SAN FRANCISCO — Two years ago, as they drenched the visiting clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium in champagne and beer, Giants players and coaches gushed about Madison Bumgarner doing something we’ll never see again. They’re probably right, but as it turns out, Bumgarner himself was sort of on the path to pulling another Bumgarner.
He matched his Wild Card shutout and then gave up seven hits and three runs over five innings in his lone NLDS start, pretty similar to his seven-inning, three-run performance against the Nationals two years prior. Bumgarner likely would have backed Johnny Cueto in a Game 5, putting himself on pace for another heavy October workload.
Of course, the bullpen couldn’t get the Giants back to Chicago. The big lefty ended up throwing just 14 innings, leaving the postseason stage for other aces. Who came closest to matching his 2014 feat? To find the top candidates, all you have to do is look at a historic Game 7 that had a little bit of everything.
It might be a while before we see another pitcher come as close to Bumgarner’s relief performance as Jon Lester did Wednesday night. The World Series champ threw 55 pitches over three relief innings, getting the ball from Kyle Hendricks to Aroldis Chapman. Lester ended up leading the postseason with 35 2/3 innings and he had a 2.02 ERA across six appearances.
Indians starter Corey Kluber, who made three World Series starts, was right behind Lester at 34 1/3 postseason innings. He put up a 1.83 ERA for a team that had a similar issue to the 2014 Giants. That team needed Bumgarner to do so much because of ineffectiveness from the rest of an aging and fatigued rotation. The Indians needed every bit of Kluber’s magic because of injuries to starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. (Incredibly, they also did all of this without Michael Brantley, who finished third in the MVP voting two seasons ago.)
Lester and Kluber were brilliant, but neither got particularly close to Bumgarner’s 52 2/3 innings from 2014. To be fair, neither World Series team needed to get through the nine innings of a Wild Card Game. Lester and Kluber were also held back in part by the mechanics of a postseason that was unlike anything we've seen in recent years. This was the year of the bullpen, with star relievers carrying heavy loads. Six relievers pitched at least 10 postseason innings, including Kenley Jansen, who made himself millions as a multi-inning weapon, and Cody Allen, who was quietly dominant and saved six of Cleveland’s 10 wins.
Two former Yankees led the way. Andrew Miller pitched 19 1/3 innings over 10 appearances, striking out 30. Aroldis Chapman threw 97 pitches in the final three games of the World Series, and he pitched 2 2/3 innings in a season-saving Game 5 win that showed how teams in 2016 most closely replicated Bumgarner's 2014. For the most part, it was a tag team effort …
Kluber + Miller: 53 2/3 innings, 10 earned runs
Lester + Chapman: 51 1/3 innings, 14 earned runs
Bumgarner in 2014: 52 2/3 innings, 6 earned runs
Yeah … we’ll never see that again, but with the way the Giants are currently built, they won’t need another one-man show. The front office learned from that experience and spent the next two years chasing aces who could line up behind Bumgarner, including Lester, who got a home visit from Bruce Bochy, Buster Posey and others late in 2014 but chose the Cubs, where he could be part of such a historic moment.
That push eventually formed a roster that planned to get through October a different way. Only three pitchers threw more than 110 pitches in a postseason start this season: Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Matt Moore. In a year where relievers stole the headlines, it wasn't enough.