SAN FRANCISCO -- The Madison Bumgarner who pitched Game 2 of the Division Series last weekend for the Giants is two years older than the one who marched confidently through the 2010 postseason, and two years wiser after a pair of strong full seasons in the Majors.
The results of last Sunday's outing, however, belied that progress.
The Division Series start against the Reds last Sunday didn't show the best the big lefty has to offer, as he allowed four runs in just 4 1/3 innings to absorb his first career postseason loss.
To be fair, a 2010 postseason in which he won three games and allowed five earned runs in 20 2/3 innings was a tough act to follow. Regardless of the distant or recent past, the Giants say they have every reason to believe the 23-year-old is on track to set a positive tone in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Cardinals and right-hander Lance Lynn, kicking off at 5 p.m. PT Sunday on FOX.
Buster Posey, the Giants catcher who knows a thing or two about coming up big, feels good about having Bumgarner in position to put the Giants on the right track.
Key stat: After making three relief appearances this postseason, Lynn will make his first career playoff start in Game 1.
Key stat: Bumgarner was 10-3 with a 2.38 ERA at home in the regular season.
At AT&T Park
2012: N/A Career: N/A
2012: 15 GS, 10-3, 2.38 ERA Career: 41 GS, 19-12, 3.08 ERA
Against this opponent
2012: 1 GS, 0-1, 6.00 ERA Career: 2 GS, 0-2, 7.15 ERA
2012: 2 GS, 0-2, 4.73 ERA Career: 4 GS, 2-2, 3.62 ERA
Loves to face: Marco Scutaro, 1-for-6 Hates to face: Angel Pagan, 2-for-4, 1 BB
Loves to face: Allen Craig, 3-for-13, 2 K Hates to face: Jon Jay, 4-for-6, 2 2B
Why he'll win: In the 2011 NLCS, Lynn went 1-0 and allowed zero runs over 5 1/3 innings.
Why he'll win: Bumgarner is 2-1 with a 3.24 ERA over four postseason starts.
Pitcher beware: Lynn has a 7.36 over 3 2/3 innings in this postseason.
Pitcher beware: Bumgarner lasted only 4 1/3 innings in his Game 2 start of the NLDS, allowing four runs on seven hits in a 9-0 loss to the Reds.
Bottom line: Lynn has a chance for redemption after allowing a walkoff home run to Jayson Werth in Game 4 of the NLDS.
Bottom line: Bumgarner can add to this impressive postseason resume with his first career NLCS win.
"Madison, to me, is a big-game pitcher, and I'm excited to see him work," Posey said as the Giants went through a workout day in preparation for Sunday's opener.
He's not alone.
"Bumgarner is certainly very capable of leading us off in this series," general manager Brian Sabean said.
And Bumgarner clearly has manager Bruce Bochy's backing, considering not only is he giving the 6-foot-5 lefty the ball in Game 1, but that would set him up for a potential Game 5 start as well -- one that could be a clincher or an elimination game.
"He's done such a great job all year for us [and] in the previous postseason," Bochy said, "and his first start [this October] he had a good first inning, and he just got out of sync with his delivery and made some mistakes, couldn't get the ball where he wanted. It happened. But it's a start. That's how we look at it. These guys are going to have a hiccup now and then.
"But we still have all the confidence in the world in Madison to go out there and pitch like he's been pitching all year and has thrown well, and hopefully just giving us a chance to win."
Between that Game 2 start and this one, plenty has happened with the Giants. They made a comeback of historic proportions, becoming the first team in postseason history to win three road games to close out a best-of-five series, and they waited out Game 5 of the other Division Series, not knowing whether they were playing the Cardinals at home or the Nationals on the road.
Now that he knows it's at home and it's against the Cardinals, Bumgarner is eager to take the ball again.
"Yeah, I'm ready to get back out there," the soft-spoken Southerner said Saturday. "I had a lot of rest and just excited to get started and get us started on a good note and go out there and make pitches and have the focus I need to have. And hopefully things will take care of themselves."
Bumgarner made a pair of starts against the Cardinals in the regular season, and he took the loss in both of them, going 7 1/3 innings and allowing four runs in a home start in May and allowing three earned runs on three hits on the road in August. Overall, Bumgarner had a strong regular season at home, his Division Series start notwithstanding, posting a 2.33 ERA in 14 home starts, the fifth-lowest home mark in the NL.
What Posey knows going into this start is that whatever happened in the past, Bumgarner will be ready for the assignment in the present.
"Madison will be as prepared as anybody, and I think that's all we ever ask for as teammates, that he's prepared and ready to go, and we know he will be," Posey said.
That no doubt was the case a week earlier, but the Reds ran Bumgarner out of the game in the fifth inning after just 72 pitches.
So he should be plenty fresh for Game 1 on Sunday.
"You know, I felt good last time, just things didn't go my way, that's the way this game is," Bumgarner said. "Just got to go out there and be focused and be at the top of your game and make pitches. You can't get caught up in what's happening, you've got to focus on the next pitch and just keep moving forward."
Bumgarner's 2012 season was headed toward a significant improvement over 2011, but he faded a bit down the stretch with a 5.47 ERA in September. Before he had a few rough outings late in the season, he had a 2.83 ERA through 25 starts; he finished at 3.37, just a tad higher than his 2011 total.
Looking at the bigger picture, Sabean sees 2012 as a solid second full season in the Majors for Bumgarner.
"If you look at his innings total and his overall year, you wouldn't know there was some slippage at the end of the year. To do this at this age and the composure he shows bodes well for him in a big series like this," Sabean said.
The Giants have invested more than just confidence in Bumgarner, signing him to a five-year, $35 million extension through at least his first year of free agency as the regular season began.
And they know him well enough to know that putting the ball in his hands for Game 1 is a comfortable feeling.
"He's a very competitive kid," Sabean said. "He can stay calm in the moment. It's kind of uncommon at this level, at this time of year and on this stage."
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.