Baseball's truest pitching aces are extenders and stoppers for their teams.
They are counted on to extend good fortunes and, more importantly, stop the inevitable bleeding that teams endure during a 162-game trudge.
Madison Bumgarner continues to live up to his end, evoking memories of his historic run last October. A struggling Clayton Kershaw did not match him Thursday, as two of the sport's biggest names faced each other for the third time in a month. After a poor April, the Giants have kickstarted their season by dominating the first-place, ginormous-payrolled Los Angeles Dodgers with a suddenly unhittable rotation, with Bumgarner pitching 6 1/3 innings in the Giants' third straight shutout victory, a 4-0 statement at energized AT&T Park.
Giants pitchers have thrown 28 consecutive scoreless innings, and the Dodgers have not scored in 31 innings. San Francisco's seven home shutouts this month are its most in any month since moving to California, with Bumgarner following gems by ageless Tim Hudson and the rejuvenated Tim Lincecum.
“That pitching is hard to beat,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “With what our starters did the whole series, Bum had a couple of tough acts to follow.”
It helps when you can hit the ball over the fence, which Bumgarner did in the third inning, making him only the fourth pitcher to hit a home run off a reigning MVP. It was the first time Kershaw has ever allowed a home run to a pitcher.
“Fastball right down the middle,” Kershaw said. “Should've had a little more respect for him, I guess.”
Both aces got off to rickety starts this season, but Bumgarner has corrected himself with a 1.60 ERA over his last five outings. Kershaw is still trying to find the dominance he had much of last season, allowing four runs in 7 1/3 innings Thursday. That doesn't change the fact that other aces, even Bumgarner, see him as the best in the business.
“He's had a rough start to the year,” Bumgarner said. “But that's still a small sample size. You can't take away what he's done before.”
When reminded of his own postseason dominance and Kershaw's October struggles, Bumgarner held his stance.
“That's one month compared to a career,” he said, his face straight as an arrow.