If you're grading on a curve that's set to "Importance to the 2015 Giants", Madison Bumgarner throwing 7⅔ innings in the Atlanta heat, missing bats and saving his bullpen, is probably the story. He was top-shelf Bumgarner, and they'll show highlights from games like that on the holo-scoreboard in 30 years. We'll all be so wistful and appreciative.
Except, I've written about Bumgarner 100 times. You've read about him 200 times. He's great, but he's a familiar great. Right now, we're being shown the trailer for a movie that looks awesome. It's called KELBY!, all-caps like that, and it's the buzz. Some serious viral marketing going on for KELBY! right now.
This is the spot where I used to be very careful, deferring to stats, warning everyone not to get too caught up, and bringing up the Legend of Kevin Frandsen for the seventh straight season. The last Giants rookie to have hits in his first three Giants at-bats was Fred Lewis, and he didn't exactly solidify his position for years. There are a lot of 25-year-old rookies with solid Triple-A stats, but not all of them stick.
And that's as fun as licking the floor of a barbershop, dagnabbit. It's more fun to dream about a world where the Giants keep spitting out versatile infielders with bat control who keep exceeding expectations. One right after the other. Puh-toooo, puh-tooooo, and the conveyer belt keeps spinning. "Jane, get me off this crazy thing" and, nope, puh-tooooo, puh-tooooo, more versatile infielders with bat control who keep exceeding expectations.
You know why that's a beautiful dream? Well, because it makes the Giants better. But also because I know three or four fans of teams around the NL West who would hate it. Oh, they're so annoyed with the team and all of us already, and it would be so very Giants to find a Kelby Tomlinson in the pocket of some pants they haven't worn in a while.
Check that: Very recent Giants. They were kind of Benard/Mueller/¯\_(ツ)_/¯ for a decade or two, so they've had a couple of these players on layaway. It's nice that they're cashing in all at once, though.
Expectations should be tempered, of course. Someone in the Giants' promotional department just wrote a frantic e-mail to an assistant, asking for a list of every animal that wears glasses in the wild, and they're going to be disappointed. Expect Tomlinson to be a .300 hitter with on-base skills and enough power to thrive, and you will be, too. When Matt Duffy was 23, he was destroying the Eastern League. When Tomlinson was 23, he was kinda sorta okay in the Cal League, a full level lower. It's not fair to directly compare them -- Duffy came out of nowhere, too, but he had a much better claim to prospectdom.
Which doesn't mean that expectations should be jettisoned entirely. I can think of more than a few very good players who had similarly nondescript minor league careers. Trevor Plouffe of the Twins, for one. His teammate Brian Dozier, for another. It's not likely that Tomlinson will follow anything close to those paths, but it's nice to watch him with a little bit of optimism, and wait for him to stop doing nice things before we get cynical, even if just for a few days.
Expectations for Giants prospects have been pretty, pretty, pretty low since the graduation of Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, yet over the last 16 months, the Giants have enjoyed one of the greatest rookie surges of the last couple decades. Where does Tomlinson fit into that? The odds suggest he doesn't, but if you close your eyes and listen carefully, you can hear the wind whisper puh-tooooo, puh-toooooooo.
Please note that he's The Talented Mr. Kelby now.
If you have a better way to get a nickname than from a 16-year-old movie that was never really that popular, well, I'd like to hear it.
There's no pattern to Madison Bumgarner's success. I checked. He's had a year where he started hot, dipped in the dog days, then rebounded. He's had a year where he started cold, then mowed through the league for the rest of the season. In 2012, he was excellent right until the end, when he collapsed and burned to the point where the Giants started Barry Zito over him in a postseason game, and everyone was like, yeah, that makes sense.
The only pattern is that he can sink into nice, deep grooves, where the mechanics are crisp, and the baseballs are thrown where the catcher wants them. There's been a touch of post-All-Star funkiness for Bumgarner, but nothing to worry about. Rather, it's just building the anticipation for one of those nice, deep grooves. He hit it in Texas after the early misery, so you know (or hope) he's close.
Eventually, though, he'll reel off six or seven magnificent starts, each one as impressive as the last. He picked a fine month to do that last year. This year's version is coming soon, I hope. That start was evidence that it just might be.
(Wouldn't be at all upset if it was delayed until October again, of course.)
It's been over a year since an opposing team has walked the eighth-place hitter intentionally to get to Madison Bumgarner, and that last time was in the ninth inning to set up a force. Bumgarner was getting pinch-hit for in that game, regardless. The last time a team intentionally walked an eighth-place hitter to get to Bumgarner was two years ago. He lined out.
This comes up now because the Braves had a textbook IBB situation in the second inning. There were two outs, two runners in scoring position, and a rookie at the plate for whom they probably didn't have a good scouting report. That screams "walk walk walk" when the pitcher is on deck.
He's lineup protection. Honest-to-goodness lineup protection. Maybe the Braves would have been dorks and pitched to Tomlinson with Ryan Vogelsong on deck, but somehow I'm not so sure. If a team's on the fence in those situations, Bumgarner will snot-rocket them off.
He's also good at pitching, you know.
I'm going to put this very quietly at the bottom of the post, hoping they won't hear.
There are people who are really, really angry with Ehire Adrianza for existing. It's true. I've read them on the Internet and heard them on the radio. They think his lackluster 40 at-bats combined with a couple of bobbles on Tuesday mean that he's a worthless utility player.
Those people are really weird. Do not make eye contact.
Adrianza will probably never start for a good team. But his production in the minors suggest that he can be a pretty nifty utility player. Switch-hits. Fields well. Runs well. Makes contact. Remember, the bar is Willie Bloomquist. He can clear the Willie Bloomquist bar. He's already cleared the Joaquin Arias bar. I'm rooting for him.
Be careful of those weirdos, though.