SAN FRANCISCO — Joe Maddon sat down at a podium at AT&T Park on Sunday afternoon and said it would be foolish for his team to be overconfident. A few minutes later, when asked about Madison Bumgarner, he gave a good reason why. Maddon compared the Giants’ ace to Hall-of-Famers Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax.
“It’s unique,” Maddon said of Bumgarner’s postseason dominance. “I hope the kids that are really watching right now understand how good this guy is and how it parallels throughout baseball history, what he’s doing right now.”
Bumgarner has earned the praise through his October work, and the Giants have once again put him in a win or go home situation. Monday’s appearance will be his third in the postseason with that mentality, and he has yet to allow a run in 23 innings with his back up against the wall. It will also be the second straight time that Bumgarner is up against a pitcher with a similar pedigree.
After outlasting Noah Syndergaard, Bumgarner will face Jake Arrieta. The reigning Cy Young Award winner has a 1.82 ERA in six career starts against the Giants, and he gave up just one run and struck out eight in a win at AT&T Park on May 20.
“I enjoy it. I enjoy AT&T Park very much,” Arrieta said. “It’s a great city. The fans here are tremendous and obviously the home crowd is going to be really, really amped up and extremely loud. That’s expected here. You love to see that, especially in this atmosphere in the postseason, with what this team has done. There’s a lot of excitement. There’s going to be a lot of adrenaline flowing tomorrow.”
For Arrieta, that has sometimes led to wildness. The Giants know he can lose his command, but they also know that, after two feckless offensive performances, they can’t sit around and wait for something good to happen. Arrieta’s raw stuff is too good.
Bumgarner will certainly try to take care of both ends. He relished two days of batting practice at Wrigley Field, peppering Waveland Avenue and taking aim at the digital scoreboard in left-center. Arrieta said he will treat Bumgarner like a position player, and Bumgarner will have to do the same with his counterpart, who batted .262 this season with two homers.
“We’ll attack each other accordingly,” Arrieta said, “And not take it lightly.”
Said Bumgarner: “The last thing any pitcher wants to do is give up a hit to another pitcher.”
Bumgarner had little trouble with Syndergaard, another power-hitting pitcher. The big right-hander was just a speed bump on the way to another postseason shutout, and the Giants hope Arrieta plays a similar role. Their best shot in any postseason game is to let Bumgarner go the distance, but against the Cubs, it’s even more imperative to avoid a bullpen game. In 32 1/3 innings against the Giants this season, Cubs relievers have not allowed a run.
That reality pushes a bit more down on Bumgarner’s shoulders, but on Sunday he again appeared unbothered by the mounting pressure. Bumgarner was one of the few Giants to take the field during an optional workout, a relaxed look on his face as he played a light game of catch. He smiled and shrugged off Maddon’s comparison to Gibson and Koufax.
“As soon as you start buying into that, that’s probably going to take a turn,” Bumgarner said. “I’m just going to go out there and keep going at it the way I have, and whatever happens, happens.”