by tossing seven one-run innings in a 7-1 victory in Game 1, and his Game 5 shutout was the first in the World Series since Josh Beckett's series-clincher in Game 6 of the 2003 Fall Classic.
Bumgarner might not be done yet. He won't start in Game 6 or, if necessary, Game 7 in Kansas City. But if the series does go to a Game 7, we could see him come out of the bullpen and attempt to add to what he's done this postseason.
But then again, Bumgarner doesn't need to add to his postseason to make it one for the books. Speaking to Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe, Giants skipper Bruce Bochy had the right idea:
Yes, Bruce. It is historic.
Man, is it historic. Really, we should talk about how historic it is.
Courtesy of ESPN.com, behold the totality of Bumgarner's 2014 postseason:
|Madison Bumgarner's 2014 Postseason|
The first place you can find history is in the quantity of Bumgarner's postseason.
Aside from him, only Curt Schilling in 2001 and Chris Carpenter in 2011 have started as many as six games in a single postseason. Bumgarner's 47.2 innings, meanwhile, are topped only by Schilling's 48.1 innings in 2001.
It's not just that Bumgarner has authored a lot of innings. He's authored a lot of good innings, too, and that's where the history gets even thicker.
Bumgarner's 41 strikeouts? Those tie him with Mike Mussina in 1997 for seventh-most in a single postseason. And of the guys with at least 41 strikeouts in a single postseason, only Bumgarner this year, Schilling in 2001 and Cliff Lee in 2010 walked six or fewer batters.
As for Bumgarner's 1.14 postseason ERA, where that ranks depends on where you set your limits. Going off Baseball-Reference.com's official limits, it's nowhere close to the postseason record of, ahem, 0.00 held by several pitchers.
If the scope is limited to only pitchers who have made as many as five starts in a single postseason, however, Bumgarner's ERA checks in at No. 5 out of 49:
- Burt Hooton, 1981: 0.82
- John Smoltz, 1996: 0.95
- Orel Hershiser, 1988: 1.05
- Curt Schilling, 2001: 1.12
- Madison Bumgarner, 2014: 1.13
As good as they are on their own, it doesn't get any better than mixing the quality of Bumgarner's postseason with the quantity of it. Do that, and you leave him with just one peer.
Bumgarner has lasted at least seven innings and given up no more than three earned runs in all six of his postseason starts. Aside from him, only Schilling in 2001 has ever done that.
Game Score tells the same story. All six of Bumgarner's starts have seen him post a Game Score over 60. Once again, only Schilling in 2001 has ever done that.
Which means that, yeah, we really have no choice but to compare what Schilling did in 2001 to what Bumgarner has done this year:
|Schilling's 2001 Postseason vs. Bumgarner's 2014 Postseason|
It's close. Darn close. Eerily close, even. So close that only nitpickery can determine which postseason was better.
To that end, you frankly have to side with Schilling. He has an extra complete game to match Bumgarner's extra shutout, and he also struck batters out at a higher rate. Then there's how two of his four starts came on three days' rest in the World Series, and how he did all that in an extremely offense-friendly environment.
As such, FanGraphs' Dave Cameron had a point when he wrote the following at Just a Bit Outside:
One could make a case that [Schilling's 2001] was the best single postseason any pitcher has ever had. It was just complete and utter domination, and the Schilling/Johnson combination put up performances that we may never see from another pair of teammates in October again.
Still, we don't need to consider what Bumgarner has done this October to be the greatest postseason pitching performance ever in order to properly appreciate it. That it's arguably the second-greatest postseason pitching performance ever is plenty good enough.
That it's also been a sort of a coming-out party for Bumgarner is something of a bonus.
Having already starred in two World Series in 2010 and 2012 while racking up the seventh-best WAR among National League pitchers between 2011 and 2014, Bumgarner should have been an established superstar well before this postseason. That he really wasn't tells you how easy it is to be overshadowed when you pitch alongside Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum and share a division with Clayton Kershaw.
The days of Bumgarner being overshadowed, however, are finished. After what he's done this postseason, everyone and their uncle and their uncle's uncle is aware of what he can do.
And I wouldn't count on anyone stealing his thunder anytime soon. Postseason performances like his are more easily found in legend than in reality.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.
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