Photo credit: By SD Dirk on Flickr [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
The Giants have plodded their way through the second half, going just 30-42 and hardly looking like a team of Even-Year Destiny. However, they have heated up at just the right time, ending on a four-game winning streak. They would also seem to be putting their best foot forward for Wednesday’s Wild Card game matchup against the defending National League champion Mets, countering Noah Syndergaard with Madison Bumgarner. The 2014 World Series MVP has a 2.14 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 88 1/3 postseason innings.
Yet I expect that the Giants’ quest for their fourth World Series title this decade will end on Wednesday, and that the Mets will advance on to the NLDS against the Cubs. Late in 2014, in the midst of a dominant run of starts that culminated in his iconic World Series performance against the Royals, Bumgarner became more of a flyball pitcher, and the easy flyouts and popups have helped him more than extra-base hits have hurt him. That has started to change over the last month-and-a-half.
Over his last nine starts, Bumgarner has five quality starts and a 4.66 ERA, and he has allowed eight home runs over 56 innings. His Isolated Power, which was .134 prior to this stretch, has been a less robust .164 since Aug. 18.
The start that began this less-than-impressive run came at home against the Mets. He emerged with a win but lasted only five innings and allowed a grand slam to Justin Ruggiano. That was just one of 22 home runs that Bumgarner has allowed to right-handed hitters this season. His HR/9 ratio against righties is 1.09, which isn’t so bad, considering his flyball tendencies and this season’s increase in homers. On the road, though, that ratio against righties balloons to 1.71, and on Wednesday, Bumgarner won’t have the homer-squelching confines of AT&T Park to aid him.
This is not to say that Bumgarner has been bad on the road, but he’s been mortal. He owns a 3.39 ERA, and against righties and lefties combined, he has a 1.57 HR/9 and .185 Iso. Not only will Bumgarner be pitching on the road, but he will be facing a Mets team that leads the NL in flyball rate and trails only the Cardinals in home runs.
To be fair, Syndergaard has his flaws as well. After beginning the year in absolutely dominant fashion, he has a more muted 3.19 ERA since June 22. Over those final 17 starts, Syndergaard has had control issues against lefties, walking 4.9 batters per nine innings. The Brandons — Belt and Crawford — could take advantage of that, but do the Giants have enough threats in the rest of their lineup to drive them in? Even during this 17-start stretch, Syndergaard has held righties to a .290 OBP, and that’s not good news for Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Eduardo Nunez (if he is healthy enough to play).
Meanwhile, Bumgarner will have to contend with Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Reyes (.360 Iso vs. lefties) and Asdrubal Cabrera (.200 Iso in second half versus lefties), who can bring power from the right side. Away from AT&T, Bumgarner has been good against lefties, but with a .142 Iso, he hasn’t completely shut down their power game. It’s not unthinkable that Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce could do some damage.
Johnny Cueto also has lopsided home/road home run splits, but because he is more of ground ball pitcher than Bumgarner, he is less of a hazard in away games. Cueto’s 0.98 HR/9 on the road is well below this season’s major league average of 1.17.
Anything can happen in one game, and maybe the Giants, who have posted the majors’ third-highest wOBA (.365) in the past week, can get to Syndergaard. To help his team advance to the NLDS, Bumgarner will have to contain the only NL team whose offense has been more productive than the Giants’ has over the last seven days.