Who came closest to matching Bumgarner's 2014 postseason?

Who came closest to matching Bumgarner's 2014 postseason?

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. 

Giants, Madison Bumgarner's camp talking with Dodgers rumor swirling

Giants, Madison Bumgarner's camp talking with Dodgers rumor swirling

SAN FRANCISCO -- Sure they're the ones talking to agents in suites, discussing blockbuster trades, and spending millions on players, but at points of the MLB Winter Meetings, Giants executives are just like their fans. 

That was the case Tuesday night, when Gerrit Cole reportedly agreed a record contract and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic immediately reported that the Dodgers, a finalist for Cole, would turn their attention to Madison Bumgarner. Rosenthal's tweet instantly caught the attention of officials in the team's suite and some who were wandering the lobby. Those who had already left for dinner discussed the news after ordering their wine. 

The report startled the fan base. It did not shake the front office. You won't find many people who work for the team who are confident that Bumgarner will be pitching in San Francisco next season, but the Giants also do not believe he'll actually end up with the Dodgers. 

"A smart negotiation tactic," one source said, smiling. 

The Dodgers reportedly bid about $300 million on Cole and were in on Anthony Rendon, who reportedly got $245 million from the Angels, but they don't have a recent history of spending big on free agents. Cole and Rendon were special cases because they were at the very top of their respective markets. 

Bumgarner, per sources familiar with his thinking, is seeking a deal in excess of $100 million. It's unknown just how high the Giants would go and they're not thought to be at the forefront of discussions, but president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi met with Bumgarner's agents on Tuesday and said Wednesday night that the Giants are still engaged with Bumgarner's camp. 

Most in the organization are still preparing for Bumgarner's departure, and it's unlikely that the latest rumors will change that thinking. Zaidi isn't one to be bullied into a move by the possibility of a popular player signing with a rival. This will be a baseball decision for the Giants.

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"We are kind of going through the process with all free agents based on where we are as an organization, what our direction is going to be, and there's a lot of rumors and a lot of innuendo and a lot of noise," Zaidi said Wednesday night when the latest rumor was brought up. "We just have to go based on what we know and the conversations that we're having."

MLB rumors: Giants bringing in Oracle Park fences, but only slightly

MLB rumors: Giants bringing in Oracle Park fences, but only slightly

The Giants promised there would be changes to the dimensions of Oracle Park, and they evidently have lived up to their word.

The fences are coming in -- but not by a ton.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle's Hank Schulman, San Francisco reportedly has marginally shortened the distance to all fields.

What about Triples Alley, you ask? Surely there must be more drastic changes to that area of Oracle Park, right?

Not really.

Six feet doesn't sound like a lot, but then again, Brandon Belt might have doubled his home-run total from last season under those dimensions. The Giants are removing the bullpen mounds from the first and third-base sidelines, and they are expected to be relocated to the extra space now created in the outfield.

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So, it appears Oracle Park generally will maintain the same character, but likely will allow for more offense. Given the trouble the Giants have had in attracting free-agent hitters, perhaps the shortened dimensions will somewhat detract from its identity as a pitcher's haven.