As the Toronto Blue Jays put the finishing touches on their American League Divisional Series roster ahead of their Thursday meeting with the Texas Rangers, all eyes are on David Price. “Can Price be our Madison Bumgarner?” is a question I’ve gotten hourly these past few days. It’s a tall order, even for a pitcher with Price’s track record, but there’s potential for a similar role down the line.
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Bumgarner cemented his legend status in the 2014 MLB Playoffs, pitching 21 innings of 0.43 ERA ball against the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. After pitching a complete game shutout on October 26th, allowing just four hits and throwing 117 pitches, Bumgarner came out of the bullpen on October 29th in game seven.
In that deciding game of the World Series, after Tim Hudson started poorly and Jeremy Affeldt gave the Giants 2.1 quality innings, Bumgarner pitched the final five frames, shutting down the Royals and allowing just two hits. A playoff performance that we’ll be talking about 30 years from now, but is it too much to ask for some of the same from Toronto’s ace?
The first point to cross off the list is the possibility that no situation even presents itself for this to be necessary. It’s entirely likely that Toronto’s starting pitchers could last deep into games, leaving Brett Cecil as the necessary left-hander with Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna waiting behind him.
That relief appearance by Bumgarner was made possible by the fact that no games were to follow, meaning the impact of those five innings would not push back any future starts and hamstring the rotation. For example, if Price were to enter out of the bullpen in a deciding game four of the ALDS, that would leave him to pitch on short rest in the ALCS opener should the Jays reach that series. Is that worth it for the upgrade from Cecil or Osuna to Price? That’s not an impossible task, but again, there are variables here.
Bumgarner’s relief appearance was his only one of the playoffs, and there was a reason it came in the final game. Instead, until the Blue Jays put themselves into late October, Toronto’s aggression with Price should focus more on the frequency of his starts.
John Gibbons has an opportunity to look smart here. I know, I know. With Price not making his final scheduled start of the season, he’ll be appearing on 11 days rest for game one of the ALDS. This could actually put him in line to start game four of that series on short rest, a much more attractive option than him being available in a relief role. Again, that would still leave him primed for a start early in the ALCS.
If the extended rest does allow Price to shave a day off in between starts, then it was worth it. This isn’t something we’ll know until we see it, though. Come playoff time, especially with a veteran of Price’s magnitude, pitch counts and inning limits are out the window. A notorious competitor, Price will want the ball as often as possible. There’s some risk involved here, but as the Giants showed us 12 months ago, the payoff can be very, very nice.