Ask me to tell you how I feel about the approach of Opening Day and I will reenact the Kristen Bell laughing GIF. On the one hand: baseball! On the other hand: Giants baseball. On the one hand: a healthy Madison Bumgarner! On the other hand: a healthy Madison Bumgarner. Everything will be great! Also, if everything—or at least everything Madison Bumgarner–related—goes great, it will almost certainly mean the end of MadBum in San Francisco.
But before we get to all of that, let’s take a trip down memory lane.
Recall, friends, the spring of 2017. On that Opening Day just two short years ago, Bumgarner no-hit the Arizona Diamondbacks through five innings and hit two home runs. Remember the optimism, the joy, the certainty that Bumgarner would rain down terror on whichever puny mortals stepped up to face him?
You might know what came next—beginning, perhaps, with closer Mark Melancon barfing up the lead that day, a small hint of the way things were going to go for both team and pitcher. Two weeks after Opening Day, Bum, who up to that point had never missed extended time due to injury, crashed a dirt bike on his day off, landing squarely on his pitching shoulder. He drove himself to the hospital, because he is Madison Bumgarner; he missed three months, because he is mortal. The following spring, he was preparing once again to take the mound on Opening Day—what would have been the ace’s fifth consecutive inaugural outing. And then, in his very last spring training start, a comebacker flew off the bat of the Royals’ Whit Merrifield and clobbered his pitching hand. He did not tell the trainer who came to check on him to go stuff it, as is his wont. This was a bad sign. He broke a finger and again missed about two months.
But now it is 2019, and Bumgarner, 29, has every reason to expect his first fully healthy season since 2016. He has reclaimed Opening Day duties. And so the time is here at last for the Giants’ other pitchers—a less-than-inspiring group save Dereck Rodríguez, son of Pudge—to “drop the load on their big horse,” as Pedro Martínez put it last year.
Bumgarner is now in the final year of a five-year, $35 million contract. The Giants, meanwhile, are dreadful; most analysts agree that they’ll be lucky to hit 75 wins, and the only question is how deep down the rebuild rabbit hole newly hired president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi will lead them. Add the two together—a star in a walk year and a losing franchise badly in need of prospects—and the odds of Bumgarner, who’s been linked to trade rumors since at least November, getting dealt by midseason aren’t low.
His World Series ERA is an otherworldly 0.25, and if you want to make mean Clayton Kershaw comparisons—well, they’re there. There’s also this:
But time comes for us all, as do bad backs and comebackers and, uh, dirt bikes, and the year is 2019 and neither Kersh nor Bum is quite the holy terror they once were. Bum’s spring was uninspiring—an 8.27 ERA of 20.2 innings pitched. His last start, on Friday, saw him give up seven runs over two innings.
This spring, an old tweet from Giants beat writer Andrew Baggarly lamenting Bumgarner’s lack of speed was unearthed by The Athletic’s Grant Brisbee. “I can confirm Madison Bumgarner’s velocity topped out at 89 mph,” Baggarly wrote. “Some 84s and 85s in his second inning. He walked four of 11 batters. Ouch.” It traveled with such speed among terrified Giants faithful that Baggarly himself had to clarify that it was from early 2010—three World Series appearances ago.
Bumgarner described his reason for confidence in 2019—and, specifically, a return to pre-dirt-bike form—thusly: “Because I don’t have a broke hand or a separated shoulder.” Who are we to doubt him? And who are we to—sniff—hope for anything but the return of Bum, even if it means he might go elsewhere?
Just please, please don’t send him to the Yankees.