The Giants’ already sluggish season just hit a major obstacle. On Friday afternoon, the team released a statement that ace lefthander Madison Bumgarner was being placed on the disabled list—for the first time in his nine-year career—due to injuries suffered while riding a dirt bike during an off day in Denver, which is probably the most Madison Bumgarner injury imaginable that doesn’t involve livestock or a throwing axe. Bumgarner sustained bruised ribs and a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder in the crash, and while the burly southpaw escaped more serious damage, San Francisco will still be feeling pain; according to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, Bumgarner is expected to miss anywhere from six to eight weeks. The loss of one of the league’s best and most irreplaceable players is a massive blow to the Giants’ already dampened playoff hopes.
The loss of a No. 1 pitcher would be tough for any team to overcome, but it’s especially so for a Giants squad already off to a bad start and struggling through poor performances throughout the rotation. Bumgarner was off to a strong start, compiling a 3.00 ERA and 28 strikeouts across 27 innings and four starts (and you don’t need me to recap how great he’s been for San Francisco over the last six seasons), and Johnny Cueto has bounced back from a subpar first start of the year with two straight seven-inning, two-run performances. But veterans Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore have both been hit hard, with the former carrying an unsightly 6.16 ERA and four home runs allowed in 19 innings and the latter failing to get out of the sixth in two of his three outings while also striking out just 13 in 19 frames. The final member of that group, Matt Cain, has been surprisingly effective so far, with a 3.31 ERA in 16 innings—but that comes with eight walks and three homers allowed and just 12 strikeouts from a pitcher whose right shoulder is being held together by duct tape and prayer.
Giants pitcher Matt Cain. (Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports)
With Cain a perpetual injury risk and Samardzija barely better than league average, the Giants were already going to have to make do with a shaky back of the rotation. Bumgarner’s injury will put more pressure on them to perform as well as make up his innings; the lefty led the team with 226 2/3 frames last year, averaging 6 2/3 innings a turn. A lot of the responsibility of making up for Bumgarner will fall on Cueto, who’s as much of a horse as the man he’s replacing atop the rotation, but getting more innings out of the inefficient Moore, the fragile Cain and the shaky Samardzija has to be a nausea-inducing thought for manager Bruce Bochy.
What makes Bumgarner’s loss of innings all the more painful beyond his excellence is the additional strain it will place on a bullpen that has had plenty of ups and downs. Closer Mark Melancon has been able to get back on track after a brutal blown save on Opening Day, and top setup man Hunter Strickland is unscored upon in 5 2/3 innings across six appearances, but fellow righties Derek Law, George Kontos and Neil Ramirez have all been touched up to start the year, as has lefty Ty Blach. The latter will take over for Bumgarner in the rotation; the 26-year-old made two starts down the stretch last season and has been a starter throughout his career in the minors. He’s the best of a thin bunch, with the Giants lacking any real pitching depth in the minors; their Triple A rotation is so weak that they’re handing starts to former top prospect Ricky Romero, who flamed out of the majors four years ago. There’s also no guarantee that Bumgarner will be back as expected, either, as shoulder injuries have a nasty habit of creating complications and delays for even the toughest of pitchers.
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An injury like Bumgarner’s would be one thing if the Giants were at least off to a good start, but at 6–10, San Francisco is sitting in the NL West basement, already four games back of the division-leading Rockies — the very team the Giants will face this weekend. It’s unlikely that Colorado will hold onto first place throughout the year, but that team’s fast start — as well as that of the Diamondbacks — puts additional pressure on the Giants to get right sooner rather than later. A division that already featured baseball’s richest team in the Dodgers has unexpectedly gotten tougher, and even with the rebuilding Padres there to soak up losses, it’s clear the rest of the West is going to be a tough fight.
The Giants have problems beyond Bumgarner, too. Leftfield has been a disaster, with a collective .125/.194/.214 line in 62 plate appearances split between Jarrett Parker (himself out for a couple of months due to a fractured collarbone suffered after running into a wall making a catch) and journeymen Chris Marrero and Aaron Hill; that .408 OPS between the three of them is good for 29th in baseball, beat out only by the .360 mark put up by Toronto’s leftfielders. Third baseman Eduardo Nunez and centerfielder Denard Span are both mired in slumps, with the latter looking creaky in his age-33 season. The offense as a whole, meanwhile, has just 11 home runs, tied with Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Toronto for second-worst in baseball.
The lineup will have to produce more with Bumgarner down, though as is, it wasn’t doing much for him; the Giants were averaging just 1.75 runs scored in his starts, and the team had lost all four of his outings. At least now he won’t have to seethe through a total lack of run support, though I imagine that’s cold comfort for him as he nurses his injuries and works his way back to full health. It’s a safe bet that the Giants will need him back as soon as possible, but it’s also easy to imagine that, without his presence atop the rotation, a team already having a hard time keeping pace with the National League’s best is going to slip further and further back into the pack. Not having Bumgarner essentially erases San Francisco’s margin of error over the next two months, and the team will need to play some inspired baseball to have any hope of staying in the race without him. By the time he makes it back, it may be too late.