Max Muncy just took home gold at the Troll Olympics.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy warned the arch-rival Dodgers not to poke the bear, that bear being gruff left-hander Madison Bumgarner. Big as a grizzly and just as mean, the Giants’ 6’4,” rattle-snake-killing ace is not to be trifled with. But the Dodgers, emboldened by their recent string of good fortune—they’ve opened up a 10-game lead over the second-place Rockies in the NL West—were willing to risk it all on Thursday. And surprisingly, they lived to tell about it.
Thursday’s hosts didn’t heed Bochy’s advice in the slightest. The Dodgers taunted MadBum at every turn, prodding the Giants workhorse with reminders of his infamous feud with Muncy (who he barked at for pimping a home run in their previous dalliance), donning commemorative t-shirts immortalizing the infielder’s epic clap-back (“Go get it out of the ocean” was the iconic quote) and to top it off, a series of inspired music choices. “Under The Sea” was a brilliant touch by the Dodgers’ organist (that was played during Muncy’s first at-bat) while “Cake By the Ocean,” which came over the stadium speakers following Bumgarner’s third-inning strikeout, was another well-placed dig at the team’s long-time nemesis.
I’m sure there’s a lesson about hubris buried somewhere within L.A.’s well-choreographed roast of Bumgarner (maybe late night on Comedy Central would have been a better venue than Chavez Ravine for Thursday’s festivities), a former World Series MVP nearing the conclusion of his Giants’ tenure (more on that in a minute). But they must have caught the baseball gods snoozing because rather than being struck down for their sins, the Dodgers lived like kings, dismantling Bumgarner to the tune of 10 hits and six runs in just 3 2/3 innings. The six runs, including one courtesy of Muncy’s RBI single in the first, were the most the 29-year-old had ever allowed in his 35 career appearances against the Dodgers. The Pacific Ocean didn’t capture any baseballs this time around—they would have had to play on the pier at Santa Monica—but that didn’t stop Los Angeles from pounding three homers including two off Bumgarner in a 9-8 victory.
Thursday’s implosion did more than bruise Bumgarner’s ego. It annihilated his ERA, which skyrocketed from 3.87 all the way to its current resting spot at 4.28. There’s plenty of time for that to come down but if the season ended today, that would stand as the worst ERA of the southpaw’s illustrious 11-year career. From tense showdowns with Clayton Kershaw to his long-standing beef with showboat Yasiel Puig, Bumgarner has always found himself at the center of the swirling Category 5 storm known as the Dodgers/Giants rivalry. But Thursday may have been the last chapter in that book with the three-time All-Star a near-lock to relocate at the July 31 trade deadline.
For his part, Bumgarner, who debuted with the Giants at age 20 after accelerating through the minor leagues, seems uninterested at the prospect of pitching elsewhere, as evidenced by the eight clubs found on his no-trade list. That list is comprised of the Astros, Braves, Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs, Phillies, Red Sox and Yankees—AKA all the teams most likely to pursue him. But assuming he relents, the contract-year hurler seems like a safe bet to wind up in pinstripes.
Though he’d never show us his cards, prodigious schemer Brian Cashman has almost certainly been hatching a plan to nab Bumgarner behind closed doors. If so, it would go a long way toward explaining the Yankees’ curious decision to sit out the Dallas Keuchel sweepstakes earlier this month. Bumgarner, a battled-tested arm with a wealth of playoff experience, would seem to be just the man New York is looking for. James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka are solid rotation pieces and even J.A. Happ, a known Red-Sox killer, has had his moments. Luis Severino can bring the thunder when healthy, though obviously that hasn’t been the case this year. But none of them hold a candle to Bumgarner, a four-time All-Star and owner of a lifetime 3.10 ERA.
One clunker—against the team with the best record in baseball no less—shouldn’t sour the Bombers on Bumgarner. But with the North Carolina native finally showing signs of decline after a decade of dominance, it’s fair to wonder if some of the recent cracks in Bumgarner’s armor are mere hiccups or a sign that his best years are behind him. A pair of freak injuries (including one involving a dirt bike) could be partially to blame for some of his more pedestrian numbers in recent years. But it’s still troubling that Bumgarner, who has never been the hardest thrower, has already surrendered more homers this season (16) than he did all of last year and is on pace to set a new career-worst in that statistic. Moving from Oracle Park, a venue that has always favored pitchers (for proof, just ask former Giant Hunter Pence, whose stock has gone through the roof since joining Texas), to the band box known as Yankee Stadium could be a tough adjustment for the veteran left-hander. If this is the new normal for Bumgarner, would that be worth trading Clint Frazier, Miguel Andujar and whoever else the Giants desire in a deadline-day blockbuster (tater-swatting Luke Voit could be expendable with the addition of Edwin Encarnacion)? Not to mention he could very well be a rental.
Of course, that’s just me playing devil’s advocate. Unless raving lunatic Max Scherzer became available, Bumgarner is almost certainly the play for New York and a far superior alternative to the much-less accomplished Marcus Stroman and PR nightmare Trevor Bauer. With Giancarlo Stanton back from his injury hiatus and Aaron Judge returning this weekend, the Yankees’ lineup is downright terrifying and more than capable of leading New York to postseason glory, even if the Bombers stand pat at the deadline. But the idea of Tanaka starting a deciding playoff game, doesn’t seem ideal for a team whose championship window is right now. The Dodgers devoured Bumgarner’s soul Thursday night, but remember, Justin Verlander was in a similar slump, biding his time on a team headed nowhere when the Astros poached him from Detroit two years ago. The rest is history.
Wouldn’t it be fitting if Bumgarner returned to Dodger Stadium as a Yankee in the World Series? Maybe that’s looking too far into the future, but Bumgarner versus Muncy for all the marbles would be worth every penny.
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AL Quick Hits: MLB has granted the Rays permission to explore splitting time between Tampa Bay and Montreal. The Jays have played an annual preseason exhibition at Olympic Stadium in Montreal but no team has played regular season baseball there since the Expos (now known as the Washington Nationals) in 2004. The Rays’ attendance numbers are among the league’s lowest despite a winning record and the team has made little progress in funding a new stadium to replace the outdated Tropicana Field. To further complicate matters, St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman said he won’t sign off on sharing the Rays with Montreal, citing the agreement the team signed to stay in St. Petersburg through 2027. … Mike Clevinger had been hoping to make his scheduled start Saturday versus Detroit, but after laboring in Thursday’s bullpen session, it appears he’ll head to the injured list. The right-hander who returned from a two-month absence earlier this week, sprained his ankle after slipping on the mound Monday in a loss to Texas. … The Angels officially released Cody Allen on Thursday. Despite submitting a horrifying 6.26 ERA during his brief stint with Anaheim, the former Indians closer has already received free-agent inquiries from up to 11 teams, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network. … Hobbled Royals shortstop Adalberto Mondesi will be out of commission for at least the next 10 days after hurting his groin earlier this week. The fleet-footed 23-year-old leads the majors in both steals (27) and triples (eight). … Astros manager A.J. Hinch confirmed Thursday that Carlos Correa and Aledmys Diaz will not return during the first half. Correa has been on the shelf with fractured ribs (an injury he picked up in a bizarre massage mishap) since late May while Diaz is still feeling the effects of a strained hamstring. Alex Bregman has handled most of Houston’s shortstop responsibilities in Correa’s stead. … Toronto closer Ken Giles (elbow) returned to action Thursday night on the heels of a 10-day injury absence. The flame-throwing right-hander worked a scoreless inning as the Jays treated Raptors hero Kawhi Leonard (who made a very concerning trip to Home Depot earlier in the day) to a walk-off victory over the Angels in extra innings. … Trey Mancini was a spectator Thursday in Seattle. The O’s outfielder took a pitch off his hand in the previous game Wednesday at Oakland, forcing him to leave early. Mancini doesn’t think the injury is serious and hopes to be back in the fold later this weekend. … The Orioles designated Dan Straily for assignment on Thursday. The right-hander had to have seen the writing on the wall after scuffling to a miserable 9.82 ERA over 14 outings (eight starts) for the Birds while yielding a league-high 22 homers in just 47 2/3 innings. Skipper Brandon Hyde hopes the O’s can stash him as minor-league depth after he inevitably clears waivers. … The Mariners aren’t expecting Mitch Haniger (groin) back before the All-Star break. The outfielder has resumed weight training but hasn’t been cleared for baseball activities yet. Haniger has already belted 15 home runs for Seattle but is tied with Luke Voit for sixth in the American League with 81 strikeouts. … From the feel-good department, here’s Albert Pujols, who returns to St. Louis for the first time in eight years this weekend, giving a young Angels fan a gift he’ll never forget.
NL Quick Hits: The Mets made waves Thursday by showing the door to pitching coach Dave Eiland and bullpen coach Chuck Hernandez. Eiland will be replaced by 82-year-old Phil Regan, who once faced Ted Williams in a major-league game … Ryan Zimmerman, at long last, will begin a rehab assignment Friday at Double-A Harrisburg. The Nats lifer has been bothered by plantar fasciitis for the better part of two months. … Thursday could have gone better for the Rockies. Though they were able to steal a come-from-behind win over the division-rival Diamondbacks, the Rockies lost two key contributors in Trevor Story, who is expected to miss “multiple weeks” with a sprained thumb (though luckily he didn’t suffer any structural damage), and All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado, who bowed out of Thursday’s game with a bruised toe. Arenado aggravated an injury he suffered last weekend after fouling a ball off his toe in a game against the Padres. He’s day-to-day. … Adbert Alzolay was exquisite in his Cubs debut Thursday at Wrigley Field, allowing just one hit (a solo home run to Todd Frazier in the ninth inning) while registering five strikeouts in a four-inning effort against the Mets. The 24-year-old is considered the Cubs’ fourth-best prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. … An MRI confirmed Pablo Lopez’s diagnosis of a strained right shoulder. The 23-year-old had been pitching well before his injury, logging a stingy 1.80 ERA over his previous four starts. … Rich Hill was placed on the injured list with a strained flexor tendon. The 39-year-old won’t resume throwing for 3-4 weeks following a PRP injection, but hopes to pitch again this season.