Bumgarner vs Syndergaard brings 'heavyweight fight' to Wild Card Game

Bumgarner vs Syndergaard brings 'heavyweight fight' to Wild Card Game

NEW YORK — Madison Bumgarner believes it’s important to stick to your routine when the postseason rolls around. So there he was Tuesday afternoon, running the warning track at Citi Field as he has in every ballpark this season. During BP, he stuck to what has worked, hitting a steady stream of homers to the second deck and letting an angry yelp fly when one swing resulted in a liner that didn’t clear the outfield grass. 

Bumgarner even stuck to the script during his press conference. He enjoys tweaking reporters who ask lazy questions, and when one New York writer asked him to talk about the “most important thing to do” to “win this important game,” Bumgarner stirred.

“We have to find a way to score more runs than they do tomorrow,” he said. “And we’ll be all right if we do that.”

That task is a difficult one, even for a group that has won this game before and is riding high after a four-game winning streak that clinched a postseason spot. This is not 2014, when the Pirates burned Gerrit Cole and ended up throwing Edinson Volquez against Bumgarner. This matchup is dead even.

Noah Syndergaard finished third in the league in ERA (2.60), second in home run rate (0.54 per nine innings) and fourth in strikeout rate (10.6 per nine). Bumgarner’s profile had highlights in some different areas, but was just as dominant. He ranked second in innings (226 2/3), fourth in ERA (2.74), sixth in WHIP (1.02) and seventh in strikeout rate (9.97). To top it off, only two big league pitchers homered three times this season: Bumgarner and Syndergaard.

It is a matchup of two aces, one who has the best big-game reputation in the sport and another who has the biggest arm of any starter.

“It’s going to be a heavyweight fight, man,” center fielder Denard Span said. “We’re going to have to pack our lunch and they’re going to have to pack their lunch.”

As the two teams gathered for light on-field workouts Tuesday, both starters looked at ease and ready to lock in. Syndergaard faced the cameras with a headband holding in place his flowing hair. He said he is not nervous, but rather “anxious and just excited to get out there and compete.”

That excitement tends to manifest itself in one of the best fastballs in baseball history. During last year’s World Series run, Syndergaard’s heater averaged 98 mph and maxed out at 101. He hit 102 earlier this season and threw at least one pitch in triple digits in five of his last six starts. Per Baseball Savant, the Giants had just 14 hits on pitches 98 mph or above, with only eight of those coming from players expected in Wednesday’s lineup.

The Giants consider themselves a good fastball-hitting group, and Bruce Bochy expressed confidence in his lineup’s ability to hit premium velocity. But Syndergaard doesn’t stop there. His slider comes in at a devastating 95 mph, his changeup sits in the low 90s, and he mixes in a curve.

“He’s got an arsenal of weapons,” right fielder Hunter Pence said. “You can’t just go in and be like, oh, this guy throws hard, so I’m going to have to hit a fastball, because sometimes they don’t throw it for a strike. You’ve just got to get in there with a game plan and a preparation and understand that it’s timing. It’s having an approach and trusting that approach and trusting your teammates.”

The approach worked in May, when the Giants scored four off Syndergaard and knocked him out in the sixth. In August, they saw him at his best. Syndergaard gave up just two hits in eight innings of a win that helped vault the Mets to this point. 

“I think he’s grown as a pitcher,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “I think he trusts his stuff a lot more now to where he pitches to more contact and he’s (not) worried about striking guys out.”

Bumgarner’s postseason history speaks for itself, but it’s not the only thing pointing to a huge night for the left-hander. In four career starts at City Field, Bumgarner is 4-0 with a 0.62 ERA (the lowest of any pitcher with 20-plus innings) and 0.83 WHIP. He has 31 strikeouts in New York to just nine walks. 

“It’s just worked out that way for whatever reason,” Bumgarner said. “I’m certainly glad it has, but I don’t think there’s any good reason for it.”

Regardless, he has looked comfortable on the Mets’ field, and that can only help given the task ahead. The Giants hope to be playing baseball all month. If they are, they might not be part of another matchup as intriguing as the one between two hulking All-Star right-handers.

“It’s the best versus the best,” Pence said. “It’s two Goliaths going at it, two big guys, and that makes for some good drama, some good excitement. You know, that’s the fun of playoff baseball. Getting out there and competing against the best.”

Jeff Samardzija to miss start of season after MRI reveals strained pectoral muscle


Jeff Samardzija to miss start of season after MRI reveals strained pectoral muscle

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants nearly left Scottsdale unscathed. Instead they'll leave with an injured No. 3 starter, but the news on Jeff Samardzija late Thursday night was good news. 

Manager Bruce Bochy told reporters that Samardzija has a strained pectoral muscle that will sideline him for the start of the season. But given that Samardzija, who has had a rough spring, went for an MRI on his shoulder a week before the season opener, team officials have to be breathing a sigh of relief. 

"He'll go a week without throwing the ball and then crank it back up," Bochy told reporters, including Kerry Crowley of the San Jose Mercury News. "It should't take long to get him back on the mound so it's good news."

Samardzija was supposed to take the ball next Saturday at Dodger Stadium. Instead, the Giants will rely on two young pitchers and a non-roster invitee at the back end of their rotation. The injury ends a three-way race for the final two spots between Chris Stratton, Ty Blach and Derek Holland. The Giants could use all three in the rotation until Samardzija is healthy, or they could skip their No. 5 starter and move one of the pitchers into the bullpen. 

Because the Giants have two off days before their seventh game, Madison Bumgarner can line up to pitch three of the first nine games. The Giants have been considering that all spring, although they have yet to publicly announce a decision one way or the other. Bumgarner said early in camp that he would be up to the challenge, and given how sharp he was all spring, that might be the best way to tread water until Samardzija is cleared to return to the rotation.

No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers


No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers

SCOTTSDALE — A couple of veterans walked past a clubhouse TV earlier in camp and saw that the Giants and Padres were tied heading into the bottom of the 10th of an exhibition game. The Padres infielders were just standing around, and there was not yet a new pitcher on the mound. 

“It’s that time when No. 99 comes in to pitch,” one of the players joked as he headed home for the day.

A few seconds later, a big left-hander took the mound. He was, in fact, wearing No. 99, and in his inning on the mound he would face a No. 74 (Aramis Garcia) and No. 78 (Steven Duggar). This is the norm for spring training, when dozens of players — including teenagers and journeymen still hanging around the low minors — get into every game. That leads to action between numbers you would never see in a normal game. The Giants had 60 players in camp, plus 10 coaches and staff members with numbers. Throw in their 10 retired numbers and the unofficially retired ones (25, 55, etc.) and, well, there aren’t a whole lot of choices left. 

If Duggar makes the Opening Day roster, he’ll get an upgrade from his lineman’s number. Ditto for Garcia, who could be Buster Posey’s backup as soon as next season. Still, a taste of big league action doesn’t guarantee a normal number in camp, when young players regularly find themselves back at the end of the line. 

Ryder Jones wore 83 in camp last year and 63 in the big leagues. When he showed up this year, with 150 big league at-bats under his belt, he was told that he would have to wait until the end of the spring to upgrade. Players with more service time (think No. 2 Chase d’Arnaud or No. 19 Josh Rutledge) get priority, at least until all the cuts are made. Jones said he has a few numbers in mind for his next stint in the big leagues, but he won’t be picky. 

“Anything under 40 works,” he said, smiling. 

The steady climb toward single digits happens to just about everybody. Long before Brandon Crawford’s became @bcraw35, he wore 79 in his first camp. He moved up to 53 after that and Mike Murphy flipped that to 35 when Crawford became the big league shortstop. Hunter Pence doesn’t remember his first spring training number with the Astros, but he knows it was in the low eighties. Joe Panik wore 66 the first time he spent a spring at Scottsdale Stadium. “I was an offensive lineman,” he joked. Tyler Beede, now on the cusp of his big league debut, got promoted from 63 to 32 when he arrived last spring, only to swap to 38 this year because of some in-season shifting. When Pablo Sandoval arrived last summer, Steven Okert switched from 48 to 32.

Then there are those who have only known one jersey. Posey was a can’t-miss prospect when he arrived and doesn’t remember wearing anything other than 28. Brandon Belt was a top-25 prospect when he came to camp for the first time, and he’s been 9 since that day. Madison Bumgarner wore 40 in his first big league camp because he had already made his big league debut, but somewhere in the team archives, there are probably a few photos of a 19-year-old Bumgarner wearing something else. 

“The previous spring I came up to pitch a few times,” Bumgarner said. “I’m pretty sure I had a different number every time I came over and I’m pretty sure it was always in the eighties.”

There were seven Giants in the eighties this spring. Duggar was one of two top prospects — Chris Shaw inherited Crawford’s old 79 — to come close, and he didn’t mind one bit. He’s not thinking too far ahead, even though he could be a big leaguer in eight days. 

“I’ll take anything if I’m in the big leagues,” he said. “I’ll take No. 112 if that’s what they give me.”