You have to give credit where credit is due: the Giants are making all the right moves right now. Starting a struggling Madison Bumgarner in Game Two of the World Series is a risky move. After losing velocity towards the end of the year, and getting hit around in his first two postseason starts, Madison Bumgarner’s success tonight was by no means a fait acompli. The young left-hander lasted just 4.1 innings in his Game Two NLDS start against the Reds while giving up four earned runs. In his Game One NLCS start against the Cardinals, he last just 3.2 innings and was blasted for six earned runs.
The Giants then sat Bumgarner down and he hasn’t pitched in the past 11 days, until tonight.
Tonight’s pitching line: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 SO and a huge sigh of relief.
Bumgarner’s eight strikeouts in tonight’s start is a career postseason high and it shows up in his underlying numbers. In his first two postseason starts of this year, Bumgarner wasn’t missing bats. Against the Reds in his NLDS start, Bumgarner’s whiff-rate was 17.1 percent; in his start against the Cardinals, it was 16.1 percent. (For reference, Bumgarner’s whiff-rate — defined as misses/swings — in 2012 was 21.5 percent.) Tonight, the Tigers had trouble making contact. They took 42 swings against Bumgarner and whiffed 13 times — a whiff-rate of 31 percent. In 2012, Bumgarner only made two starts with a higher whiff-rate. Talk about pitching well when your team really needs you.
There are still a couple of warning signs with Bumgarner, mostly his velocity, which is still down. His max velocity in tonight’s game was 90.7 mph, down from 91.3 in his start against the Cardinals, which was down from 92.1 in his start against the Reds. The good news is that Bumgarner only needed to throw 86 pitches to get through seven innings. And most of those innings were low-stress. So some of the risk with pitching Bumgarner was likely mitigated to some degree, though how much it was mitigated is hard to say.
The Giants find themselves in great position as they head to Detroit for the next three games. The rotation — a worry to start the World Series — is now lined up nicely with Vogelsong pitching Game Three; Matt Cain scheduled for Game Four; and, if need be, potentially, some combination of Zito/Lincecum for Game Five.
Other important post-game ruminations:
* Allowing Brandon Crawford to bat against a LHP with the bases loaded and no outs in the 7th inning was a terrible decision by Bruce Bochy. After Gregor Blanco lays down an absolute pearl of a bunt to load the bases, Bochy allowed Crawford to take the AB against Detroit lefty, Drew Smyly. This really is the perfect opportunity to get Joaquin Arias into the game against the LHP. Crawford — who is a 72 wRC+ batter against LHP — promptly hit into a double play that, thankfully, because Jim Leyland was playing the infield back, allowed Hunter Pence to score from third base and put the Giants up 1-0. In the end, it didn’t cost the Giants anything, but it seems like a missed opportunity to gain the platoon advantage and possibly break the game wide open. I understand that you want your best defensive unit on the field, but Arias has handled SS fine this year and, basically, I break it down as: Arias vs. LHP + SS defense > Crawford vs. LHP + SS defense.
* Hunter Pence had a single and an RBI sac fly. This was probably Hunter Pence’s best postseason game. That says pretty much everything.
* It won’t be remembered as fondly as Romo’s 1-2-3 9th inning, but Santiago Casilla should get a lot of credit for his 1-2-3 8th inning. Casilla’s clean inning ensured that Romo would face Detroit’s 9-1-2 hitters in the 9th, keeping Miguel Cabrera in the dugout unless someone reached base, which they didn’t.