Aces don’t mean everything in the playoffs, but Madison Bumgarner proved once again on Wednesday that on some nights aces do mean everything. The lanky left-hander allowed four hits and went the distance in San Francisco’s 3-0 wild-card victory over the Mets. In the process, Bumgarner became the first pitcher in MLB history to throw a shutout in two winner-take-all postseason games, and he has now thrown 23 scoreless innings in winner-take-all postseason games — all on the road — after a four-hitter at Pittsburgh in the 2014 wild-card game and five innings of relief at Kansas City to save Game 7 of the 2014 World Series.
“He was supremely Madison Bumgarner,” Mets outfielder Jay Bruce said following the game. “He was as Madison Bumgarner as you can get.”
Bumgarner currently owns a 1.95 ERA in 97.1 postseason innings, trailing only Mariano Rivera (0.70) and Mathewson (0.97) among pitchers with at least 90 playoff innings logged. He amazingly has yet to allow a hit with runners in scoring position on the road in his postseason career (0-for-24). And his 0.60 playoff road ERA is the lowest among any pitcher with a minimum of 25 innings pitched.
“Why do you have to ask these hard questions?” Bumgarner shot back at ESPN’s Buster Olney after asking what he wants his legacy as a pitcher to be. “A winner.”
The Hickory, North Carolina native became the only pitcher in league history to throw three postseason shutouts with four hits or fewer allowed in each. Whitey Ford, Mordecai Brown and Josh Beckett have also tossed three postseason shutouts. Christy Mathewson leads the pack with four. Bumgarner’s six postseason starts of at least 7 innings and no runs ranks first in baseball history. Tom Glavine did it five times, and Mathewson and Orel Hershiser did it four times each.
In four starts, over three World Series, Bumgarner has won all four, allowing a measly run in 31 innings. He holds the record for the lowest career earned run average (0.29) in the World Series among pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched. Since the 2012 World Series, the southpaw has started eight postseason games and closed another. Across 68 2/3 pressure packed innings, Bumgarner owns a 6-1 record, 0.78 ERA and a save — and pitching in relief is something of a tradition for the best postseason starters.
Along the way, Bumgarner has helped power San Francisco to three championships and the 27-year old’s Hall of Fame foundation is already in place. Against the Dodgers, Bumgarner recorded his 100th career victory in his final start of the regular season. To put that in perspective, he is more than a year younger than New York hurler Jacob deGrom, who has just 30 career wins on the ledger.
Pitching has of course changed in the last century. It’s harder now to collect wins, with pitch counts, the early deployment of bullpens and babying of pitchers. Let’s not forget about arm injuries. It remains to be seen if we will ever see another pitcher reach 300 wins. Bumgarner would have to average a little over 15 wins per year over the next thirteen seasons to reach the hallowed mark. However, I think the game has changed too much for 300 wins to be a realistic benchmark by the time Bumgarner and his contemporaries are up for Hall of Fame consideration.
Bumgarner has never been the best pitcher in baseball, and you could make the case that he’s never been top five in any season. He’s a four-time All-Star and he has always been a workhorse, but he’s never been in the elite of the elite. Interestingly, his FIP- in his playoff career and regular season career are quite similar. He has a 2.99 FIP in the playoffs, just slightly lower than his 3.12 FIP during the regular season.
While Bumgarner has plenty of time to work on his Hall of Fame resume, he has already cemented his place as the best playoff performer of his generation and one of the best October pitchers of all time. He is from the same post-season stud class as Whitey, Gibson and Koufax. He will get another chance against the Cubs to rise further up the list, and the legend of MadBum only continues to grow.