The San Francisco Giants' Madison Bumgarner is one of the best left-handers in baseball. He's a three-time All-Star, a three-time World Series champion and a National League Championship Series and World Series MVP.
Here's a scary thought for opposing hitters: He might also be getting better.
After holding the powerful Boston Red Sox to one run on four hits through six innings in Wednesday's 2-1 Giants victory at AT&T Park, Bumgarner ranks among the top five pitchers in baseball in ERA (1.88), strikeouts (99) and innings pitched (86).
He's been especially dominant over his last nine starts, lasting at least six innings and giving up two earned runs or fewer in each. The Giants, not coincidentally, have gone 9-0 in those starts.
San Francisco's offseason rotation additions, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, are paying significant dividends. But Bumgarner remains the backbone of the Giants' starting five, the unmitigated stud in the stable.
We've seen this guy before, most notably in the 2014 postseason, when he set an array of records and essentially carried the Giants single-handedly to their third title in a five-year span.
In case you need a refresher, here's a look back at his legendary relief appearance in Game 7 of the World Series against the Kansas City Royals:
Now, Bumgarner is doing his October dance in June.
For all he's accomplished, it's worth remembering that Bumgarner is only 26 years old, an age when many talented pitchers are just rounding into form. And to hear him tell it, he recently worked out a mechanical flaw that's been nagging him since last season.
"That's the best I've felt all year," he said June 2 after fanning 11 in 7.2 innings in a 6-0 win over the Atlanta Braves, per Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle. "Today was the first time in a year and a half I felt like I had it pretty much where I wanted it."
A lot of the talk about Bumgarner lately has centered on his stated desire to compete in the Home Run Derby at this year's All-Star Game.
That's a fun distraction, and it would be Twitter-breaking entertainment. Heck, with the 11 home runs he's cracked over the last three years and the enviable pop he displays in batting practice, he might even have a shot at winning the thing.
That's a sideshow, though, a diversion from the undeniable reality that Bumgarner has vaulted himself into the upper echelon of aces.
The Los Angeles Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw remains the best pitcher on the planet until further notice. Reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs belongs squarely in the conversation. And bolt-throwing New York Mets sophomore Noah Syndergaard is making his move.
Toss in Bumgarner and you've got one heck of an awards race in the making.
Despite a run of five consecutive seasons of 200 innings or more and ERAs of 3.37 and below, Bumgarner has never finished higher than fourth in NL Cy Young Award balloting. This could be the year that changes.
Mostly, for fans of transcendent pitching, this is about as awesome as it gets.
The Giants still have questions at the back end of their rotation; Jake Peavy vacillates between serviceable and dreadful, and Matt Cain is on the disabled list. Offensive cog Hunter Pence is also out after undergoing hamstring surgery, and the bullpen has shown signs of vulnerability.
But that Bumgarner/Cueto/Samardzija troika should have Bay Area fans thinking even-year thoughts.
As ESPN.com's Mark Simon noted, Bumgarner's velocity has trended upward as the season has progressed. Simon added that he's continued to lean on his sweeping, bat-missing slider:
The slider takes its toll on many a pitcher's arm, but Bumgarner has managed to maintain his effectiveness and indestructibility regardless of how many he throws. Over the past three seasons (including postseason), Bumgarner has thrown a major league-high 2,750 sliders. Two right-handed pitchers -- injured Tyson Ross (2,691) and Chris Archer (2,607) -- rank second and third. The next most by a lefty is Kershaw's 2,120.
Go ahead, talk about the home runs. Bumgarner might prefer that, as he clearly takes pride in his hitting.
Just remember to mention him among the best pitchers in the game. And ask yourself the following question: If he's doing this in June, what can we expect come October?
All statistics current as of June 8 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.