Bumgarner brings his best in series victory

Ace southpaw strikes out nine over 7 1/3 strong innings

Bumgarner brings his best in series victory

ATLANTA -- Madison Bumgarner looked prepared for the challenge that awaits the Giants. And make no mistake -- it's as formidable a challenge as any that has faced San Francisco during its five-year stretch of World Series success.

Bumgarner (12-6) summoned his best against the Atlanta Braves in San Francisco's 6-1 triumph. He ignored the sticky heat and humidity (gametime temperature: 86 degrees) to strike out nine and walk none in 7 1/3 innings. Displaying his considerable command, the left-hander threw 81 strikes in 116 pitches. And if that pitch count seemed high, consider that Monday's scheduled off-day will give him an extra day of rest before his next start.

A reporter suggested that performing before dozens of relatives and friends who made the four-hour drive from Bumgarner's North Carolina stomping grounds must have helped him thrive. "There may be something to that," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "But he has pitched well pretty much anywhere."

Bumgarner and the rest of the Giants must display that adaptability to strengthen their chances of returning to the postseason. Beginning with Thursday night's series opener against the Chicago Cubs, San Francisco will play 26 consecutive games spanning eight series against above-.500 teams. The field of opponents includes division leaders Houston, St. Louis and Los Angeles and current Wild Card rivals Pittsburgh, Washington and Chicago.

None of this fazes Bumgarner, last year's postseason hero.

"We've played good baseball against good teams; we've played good baseball against bad teams," Bumgarner said. "And it's been vice-versa. It's getting to be about that time when we have to start hitting our stride if we want to be successful."

Bumgarner hit his stride immediately against the Braves, striking out four in the first two innings. No Atlanta baserunners reached scoring position until Nick Markakis doubled with one out in the sixth. Bumgarner left the game after a replay review on Eury Perez's grounder reversed an "out" ruling. Otherwise, Bumgarner likely would have finished the eighth.

Even so, Bumgarner's enabled most members of San Francisco's overworked bullpen to rest. Only Hunter Strickland and Santiago Casilla appeared in the game. Said a grateful Bochy, "He (Bumgarner) got us where we needed."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.