For the second time in three seasons, the Giants will send Madison Bumgarner to the mound in a winner-take-all National League wild-card game Wednesday with their hope of another deep even-year postseason run on the line.
The first turned out pretty well. In 2014, Bumgarner threw a four-hitter with 10 strikeouts in an 8-0 win over the host Pittsburgh Pirates. He received all the support he needed when Brandon Crawford hit a fourth-inning grand slam against Edinson Volquez.
Bumgarner opposed Volquez because the Pirates used their top two starters in the final weekend of the season trying to win the division. That will not be the case Wednesday at Citi Field.
Every day’s different, but I mean for this time of year, for any time, I feel as good as I did in April. … You plan on playing into October and November, so you got to make sure you put the work in so you can do that.
Madison Bumgarner, Giants pitcher
The New York Mets will start their ace, Noah Syndergaard, against Bumgarner in what became a highly anticipated matchup the moment the Giants clinched the second wild-card spot with a 7-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Sunday’s season finale.
“It’s going to be a heavyweight fight,” Giants center fielder Denard Span said during the clubhouse celebration Sunday. “We’re going to have to pack our lunch, and they’re going to have to pack their lunch. Two of the best pitchers in the game are going to be squaring off that night for a chance to move on.”
Bumgarner did not shy from superlatives when asked about Syndergaard, the tall, long-locked right-hander nicknamed “Thor” after the hammer-wielding Norse god.
“He’s obviously got really good stuff,” Bumgarner said Sunday. “Probably the best stuff for a starter in all of baseball.”
Asked what stands out about Syndergaard’s stuff, Bumgarner gave a laconic chuckle.
“His 100-mph fastball that he can command really good and his 94-mph slider,” Bumgarner said. “You don’t see that every day.”
Syndergaard parlayed those assets this year into a 14-9 record and 2.60 ERA that was third-lowest in the majors. Bumgarner was right behind with a career-best 2.74 ERA, going 15-9 and striking out a career-high 251 (fourth) in 226 2/3 innings (tied for fourth).
Bumgarner also has an impressive postseason résumé, with a 2.14 ERA in 88 1/3 innings. He had one of the best postseasons by a pitcher in 2014 with a 1.03 ERA in 52 2/3 innings, including wins in Games 1 and 5 of the World Series and five innings of scoreless relief to wrap up Game 7.
I think any team would love to go into a one-game playoff with Madison on the bump. He’s a workhorse. He’s been that since he showed up.
Sergio Romo, Giants closer
“I think any team would love to go into a one-game playoff with Madison on the bump,” Giants closer Sergio Romo said. “He’s a workhorse. He’s been that since he showed up.”
Bumgarner pitched a career high in innings this season, but he told reporters after one mid-September start in Los Angeles, “The tank’s running low for sure.” On Sunday, though, he said fatigue is not an issue entering the playoffs.
“Every day’s different,” he said, “but I mean for this time of year, for any time, I feel as good as I did in April. … You plan on playing into October and November, so you got to make sure you put the work in so you can do that.”
Bumgarner had his two highest ERAs by month in August (4.14) and September (3.92), but the Giants are starting him Wednesday over Johnny Cueto, who is 4-0 with a 1.78 ERA in his last five starts.
“You have some good options there,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I think we all know what Madison’s done in a game like that, and he has been our guy who led us through the last one. But I’d be good with either one. That’s how much I think of both of them.”
If the Giants beat the Mets, Bochy said Cueto will start Game 1 of the division series against the Chicago Cubs on Friday at Wrigley Field.
But Syndergaard and the Mets, the defending N.L. champions, stand in the way. The last time Syndergaard faced the Giants, at AT&T Park in August, he threw eight shutout innings in a 2-0 win. But Bumgarner is 4-0 with a 0.62 ERA in four starts at Citi Field.
“They got their guy, we got our guy,” Bochy said. “It’s going to be a great matchup.”