MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Bumgarner truly among game's elite pitchers

Bumgarner truly among game's elite pitchers

MILWAUKEE -- Next up in the career progression for Madison Bumgarner would be a regular-season award. His work requires no further validations, but the National League Cy Young Award would seem to be completely appropriate.

Bumgarner's 2015 record is 6-2 with a 3.00 ERA. He has walked just 12 and struck out 55 in 63 innings. Bumgarner has set the bar sufficiently high that an outing that qualifies as a quality start can leave people asking what went wrong.

In the Giants' 6-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday night, Bumgarner gave up three runs over six innings. By the numbers, that was a substantially less than average night for him. But the victory was the 10th in the last 12 games for San Francisco, and three of those victories belong to Bumgarner.

Bumgarner is not pitching for personal achievements, and the Giants aren't playing for those, either. But the success of this left-hander and this team became permanently entwined last October, when Bumgarner put on a postseason performance that was historically great and San Francisco won its third World Series in five seasons.

In those three World Series, Bumgarner is 4-0 with an ERA of 0.25. To those people who insist that Bumgarner is something less than one of the absolute best, this kind of postseason domination says: "Oh, yes, he is." This is one time when greatness gets defined in baseball, and it is the time when Bumgarner has been at his best.

"The postseason is the stuff of legend, really," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell, who as a player was a member of two World Series championship teams. "The postseason is historical stuff. [Bumgarner's performance] is among the greatest, and nobody can argue with that. He has made himself one of the best pitchers in the game. He's a big challenge. It's [Clayton Kershaw] and Bumgarner, those are the lefties that you say them in the same sentence now. "

Tuesday night, Baumgarner was very tough and pitch-efficient over the first five innings. But a deeper start was precluded when he ran into difficulty in the sixth with a leadoff walk, followed by a single and a double. Baumgarner gave up two runs and left with a 5-3 lead.

"Bum threw great; real nice job," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "That long inning caught up with him. He looked like he was good to go another two or three [innings] after the fifth, but the sixth took a lot out of him.

"But he did a real nice job. He had good stuff."

Bumgarner's own estimation of his work was more critical than that.

"The last thing you want to do is a leadoff walk, when the score is [5-1] that late in the game," Bumgarner said. "I needed to make pitches right there and didn't. Just getting behind guys too much.

"I was hoping to stick around a little longer than I did, but we just had a long inning there in the sixth. [The first five innings] were pretty decent, the efficiency was probably a little better than it has been of late, but I just had a rough sixth inning."

Still, Bumgarner has not given up more than three earned runs in a start since mid-April. In the regular season, he has been a consistent winner, but not a media sensation. Baumgarner does not light up the radar gun. He does not much care about selling himself.

So when people try to explain what makes Baumgarner work, you hear phrases such as "deceptive delivery." There is that, but the opposition knows that there is much more than that at work.

"It's more than just delivery," Counsell says of Bumgarner's success. "He's good at what he does. His fastball has life on it. It's not a big, huge-velocity number, but it definitely is a special fastball. He's a great competitor. He's great at those situations where the pressure rises, but he stays the same, he makes pitches. That's a trait that you see in the best pitchers. They don't let situations beat them. They kind of take over those situations."

"Taking over those situations" is precisely what Madison Bumgarner has done in October in the last three even-numbered years. He is not yet 26 years old and he has repeatedly reached the top of the game.

Baumgarner has been named an MVP of a League Championship Series and a World Series in the same October. A Cy Young Award would round out the awards calendar for him. But if Baumgarner never wins one of those, he'll still have standing among the greats in baseball history.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.