Pecos Bill, John Henry, Paul Bunyan, Madison Bumgarner. While the latter name is a little newer than the others, he’s no doubt carved himself a nice little niche in the annals of American folklore. It’s a perfect fit, too, a country boy from North Carolina whose Southern drawl stands in stark contrast to the erudite mecca of progressiveness in which he plies his trade. Google, Twitter, Uber, MadBum.
Dude’s postseason stats alone are enough to spur urban legends, as he’s gone 8-3 with a 1.94 ERA over 15 appearances in the Giants’ last four October runs. That’s the best ever by a pitcher with at least a dozen such starts, buoyed by six scoreless efforts that tie him with Tom Glavine for the most all-time. It gets even more amazing when we work back from his complete-game shutout in this season’s NL Wild Card, an effort that ran his winner-take-all scoreless innings streak to 23. Over his last nine trips to the mound in the playoffs, MadBum boasts a 0.79 ERA and a 0.67 WHIP.
Adding to the height of the tales being told about the burly southpaw are the tape-measure home runs he hits in both BP and in games. Just the other day, one of his practice cuts resulted in a shot off the Wrigley video board in right as he lamented that the wind blowing in prevented it from going farther. This is a guy who was allowed to hit for himself in a game played in an AL park and who came in as a pinch hitter in the 5th inning of Game 2 of this NLDS. Feeling good about the Cubs’ chances against him yet?
Here’s the thing, though: there’s a point at which all great runs must end. So many have been lauding MadBum’s transcendent streak, rightfully so, but it doesn’t see that anyone’s really willing to admit that it’s also an aberration. Not that he’s a middling pitcher who has somehow managed to fish these results from his backside, just that there’s a very real possibility for regression in the near future. While that might not happen against the Cubs in Game 3, a shift back to the mean is inevitable at some point.
And why not Monday night? After all, Bumgarner’s performance down the stretch prior to that Wild Card gem was anything but indicative of Cy Young worthiness. In his last 15 regular-season starts (97 IP) dating back to July 15, the ace posted a 3.80 ERA (3.66 FIP) and had given up 4 or more earned runs six times. He also gave up a .278 BABIP and 1.30 home runs per 9 innings, both up a little over his season averages.
“I have feeling in both ways, and I’m still looking for that thought that pushes you in a different direction,” Joe Maddon said of trying to get over on Bumgarner. “But I definitely have strong opinions about (Game 3), and I have been talking to different folks. So you may see something slightly altered.”
Maddon was talking about his lineup and defensive positioning for Monday night, but he may as well have been talking about the stat lines that have formed the basis for urban legends. I’ve been vocal on Twitter over the last couple of days when it comes to my confidence in the Cubs’ ability to best Bumgarner and move on to the NLCS. When pressed for a reason, I can do little more than parrot Maddon’s thoughts above. Sometimes you just have a feeling and you run with it to psych yourself up.
I’m still a little worried about Jake Arrieta, who has shown a maddening inability to repeat his mechanics from game to game or even inning to inning. Even so, that fear is overwhelmed by the same inexplicable gut feeling that tells me the Cubs will get to Arrieta’s counterpart. Or maybe that’s just gas.