SAN FRANCISCO -- Maybe Madison Bumgarner can lend new meaning to a time-honored concept: Winning.This has been a happy habit so far for Bumgarner, who won his fourth consecutive outing Sunday as the Giants subdued the San Diego Padres, 4-1. The impact of a starting pitcher's victory total has diminished in recent decades, and justifiably so. As complete games went the way of paper straws, leaded gasoline and televised cigarette advertisements, the effectiveness of starters became judged through more esoteric statistics. They frequently weren't around late in games when outcomes were determined. But for all the wisdom that WHIP, FIP, BABIP and all the other IPs convey, sometimes there's no substitute for old-fashioned standards. And winning obviously remains the ultimate goal in athletics. So, now that Bumgarner has tied St. Louis' Lance Lynn and Kyle Lohse for the National League lead in victories, it's time to pay even more attention to the precocious 22-year-old who already has proven worth watching. Bumgarner's smooth motion served as an apt image during his 7 2/3-inning performance against San Diego. He again made pitching look easy as he limited the Padres to six hits and held them hitless in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position. Padres manager Bud Black, himself a former Major League left-hander, comprehended Bumgarner's artistry.
"Once he got into the middle part of the game, he started using his slider and cutter more to righties," Black said.AT&T Park spectators also appreciated what they witnessed. They began cheering for Bumgarner once Giants manager Bruce Bochy emerged from the dugout to remove the left-hander from the game. The roar continued to rise as Bumgarner strode to the dugout and tipped his cap before disappearing down the steps. It was a reception fit for a staff ace. That might seem blasphemous, considering Bumgarner's rotation mates include Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. But Bumgarner, whose 13 victories last season tied him with Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong for the team lead, has demonstrated for the past two years that he compares favorably with his counterparts. He received that five-year, $35 million contract extension last month for a reason. "It's obvious that we think a lot of Madison and what he has done since he has come up here," Bochy said. "And he's just going to get better. I'm not surprised by what he has done this month." Buster Posey, who frequently catches Bumgarner but played first base Sunday, observed that his teammate isn't one to grow satisfied with success. "He's a hard worker, a tireless worker," Posey said. "He's constantly looking for ways to get better. I think that's what's so exciting about him." Moments earlier, in another corner of the Giants' clubhouse, Bumgarner had confirmed Posey's impression.
"I'm trying to learn stuff in between starts," he said. "Just because I have a good game doesn't mean I couldn't have done something better."Any pitcher would be challenged to improve upon the 1.61 ERA Bumgarner has recorded during his winning streak. Or the nine consecutive home starts in which Bumgarner has allowed two or fewer runs. Or the 21-2 record he owns when the Giants score at least three runs for him. With his 4-1 record, Bumgarner has obliterated memories of last year, when he was 0-4 with a 6.17 ERA at the same five-start juncture. He didn't win his first game until May 19 and toiled until June 26 to earn his fourth victory. Bumgarner's auspicious April might appear to make him a candidate to win 20 games, which remains the ultimate single-season achievement for starting pitchers. When a reporter raised that subject, an unmoved Bumgarner displayed his sense of perspective.
"I've got four right now," he said.Asked to convey the significance of his current win total, Bumgarner said, "Nothing other than it's nice for it to happen that way. I think that a pitcher's record is a little bit overrated. There are so many factors that you can't control that go into it. But it's nice to have a lot of wins. You don't want to lose." The Giants generated just enough offense to ensure that wouldn't happen. Padres starter Clayton Richard (1-3) had not allowed more than three runs in any of his seven previous outings against San Francisco. That trend ended as the Giants scored twice in the first and sixth innings. Angel Pagan led off the first inning by extending his hitting streak to 14 games with an infield single. He sped to third on Richard's wild pickoff throw and scored on Melky Cabrera's sacrifice fly. Pablo Sandoval followed with his fourth homer of the season. After wasting leadoff doubles in the fourth and fifth innings, the Giants finally received a big hit in the sixth as Joaquin Arias tripled home Posey and Brett Pill with two outs. Posey reached base by drawing a one-out walk, ending San Diego's 26-inning, 104-batter streak of not issuing a free pass.
"If we get him, it's a different inning," Richard said.But the result likely would have been the same, given Bumgarner's excellence and Santiago Casilla's dominance. Casilla struck out two while converting his fourth save, sealing the Giants' second victory in three games against San Diego and their 12-10 April record.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.