By Bruce Levine–
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS) — The Cubs are one victory away from advancing to back-to-back National League Championship Series for the first time in franchise history. With a 2-0 lead in the National League Divisional Series, what stands in the way is a barrier like few others in postseason history: Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner.
Bumgarner has put up legendary postseason pitching numbers that will be ominous for the Cubs when the two teams hit the field for Game 3 on Monday evening at AT&T Park.
“We have some time to regroup on the off day,” Kris Bryant said after a 5-2 win in Game 2 on Saturday. “We will get used to the elements out there. When we play them, we will be ready.”
Not addressing a certain pitcher or opposing player has been something that has worked pretty well for this Cubs team that won 103 regular-season games and is in full control early in the playoffs, but they’re certainly aware of Bumgarner’s talents. Bumgarner was 15-9 with a 2.74 ERA in 2016, and he threw a complete-game shutout in the NL wild-card game.
“We know what to expect and who we are dealing with,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “We have to keep our game plan and stick with it. We know what a gamer Bumgarner is. Nobody can take that away from him. I admire him, and every time he takes the mound he is a warrior. What we need to do is to have a great approach and take what he gives you.
“If he gives you a walk, take that walk. If he gives you a fastball down the middle, take full advantage of that. We have to stick with what works for us.”
The Cubs collectively have hit just .211 against Bumgarner. Only Ben Zobrist has fared well at all, with six hits in 12-at bats against Bumgarner.
Look for Cubs manager Joe Maddon to think long and hard about an offensive lineup with Jorge Soler and Zobrist in the outfield. That would mean sacrificing the defense of Jason Heyward for at least the early part of the game. Both Soler and Zobrist took extra fly balls in batting practice Sunday.
Maddon knows runs will be at a premium against the mighty Bumgarner, who’s 8-3 with a 1.94 ERA in 15 postseason outings.
“It’s like when I was a kid watching Bob Gibson doing what he did in the postseason, Mr. Koufax and what he did,” Maddon said. “With Bumgarner, you draw that comparative vibe. It is like those pitchers. Maybe even like Whitey Ford with the Yankees, as well. It is unique. He is good. It’s not just his stuff. Its more his competitive nature. This guy competes. That is what sets him apart.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.