Madison Bumgarner was put on the DL on Friday for the first time in his career.
The San Francisco Giants failed to live up to their reputation as even-year world beaters in 2016, when they faded after the All-Star break and got knocked off by the Chicago Cubs in the first round of the playoffs.
But some organizational trends persist. Less than three weeks into this season, the Giants are doing a wonderful job perpetuating their rep as a team that dreads years ending in a 1, 3, 5, 7 or 9.
Friday’s stunning announcement that staff ace Madison Bumgarner could be out multiple weeks with injuries suffered in a dirt bike accident is a major gut punch for a team that’s in last place in the National League West and was already looking wobbly.
It was bad enough when Buster Posey took a fastball off the helmet and made a trip to the disabled list, and the Chris Marrero–Gorkys Hernandez–Jarrett Parker–Aaron Hill left field experiment produced a total of seven hits in 56 at-bats (for a .125 batting average). The Giants got precisely what they paid for when they tried to fill Barry Bonds’ old position on the cheap.
Regardless of what questions arose with the everyday lineup and bullpen, at least manager Bruce Bochy could count on a strong starting rotation from one through five, with Bumgarner backed up by Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Moore and a (suddenly) resurgent Matt Cain. Now that security blanket is in tatters, at least for a while, as Bumgarner heals from bruised ribs and a left shoulder AC sprain.
It’s hard to overestimate Bumgarner’s impact on the Giants, both statistically and psychologically. As ESPN Stats & Information points out, he’s logged six straight seasons with at least 30 starts and 200 innings pitched. That’s the second-longest active streak in MLB behind Cole Hamels. He’s a guy who consistently pitches through aches, pains and fatigue and never, ever wants to come out of a game.
Bumgarner is old-school tough by nature, and all those stories of his offseason steer-roping and snake-killing prowess are testament to his desire to live life his way off the field. But there will be justifiable questions now of whether he acted recklessly by riding a dirt bike in-season. And beyond that, was this activity even permitted in his contract? Look for plenty of debate on that topic in the coming days.
Meanwhile, it’s been 15 years since Giants second baseman Jeff Kent broke a bone in his hand while reportedly “washing his truck” in spring training — and it subsequently came to light that he actually injured himself while popping wheelies on his motorcycle. So Giants management is having some serious 2002 flashbacks — and not in a good way.
Few managers are as adept as Bochy at refraining from panic and keeping a clubhouse focused in the middle of setbacks. But this injury news will test the team’s resolve. The Giants have a 6-10 record entering this weekend’s series at Coors Field, and their best pitcher is resting at the team hotel in Denver in anticipation of being re-evaluated next week. This odd year is off to a very bizarre start.