San Francisco Giants' Madison Bumgarner is a Dark Horse NL Cy Young Contender

By John Shea
Madison Bumgarner San Francisco Giants
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco Giants‘ 25-year-old ace was at his best on Tuesday night, tossing a complete game one-hitter against the Colorado Rockies. Madison Bumgarner has been brutally dominant like this before, striking out 13 Rockies while taking a perfect game into the eighth inning of the Giants’ 3-0 win.

According to ESPN’s top game performances in the 2014 MLB season, Bumgarner’s 103-pitch gem ranks second to another virtually unhittable southpaw: Clayton Kershaw. The only blemish on Bumgarner’s pitching line on Tuesday was a two-strike double off the bat of Justin Morneau, who currently leads the National League with a .317 batting average.

Morneau dropped the barrel of the bat on a perfectly placed curveball at the knees below the strike zone, softly lining the pitch down the right field line for what would prove to be the Rockies’ only base runner on the night. Bumgarner promptly struck out the next four batters as a packed house at AT&T Park continued to rage like the perfecto was still intact.

And why not? Bumgarner’s masterpiece was more impressive than a decent number of no-hitters.

Bumgarner has been a rock all season for the Giants, recording a solid 15-9 record with a 3.02 ERA in 185.0 innings of work. He’s now tied with several other NL starters for most wins, although his overall numbers don’t compare to Kershaw, who could be in line for his third Cy Young Award.

ESPN’s Cy Young Predictor currently dubs the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ ace as the leader in the NL’s race for the game’s most prestigious pitching award — which isn’t exactly surprising, given the season he’s had. Kershaw leads all NL starters in several major categories, including ERA (1.82), WHIP (0.828) and K/9 (10.8). Bumgarner, like everybody else, ranks behind Kershaw in more that just a few stat columns.

Bumgarner’s steady emergence as one of baseball’s best pitchers makes him a perennial Cy Young Award contender, even if he falls short of earning that honor in 2014. At the moment, Bumgarner is charted as the fourth best all-around pitcher in the NL, according to ESPN’s predictor. But it’s difficult to shortchange the Giants’ ace when he pitches like he did on Tuesday, albeit against a depleted Rockies lineup.

One thing is for sure: If the Giants fail to win the NL West, which is becomingly increasingly likely considering their collective inability to string together wins and consistently gain ground on the Dodgers, they’ll have a tremendous chance to win the NL Wild Card, specifically because of Bumgarner.

If someone were to ask Bumgarner what he would rather earn come season’s end, he wouldn’t hesitate to say he’d take a third World Series ring over an individual accomplishment. Even though it’s likely Kershaw would say the same, the Dodgers’ lefty boasts postseason numbers incomparable to Bumgarner.

Kershaw owns an inefficient 1-3 record with a 4.23 ERA in the playoffs whereas Bumgarner has pitched 15 shutout innings while striking out 14 batters in two World Series wins. In four seasons at the big league level, Bumgarner owns a cumulative 3-2 record with a 3.79 ERA in the playoffs.

So, even if it’s too late for “MadBum” to make a late-season push at the NL Cy Young Award, he could still have the chance to prove who the best left-handed pitcher in baseball is when it matters most.

John Shea is an MLB writer for Follow him on Twitter @real_johnshea. Like him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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