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Madison Bumgarner is one of the best postseason pitchers in Major League Baseball history and thanks to a brilliant decision by his manager in August, he will be on the mound when the San Francisco Giants face the New York Mets in the Wild Card Wednesday.
In late August, Giants manager Bruce Bochy chose not to shuffle his rotation and instead gave Bumgarner an extra day of rest.
It was a move that flew under the radar at the time. However, that move now allows Bochy to start Bumgarner in the one-game, winner-take-all Wild Card game against the Mets in Citi Field.
Not only is Bumgarner 7-3 with a 2.14 ERA in 14 career postseason appearances, but he owns the Mets, especially in Citi Field. Bumgarner is 5-0 with a 1.80 ERA in six career starts against the Mets and 4-0 with a 0.62 ERA in four career starts at Citi Field.
But it is Bochy’s stroke of genius that has set up this perfect matchup for the Giants.
Let’s take a step back and see how we got here.
The end of August is a time of year when most managers in playoff contention are shuffling their rotation to set up matchups in the final weeks of the season. Specifically, managers like to have their best pitcher ready to go on the final day of the season. If a playoff spot is on the line, the ace gets the start. If a playoff spot is already wrapped up, the pitcher is ready go in the first game of the playoffs.
As David Schoenfield of ESPN pointed out, almost all of the teams that still had their season on the line this weekend, had their best starting pitcher going on Sunday, including the Blue Jays, Orioles, Tigers, Cardinals, and Mariners. Even the Mets would have started Noah Syndergaard on Sunday if they had not clinched a Wild Card spot on Saturday.
The lone exception was the Giants, who had Bumgarner pitching on Friday.
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On Sunday, August 28, Bumgarner pitched seven good innings in a win over the Atlanta Braves. The Giants had an off-day the next day before facing the Arizona Diamondbacks.
This would have been a good opportunity for Bochy to shuffle his rotation and have Bumgarner come back for Friday’s game on normal rest in Chicago against the Cubs. With another upcoming off-day, Bumgarner would have been lined up perfectly to pitch on the final game of the season.
Instead, Bochy kept the rotation in tact, giving Bumgarner an extra day of rest and having him pitch on Saturday.
Fast-forward to the final weekend of the season: Bumgarner still pitched in the final series, beating the Dodgers in a huge game on Friday. And with the Giants clinching on Sunday, Bumgarner is now set up to face the Mets in the Wild Card.
The move would have looked even better if the Mets had not clinched early and had been forced to start Syndergaard on Sunday. Still, the Giants couldn’t have asked for a better scenario in the Wild Card than starting one of the best postseason pitchers ever in a ballpark where he dominates.
And it is only happening because of a decision by Bruce Bochy that nobody noticed at the end of August.