No one was ever going to be this year's Madison Bumgarner.
You knew this. I knew this. People writing "Who will be this year's Madison Bumgarner" articles knew this. My article on Friday was silly and filled with all sorts of fun my-team's-guy-is-better-than-your-team's-guy-especially-you-Royals smugness and incredibly easy to write, like so easy, I can't even tell you, but it was also rooted in an incredulous reaction that the question was so prevalent. Why? Why, after a person does something historic that no one in our lifetimes has ever done before, do we assume that someone else will do it the next year?
This wasn't some isolated question, either. It quickly became A Thing, with multiple articles discussing who could be this year's Bumgarner and who wanted to be this year's Bumgarner and here's everyone with a chance to be this year's Bumgarner aw dammit we didn't include Syndergaard oh shucks. They talked about it on the broadcasts, and on Twitter, and you could even use the promo code THISYEARSBUMGARNER on multiple sports gambling sites to get additional money with which to gamble. It was everywhere.
But what drove people to keep asking the question? Was it the hope that this year we'd see something equally spectacular? Did people forget how special Bumgarner's postseason was last year and assume that they'd see it again? Or was it just a moderately hyperbolic shorthand for asking who would become a star in October this year?
I'd say the third one weighs a little heavier in the analysis than the other two, but to me, the answer is probably a combination of all three. We always want to see something incredible; that's why we watch postseason games that don't involve our team. Maybe this could be the game that THE EVENT happens, and we all marvel at THE EVENT, and we remember THE EVENT for the rest of our lives. Who's gonna do THE EVENT? Here's the guy who did last year's THE EVENT and maybe someone will do it again this year. Who could it be? Here's a list! The closest equivalent this year was Hosmer scoring that run in the ninth inning on Sunday. That doesn't make him this year's Bumgarner, of course, but it makes him this year's something.
It's also easy to mentally compartmentalize players into pre-defined categories. If you're a Giants fan, maybe you put Matt Harvey in the Well It Wasn't His Fault box with 2002 Barry Bonds, 2000 JT Snow, and 1987 Jeffrey Leonard. Maybe Cespedes gets the A-Rod Playoff Choker treatment, fairly or not (it's never fair). And maybe Bumgarner just goes along with Jack Morris and Josh Beckett in Great World Series Pitcher. It's hard to find the context for Bumgarner, if only because no one alive has ever seen the context for Bumgarner. So you do your best, and maybe you sell him a little short. Maybe he should have his own box, and you shouldn't assume that anyone else will ever deserve to be in it.
But there is a sense that someone will emerge. Somebody on some team will do something incredible, and you'll be able to say "I was there." This year, that person was Daniel Murphy, of course, though if Edinson Volquez had thrown a shutout on Sunday after the death of his father, he'd have been the guy. If Matt Harvey had thrown a shutout, then for at least one more night he would have been the guy. But for the first two rounds, it was Daniel Murphy who you just knew would dominate the game. For two rounds, he was the boogeyman, hiding at second base, waiting to strike. It was, for those two rounds, a downright Bumgarnerian performance. For two rounds.
To maintain that level of excellence is just about impossible, narratives be damned. Even Bumgarner didn't really do it last year; he was excellent in the wild card game and the World Series, of course, but he took the only loss in the Nationals series, in large part due to his own defense, and he was a little shaky in Game 5 against the Cardinals. Three runs and seven baserunners in eight innings is a very good start, but it's also a worse start than Matt Harvey had on Sunday and the perception isn't that he's untouchable. If Michael Morse doesn't homer against the Cardinals, then maybe the Giants lose. Maybe the Giants don't even make it to the World Series, and the narrative is "Bumgarner was good, but not good enough." Maybe he doesn't have time to become the legend.
And that legend could have been Dallas Keuchel this year. It could have been Greinke or Kershaw, or Marcus Stroman, or the version of Cole Hamels who had a defense that was interested in picking the ball up. Maybe there was no way Francisco Liriano was going to give up a single run in October, not matter how many starts he made. Maybe Fergie Jenkins would have been the greatest postseason pitcher in baseball history. We'll never know. Circumstances didn't give him the same chance that Madison Bumgarner got.
"Who is this year's Bumgarner?" was never going to be a good question. The odds of the circumstances and performances being the same between Bumgarner and another great performance are so astronomical that they might as well be zero. The next Bumgarner won't be the next Bumgarner. He'll be the first and only Next Guy, and it'll be a lot of fun to see who that is.
(Next year's an even year, so it'll totally be Clayton Blackburn)