San Francisco Giants Morning Minute: Bumgarner, Defense Do Their Things

May 22, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40) delivers a pitch against the Chicago Cubs in the first inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
May 22, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40) delivers a pitch against the Chicago Cubs in the first inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports /

On this edition of the San Francisco Giants Morning Minute, we discuss Bumgarner’s continued excellence, defensive prowess, and the Cubs’ bullpen.

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Good morning, San Francisco Giants’ fans, and welcome to another edition of the Giants’ Morning Minute. On Sunday night, the Giants beat the Chicago Cubs for the second straight day to earn a series win, and they have now won 10 of their last 11 contests. Madison Bumgarner earned his sixth win in eight decisions this season, while Kyle Hendricks took the loss and is now 2-4 on the year.

The Giants are 27-19 now, a season-high eight games on the winning side of .500. Their 27 wins are tied for the second-most in baseball with the Washington Nationals, behind only the Cubs. The Colorado Rockies’ game with the Pittsburgh Pirates was postponed on Sunday, dropping them down to four games behind the Giants. The Los Angeles Dodgers snapped a four-game losing streak with a 17-inning win over the San Diego Padres, and remain 4.5 games behind first place.

Here’s what went on for the Giants on Sunday.

1 – Madison Bumgarner’s Dominance Continues

Madison Bumgarner was outstanding again on Sunday night as he pitched the Giants to a series win over the team with the best record in baseball. Over 7.2 innings, Bumgarner held the Cubs’ lineup scoreless, allowing just five baserunners (three hits, two walks) through his evening. After loading the bases in the first inning with two outs on a hit by pitch, single, and walk, Bumgarner went on to retire 18 of the next 19 batters he faced before allowing a two-out single to Matt Szczur in the seventh inning.

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Always known as a flyball pitcher, Bumgarner had his groundball stuff working on Sunday. 13 of his 23 outs came via groundball, after entering the game with the lowest groundball out percentage (26.1) on the team. He also struck out six to bring his season total to 77, fourth-most in the major leagues. His ERA dropped to 2.17 on the year.

Giants’ starting pitching has been fantastic over the past three weeks or so, coinciding with the team returning to their winnings ways. Over the last 16 games, Giants’ starters have thrown 112.1 innings, just about seven innings per start, and own a 2.08 ERA and 1.050 WHIP. They’ve struck out 99 batters while walking just 26, and have allowed only six home runs in that stretch (one home run every 18.7 innings pitched).

2 – Defensive Brilliance

The Giants’ defense was touted as one of the game’s best entering the season, but the group hadn’t lived up to that billing through the first month or so of the year. They weren’t going out there and booting the ball around every night, but they seemed a bit off more often than not. They’ve improved as a group lately, and Sunday was certainly their best showing of the season.

It started in the first inning, when Bumgarner caught a comebacker on the mound. He short-hopped the throw to first, and Brandon Belt made a difficult pick to keep Dexter Fowler off the bases. In the second, Bumgarner fielded an attempted sacrifice bunt and threw to second in an effort to eliminate the lead runner. The throw sailed, and shortstop Brandon Crawford had to make a long stretch just to make the catch, then returned to the base before runner David Ross could get there.

In the third inning, Crawford tracked down a Ben Zobrist grounder deep in the 5.5 hole, and made a strong throw to retire him at first. In the fifth, Matt Duffy made a great diving stop on a ball to his left, and threw out opposing pitcher Kyle Hendricks. In the seventh, Posey tracked down a pop-up in foul territory near the Cubs’ dugout. And in the ninth, Denard Span made an awkward, but spectacular catch on Zobrist’s long flyball that got caught up a bit of wind.

Of course, none of those plays compare to that phenomenal catch Jason Heyward made on Friday night. Still nice, though.

3 – Cubs’ Bullpen Tremendous Throughout Series

The Cubs may have lost the series, but some great pitching from their bullpen kept them in the final two games of the set.

On Saturday, the Cubs’ bullpen had a lot of work to do after starter Jon Lester could go only 2.2 innings. The relievers answered the bell, as Trevor Cahill, Clayton Richard, Justin Grimm, and Travis Wood combined to throw 5.1 shutout innings, allowing three hits and two walks along the way. The Cubs lost that game 5-3, but thanks to the bullpen’s big effort, they kept it close and made it interesting at the end.

On Sunday, starter Kyle Hendricks was pulled after getting one out in the sixth inning, leaving it up to the bullpen to keep a 1-0 game. They responded again, as Wood and Pedro Strop shut out the Giants over the final 2.2 innings, with four strikeouts. The Cubs would fall again, as the offense couldn’t answer the one-run deficit.

Add in two more scoreless innings in relief of Jake Arrieta on Friday, and the Cubs’ relievers shut out the Giants for 11 innings through the series. They allowed just nine baserunners (six hits, three walks) while striking out nine. On the season, their 3.05 reliever ERA is seventh-best in baseball.

Next: Giants Morning Minute: Cain Finally Earns Win

That’ll do it for this edition of the Giants Morning Minute. Up next, the Giants welcome the Padres to town for a three-game set. Johnny Cueto takes the ball, looking for his seventh win of the year, while James Shields will oppose him, looking to avoid his league-worst seventh loss.