Kershaw vs. Bumgarner

April 23, 2015
There’s a particular challenge to writing about baseball early in the season: while a lot of interesting stuff happens in April, the low number of games makes it difficult to tell if any of that interesting stuff is real, or just the result of small sample sizes. Is A-Rod back to being an elite hitter? Dunno. No idea. Is Nelson Cruz going to break the single-season record of home runs hit by a west coast player linked to steroids? I guess there’s a chance. Is Mookie Betts the second-coming of Mike Trout? Could be, could be. Are the Mets going to win 120 games? Of course they are.
Or maybe not. Maybe Alex Rodriguez sees fewer inside fastballs, and Nelson Cruz’s home park catches up to him. Maybe the Nats will chase down the Mets. Mookie’s for real, though.
It’s a mistake to draw big inferences from small samples, so I’ve decided to narrow things down, and turn my focus on one game. Just picking one randomly from today’s slate of matchups, I’ll check out today’s Dodgers/Giants game.
Okay, that’s not entirely a random choice. Today’s one-time trolley matchup has Clayton Kershaw taking the slab against Madison Bumgarner. These are two guys you’ve probably heard of: Clayton Kershaw has won three NL Cy Young Awards and last year’s NL MVP, while Madison Bumgarner has won three World Series rings and a pick-up truck. Bumgarner also has a career ERA of 0.25 in 36 World Series innings, which is stingy. These are two good pitchers.
Actually, we can say a little more than that: entering the season Kershaw and Bumgarner were the #1 and #2 ranked pitchers in baseball, at least according to our very fun Starting Pitching Rankings. Kershaw is still the #1 coming into tonight’s contest, while Bumgarner has slipped all the way down to 5th on the list. Based by how David Price fared in the earlier game, Bumgarner is probably the #4 pitcher at this moment in time and space, but whatever his exact rank, this is a great matchup.
Because I’m overseas, I have the option of choosing which broadcast I’ll follow. With all respect to the fine Giants broadcasters, I’m opting for Vin Scully. Let’s see what happens.
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2:14 New Zealand time – Wind blowing out in San Francisco. Sunny and clear here in Wellington. A little brisk, but I’m still wearing shorts.
2:15 The Dodgers are going with a lineup of right-handed hitters to challenge Bumgarner, which means no Adrian Gonzalez or Joc Pedersen in the starting lineup tonight. What’s remarkable about the success of both Bumgarner and Kershaw is how effective they’ve been despite facing right-hand dominant lineups throughout their careers. I’m curious how much of a platoon split each of them has dealt with, compared to the NL average.
2:18 – Vin Scully tells us a story about Madison Bumgarner talking horses with his agent, which becomes a conversation about Bumgarner’s respect for Kershaw. This is why Vin Scully is the best. Jimmy Rollins strikes out. This probably won’t be the last strikeout we see tonight.
2:20 – What is the over-under for strikeouts tonight? Is it 20? 25? Can you bet on stuff like that?
2:20 – Vin has now given us the etymology of Bumgarner’s last name, and provided some details about the graveyard in his hometown in Hickory, North Carolina. Vin also tells us that Bumgarner dated a girl in high school named…wait for it…Madison Bumgarner. Vin Scully has some great researchers.
2.22 – Puig bloops a single into right. It looked like Maxwell could’ve gotten to it with a better route.
2:24 – Howie Kendrick whiffs. We’re through half of the first.
2:27 – I love watching Aoki hit. His grip on the bat is strange: he holds his upper hand a little crooked, making a kind of circle with his arms, and then slashes at the ball. I’m pretty sure he’s the toughest player in baseball to strike out, though I haven’t checked that.  
2:29 – Kershaw makes a nice play on a hard grounder up the middle. One out.
2:30 – Kershaw throws a couple slow curveballs to Duffy. It doesn’t seem fair that he’s allowed to throw that pitch.
2:31 – Angel Pagan batting. It’s just my opinion, but Angel Pagan is a helluva a ballplayer. He’s always been injured, but when he plays he’s a talented player. I hope he makes an All-Star game before he’s finished.  
2:32 – In Pagan’s at-bat, you can see how Kershaw’s slow curve has messed up Pagan’s timing just by watching Pagan’s feet. On the pitch immediately following the slow curve, Pagan triple-stepped in the box, not sure if he was getting a 97-mph fastball or a 76-mph curve, but praying he’d get a lollypop to hit. It’s tough to bat against Kershaw. Three up, three down.
2:36 – Scully has now given us Bumgarner’s family history during the war of Northern Aggression. I now know more about Madison Bumgarner’s family than I know about my own.
2:37 – More samples of Vin Scully: We learn that Madison was named after Madison County, in North Carolina….then Chris Heisey just misses a homer… then we learn that Madison means ‘son of a great warrior’…..then Chris Heisey walks. 
2:40 – My internet craps out. I’m sure I’m missing a great story about the role that Madison Bumgarner’s ancestors played in helping Goethe write The Sorrows of Youth Werther in 18th century Germany.
2:42 – And we’re back. A.J. Ellis flies out to end the inning.
2:46 – Yasiel Puig keeps Kershaw’s perfect game alive with a great running catch on a Posey liner.
2:47 – Another running catch for Puig, who looks a little winded.
2:50 – I just noticed that the MLB box score has a running tally for each starter’s Game Score. Kershaw is at 57 right now, while Bumgarner is at 55. I hope Bill is getting royalties for that.
2:51 – Bumgarner just threw a slow hook to a batting Kershaw, which made Kershaw flinch. It’ll be interesting to see if Kershaw returns the favor in the bottom of the inning.
2:52 – It’s worth noting that both of these pitchers are bringing slight slumps into this game, carrying in ERA’s north of 4.00. Watching this game, you wouldn’t think either of them were struggling: they’re hitting spots with their pitches, and not making too many mistakes.  
2:55 – Jimmy Rollins is probably a Hall-of-Famer, right? He must rank in the top-ten in game played as a shortstop. Steals bases, hits dingers, has a few Gold Gloves and an MVP. Being a shortstop is tough…I don’t usually think of him as a Hall-of-Famer, but I can’t think of too many shortstops better than Rollins who don’t get a plaque.
2:56 – Justin Turner flairs a single into right. That brings up Puig, who’s managed two homers off Bumgarner in his career. Bumgarner’s second pitch comes inside around the knees. Puig seems unhappy about this.
2:58 – My wife interrupts the game to tell me that she’s not sure she wants to have middle-schoolers. Our kids are 2 and 0, respectively, but she likes to have a plan. Yasiel Puig lines out to end the inning.
3:02 – Joaquin Arias breaks up Kershaw’s perfecto with a single to center.
3:07 – Kershaw walks the #8 batter. Vin tells us that Madison Bumgarner was the best hitting pitcher in baseball last year. Madison promptly takes a huge cut on the first one.
3:08 – Bumgarner tries to bunt the second pitch and fouls it off. On pitch three he fakes the bunt and pulls back, taking a ball in the dirt. I think Bumgarner is in Kershaw’s head. Pitch four is a ball…2-2 count. On pitch five Bumgarner lays down a bunt that’d let Billy Hamilton hit .400. The runners are moved over. Terrific at-bat.
3:10 – Aoki at the dish. This is where it helps to have a good contact speedster batting in the leadoff spot.
3:12 – Aoki hits a grounder that gets the first run in. Giants up 1-0 on the Dodgers.
3:14 – Texas League single to centerfield that Heisey can’t get to, giving the Giants another run. It’s at least a question whether or not Joc Peterson would’ve gotten to that ball.
3:17 – Pagan whiffs to end it. A 2-0 lead is insurmountable in these contexts.
3:20 – Switching over to the Rockies game briefly…after the Padres came back to take a 4-3 lead, the Rockies have tied it in the bottom of the 9th. They have the bases loaded now, one out.
3:21 – Daniel Descalso hits a walk-off single in the gap. Big win for the Rox!
3:22 – Do you think that teams in hitters ballparks tend to play games that are more fun? It sure seems that way, though I might be biased because most of the games I watch tend to be in hitter’s parks. Anyway, back to the Dodgers/Giants.
3:29 – Kershaw shuts down the middle of the Giants order, whiffing Posey and Belt. Ho-hum. He’s getting into this game.
3:32 – The great joy of Vin Scully’s broadcasts is the intimacy of them: because he’s not talking to someone else in the booth, you have a sense that he’s talking directly to you. There’s no remove: he doesn’t have to waste time engaging with someone else: he can speak directly to you. It’s certainly more difficult than the standard format of two or three guys in the booth, but when it’s done well it easily trumps the multiple-voice approach. Vin is a national treasure.
3:40 – Another clean inning by Bumgarner. Whenever I’m watching a game where I have no rooting interest, I usually end up rooting for the team that’s trailing. That’s normal, right? If you don’t care who wins, you end up rooting for a good game. I hope the Dodgers come back.
3:43 – Joaquin Arias has purchased seven houses for his mother and siblings since coming to the majors. These are the kinds of things that only Vin Scully tells you. This is turning into a Vin Scully article. That’s alright.
3:44 – The Giants lineup is pretty weak for a team that won the last World Series. Aside from Buster Posey, how many of these guys would crack the Dodgers roster? I don’t know that any of them would.
3:45 – Kershaw strikes out the side. He’s now whiffed six out of seven batters. Game Score update: Bumgarner 66, Kershaw 61.
3:46 – The Mets won their tenth straight game tonight. While I think it’s a little premature to anoint them the best team in baseball, they’re building a nice start on getting a Wild Card slot, and it’s no longer inconceivable that they upset the Nationals. They’re certainly the story of April so far. I hope Bartolo Colon wins 30 games.
3:52 – Bumgarner walks Puig…he’s up to 90 pitches now.
3:54 – Aoki makes a nice catch on a sinking liner by Kendricks. Two outs. Super Southpaw Masher Scott Van Slyke is up now.
3:58 – Single after a long at-bat by Van Slyke. It looks like Bumgarner is tiring. The Giants get someone up in the bullpen.
4:01 – Bumgarner gets out of it. His pitching line, if that’s it for him, is 6 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 0 runs, 6 strikeouts. He’s at 101 pitches, so he could come out for another round.
4:02 – Top of the order for the Giants. Kershaw seems to have found his groove.
4:04 – Aoki beats out a grounder to first…Kershaw was a bit slow to the bag, and actually missed it. I assume that goes as an infield single.
4:07 – They almost pick Aoki off first base. I’m not sure how in the world Aoki managed to avoid that tag.
4:08 – Baseline argument. I have no idea how these things work. The umps rule him safe.
4:12 – We’re treated to a strike ‘em out/throw ‘em out double play. This is the most satisfying double play in baseball, right?  
4:13 – Scully keeps referring to Aoki as ‘The Pest.’ Is that his actual nickname? I don’t like that nickname. It’s too broad, and it doesn’t quite capture Aoki. What kind of pest is he? He’s more of a mosquito than a mouse or rat.
4:14 – Pagan strikeouts out on a high fastball. Kershaw has whiffed nine through six. Still 2-0. I have to get my kid at daycare. We might have to take a break.
5:04 – I’m back, though I’ve arrived too late to catch Guerrero’s pinch-hit homer in the 7th. The good news is we have a tie game, so I have no more rooting interest. I suppose I’m back to rooting for the home team. Let’s go, Giants!
5:11 – Andre Ethier singles with two outs. We might have a rally.
5:13 – Walk to Rollins. Adrian Gonzalez is coming up.
5:14 – Is Adrian again a Hall-of-Fame candidate? I assumed it got away from him in his late 20’s, but he’s had a nice run for the Dodgers. What are his chances? Anyway….he grounds out here, plummeting his batting average to .548.
5:15 – Hatcher’s only thrown 15 pitches….does Mattingly go to him for another inning, or does he go to Peralta?
5:16 – He’s staying with Hatcher. I like the decision, though that probably means it’ll blow up in his face.
5:17 – Pagan is retired on a weak grounder.
5:18 – Posey hits a first-pitch liner up the middle. Gregor Blanco comes on as a pinch-runner, which means that Tim Hudson will catch if this game goes into extras.
5:19 – Hatcher hits Maxwell with a pitch, which then smacked catcher A.J. Ellis on the hand. On the replay, you can see that Ellis holds his non-gloved hand in the line of fire. I haven’t really paid attention to this before, but what’s normal for catchers? I always thought catchers kept their non-glove hands behind their back, to prevent foul tips from breaking bones, but I’ve never charted it. What percentage of catchers keep their non-glove hands in front of them?
 5:20 – A.J. Ellis tries to throw the ball…and airmails it. You can see the stitch-marks of the baseball on his finger. This is getting interesting. Ellis wants to stay in but the coaches are pulling him for Grandal.
5:23 – Mattingly pulls the old ‘double-switch.’ The double switch might be the most convincing argument against the DH. I’m mostly in the pro-DH camp, but I love the machinations of the late innings in NL games.
5:25 – Brandon Belt is coming up against J.P Howell.  Belt’s one of my favorite players….I don’t really know why. Flashbacks to Will Clark, maybe. I think he’ll break out one of these years.
5:26 – J.P. Howell: the bastard child of J.P. Morgan and the lady millionaire from Gilligan’s Island.
5:27 – Belt singles to left…Blanco has to stay on third, which means the Giants gained nothing by subbing out Posey. Bases loaded, one out. This is interesting.
5:28 – Mattingly is arguing interference from the third-base coach. This is a fair argument: the third-base coach certainly did get in the way of Blanco, and there’s a chance that the throw might’ve gotten him trying to retreat to third. One of my biggest pet peeves is the lack of enforcement of the coaching box. I don’t know why it’s okay to have a coach who is essentially standing on third base. Isn’t this an unfair distraction for the fielders? I think Mattingly has a legitimate beef here….we don’t know what Blanco would’ve done if the coach hadn’t stopped him.
5:30 – Nothing doing, of course. The umps aren’t going to make a call like that in a game like this.
5:31 – Now Mattingly is calling Puig into the infield. Vin tells us that we might see the six-man infield. That’d be fun. I love weird defensive shifts. The end of this game is fantastic.
5:31 – Yup….six-man infield. Don’t Panic, Panik.
5:32 – Panik hits a long fly ball on the first pitch. Pederson tracks it down and attempts a throw, but there’s no chance. The Giants win on a walk-off sacrifice fly. Fun game. 
Dave Fleming is a writer living in New Zealand. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at  

COMMENTS (13 Comments, most recent shown first)

After the rematch both Bumgarner and Kershaw have 3.73 ERAs, though Bumgarner is 2-1, Kershaw 1-2.

Scully repeated a couple of the stories about Bumgarner (and why not? There will have been listeners who missed the first game). Carping about his sources seems small-minded to me: first, because you're dinging him for doing his homework, and second, how many other announcers make an attempt to treat players--especially opposing players--as human beings?
5:43 PM Apr 29th

This is one of your best pieces. Keep it up. I do need to point out a few factual errors in the piece:

1. Vin Scully is no longer announcing Dodgers' games. He is actually older than Walter O'Malley.
2. No one actually lives in New Zealand. It is a fictitious place - a Utopian vison of a group of philosophers who were trying to make the world a better place.
3. Clayton Kershaw has never actually given up a run during a regular season game.
4. Madison Bumgarner does not pitch during the regular season. He only appears in the playoffs.

You are allowed a certain amount of artistic license, so I don't think you should make any changes based on these edits.

Thanks again for another great article. I enjoy your writing.
9:47 AM Apr 29th
Bumgarner takes the rematch. Where's the sequel article?? ;-)
8:56 AM Apr 29th
Great piece, Dave. I went and scanned that SI article...I didn't see anything about Mad talking to his agent about horses, or his family during the Civil War...I don't know, do we expect 130 year old Scully to beat feet on his research? Knowing WHAT to tell is the point. My subscription to SI lapsed when I got a girlfriend. Prior to that, her name was my name too. If MadBum planted that as a joke it was brilliant...
7:43 AM Apr 29th
Kershaw - Bumgarner rematch tonight...

12:13 PM Apr 28th
I think every one of Scully's stories about the Mad Bam that you talk about during this game were covered in the SI sportsman of the year article last year. This really doesn't show any unique reporting skills by Vin, just maybe a subscription to a magazine and a highlighted copy of the December 15th issue.

Vin should probably credit Tom Verducci as a source during the telecast.
7:45 PM Apr 24th
On Vin's stories.....I watched most of Madison Bumgarner's starts in the playoffs last year, but I didn't really have a sense of him as a human being. There were a few mentions of him being a rancher or a farmer, but my lingering perception of Bumgarner after last year's tremendous postseason was that he was a) a really good pitcher, and b) he'd maybe ridden a horse once or twice in his life.

After one game listening to Vin, I had a richer sense of the community where he grew up. I learned he grew up in a town where everyone in the cemetary had his last name. I learned that the last name was so common that he dated a girl with his exact name. I learned that he dad named him 'Madison' because he saw something in a small-town newspaper. I learned that he never owed a suit until last year; he got married in blue jeans.

I'll never have a conversation with Madison Bumgarner, but if I ever did run into him, Vin's given me a lot more things to talk about than the month of playoff broadcasts provided. I don't 'know' Bumgarner, of course...Vin didn't try and reveal his soul to us. But I came away from the broadcast with a little more of a sense of him, a sense of who his is beyond his statistics and accomplishments. I'm grateful for that: I'm a bigger fan of Bumgarner because of it.
3:40 PM Apr 24th
I watched the same telecast (though not live: it started at something like 3 AM in Europe). Like you, I thought Bumgarner was tiring in the 6th. Sorry you had to go get your kid: I'd have been interested in your reaction to Guerrero's massive home run, a perfect opportunity to second guess the decision to send Bumgarner out for the 7th.

Excellent ballgame, and the one the following day was at least as good. As Scully noted, the Dodgers came into SF with seven straight wins, the Giants had lost 9 of 10--so who gets the sweep? Of course.

Bob G: you are like the guy who thinks the Mona Lisa is just a lady with a smile.
3:30 PM Apr 24th
The hype on Betts really exploded during the Sox home opener. In the first two innings of the game he a) stole two bases on a single pitch, b) robbed Bryce Harper of a homer, and c) hit his own 3-run homer over the Monster.

It's a very small sample, but sometimes even a small sample can be meaningful. He's sitting on a .200 BABiP right now, which is probably going to go up 120 points before the season ends. He's a fun player.
3:28 PM Apr 24th
Thanks, Dave. You nailed it on Vin Scully. When I'm in the mood to have someone talk to me, Scully is the guy I go to. I watched all of this series - the Giants come back from the dead - two games with Scully, one (this one) with Miller and Flemming, who are an excellent duo.
12:59 PM Apr 24th
Can somebody maybe explain the various stuff we see about Mookie Betts' "hot start"?

Not being sarcastic; I really don't know and can't imagine.
12:53 PM Apr 24th
Nicely done, Dave. Sometimes we need to be brought back to what we first loved about the game. You have succeeded in that.
12:33 AM Apr 24th

Me being crotchety.

This is a perfect example of why I never listen to Scully. He bores the heck out of me with his (IMO) pointless and (IMO) boring stories about nothing in his monotone voice.
6:11 PM Apr 23rd
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