Thearon W. Henderson - Getty Images
Remember that half-inning? That was awesome. Man alive, that was fun. Also, I think Madison Bumgarner is broken.
When the Giants were losing 6-0 and being no-hit, the world was on fire. David Freese and Carlos Beltran hit home runs because they are the greatest postseason hitters of their -- nay, any -- generation. Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma hit back-to-back doubles because they are superhuman hitters now. They certainly aren't the Theriot-like contraptions they used to be. Of course not. And Lance Lynn wasn't a starter who lost his rotation spot in the second half. He was a fireballing wizard.
Those Cardinals were the realization of our darkest fears. It was the caricature of the team we were scared would show up. It was like Scarecrow came and blew a bunch of dust in our face, and, graaahhhh, everything was suddenly twisted and real.
It stopped, mercifully. The Giants even came back a little, making it a game for the last half. It was nice to see them hit the ball hard against Lynn the second time through the lineup. It was nice to watch the bullpen shut the Cardinals down for the last five innings, making the aforementioned hitters look normal. By the end of the game, it felt like the Giants had a bad game. No more, no less. It was a better feeling than the first three innings, when it felt like they were shooting a BB gun at a Panzer.
So kudos to the Giants for not going full Arroyo. It was still an awful game, but it wasn't as dispiriting as it could have been. Big cheers for small victories. You know, because they scored four runs and all.
We've come to the part of the recap, though, where we have to raise an uncomfortable topic. I'd like to think of myself as a pragmatic sort, and I do my best not to get caught up in overreactions or hyperbole. There was a "Release Zito now!" faction that was increasingly vocal when Zito was embarrassing himself in the Cactus League, and it was a seductive philosophy -- black and white, without all that annoying gray. So tempting.
Making over-the-top, black-and-white proclamations about a player's short-term value is a good way to look stupid in retrospect, though. Baseball is too bizarre and unpredictable. Opinions aren't a bad thing, but they need to be tempered with some semblance of reality.
But I can't help this one, even if I know it sounds horribly reactionary and misguided. Here goes.
I'd be okay with shutting Madison Bumgarner down for the rest of the year.
In the seasons before the 2010 World Series, I was oddly obsessed with the "What would you give up?" series of questions as it related to the Giants winning a championship. Would it be worth Player X turning into a fringe player, or Player Y on the Dodgers, or 10 straight under-.500 seasons? What is the upper limit of acceptable collateral damage you would have endured for a parade down Market Street? Turns out we didn't need to find out. This one guy, Stan, sold his mortal soul for it all, and we'll all be thinking of him as he toils in eternal hellfire. Thanks, Stan!
Here's something I'm not willing to give up for a 2012 World Series: Bumgarner's health. And this Bumgarner we've watched for the last two months is a tired, tired man. His command is off because his arm slot and release are all over the place. He's forcing something that isn't there, and it's hard to watch. He's leaving pitches up constantly, and his velocity is down.
He walked the pitcher tonight, you know. Madison Bumgarner's combination of command and youth is practically unmatched in major-league history. But he walked the pitcher in the second inning, and he looked tired doing it. That's something you'd never see when Bumgarner is going right.
I'm not advocating the Giants shut him down. But if they were going to ease up on him and stick Zito back in the rotation for Game 5, I'd be secretly relieved. Bumgarner is over 600 innings for the last three years combined, and while he's never been inefficient with his pitches, that's still a ton of innings for a 22-year-old. If you want to go really deep down the causation/correlation rabbit hole, note that all of this started after Bumgarner's 123-pitch outing on August 20. He hasn't been the same since.
So that's why even though I'm a little proud the Giants didn't look quite as impotent in front of a national audience as we know they can at home, this game was thoroughly crushing. I thought the extra rest was going to do Bumgarner good. I thought his bad stretch was just one of those things. But tonight broke me. This isn't the same Madison Bumgarner.
And I'm not sure what good the Giants are in the playoffs if this isn't the same Madison Bumgarner.
Man, I sure hope this post looks idiotic in two weeks, and everyone brings it up for years and years as proof that I have no idea what I'm talking about. That would be the best. But it's hard to watch Bumgarner right now. I'd just as soon not watch him at all until next year.
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