Giants ace Madison Bumgarner is headed to the disabled list after injuring his ribs and left shoulder in a dirt bike accident.
SAN FRANCISCO – Call it a dirt-bike fall, a fall from grace, a downfall, whatever the term, there will be lingering fallout for the San Francisco Giants from Madison Bumgarner’s ill-fated off-day adventure last week in Colorado.
With a National League-worst 6-13 record, the Giants are off to their lousiest 19-game start in more than a century, matched only by the 1983 team, which finished fifth in the National League West.
Even when he wasn’t scheduled to pitch last weekend against the Colorado Rockies, it would be naïve to suggest the demoralizing loss of Bumgarner to a left-shoulder injury had nothing to do with the Giants getting swept at Coors Field while being outscored 26-8.
Now the impact of Bumgarner’s absence will be felt more directly beginning Tuesday, when he was supposed to oppose Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in one of those fascinating duels that can help define a season.
Instead it will be rookie left-hander Ty Blach taking the mound for the Giants as they try to keep their spiral from accelerating to the point they can’t reverse course. As they say, you can’t win a championship in April, but you can lose it.
Mindful of their shaky status even this early in the season, the Giants made some drastic moves Monday, promoting top prospect Christian Arroyo and veteran outfielder Drew Stubbs and inserting them into a reshaped lineup that surprisingly had Hunter Pence in the leadoff spot.
Arroyo, 21, was leading the Class AAA Pacific Coast League with a .446 batting average while sporting a robust 1.171 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 16 games. He was to make his major league debut Monday, hitting sixth and playing third base.
Only weeks ago, such desperate measures would have seemed inconceivable for one of the game’s elite franchises, an organization that has won three World Series titles this decade and addressed its biggest weakness by signing closer Mark Melancon in the offseason.
But a combination of poor performances – San Francisco’s starters have the majors’ worst ERA at 5.02 and their offense is averaging less than 3.7 runs a game – and some unforeseen events have led to the dreadful early spell.
All-Star catcher Buster Posey was beaned in the home opener and missed a week. Left fielder Jarrett Parker broke his collarbone making a catch. Shortstop Brandon Crawford has been dealing with a death in the family.
The large void created by Bumgarner’s injury – initially deemed a grade one or two sprain of the AC joint – has further compounded the club’s troubles while raising concerns about its long-term impact on the 2014 World Series MVP. The Giants expect to have a better sense for how long Bumgarner will be out after a Monday examination, but two months seems like a conservative estimate.
Still, members of the club say this is no time to panic.
“The first 19 games are not going to define how our season goes,’’ said second baseman Joe Panik, part of a core of homegrown players the Giants are built around.
“We were a playoff team last year. I don’t see our No. 1 pitcher going down for 6-8 weeks, whatever they said it’s going to be, changing that. We still have talent on this roster. We just haven’t been playing well lately. It’s just a matter of turning the tide, gaining that victory and getting some momentum going again.’’
The four-game series against the Dodgers that begins Monday has the potential to lift the Giants out of their morass – they typically get up for these rivalry matchups, and the usual sellout crowds will be stoked – or to further sink them in a division that looks more competitive than expected, with the Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks currently occupying the first two spots.
The Dodgers arrive in town with problems of their own, still largely incapable of solving left-handed pitching and missing Rich Hill (blister) and Scott Kazmir (hip) while fellow starters Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu struggle.
A surge of inspired play against Los Angeles could reenergize San Francisco, especially considering the clubs will meet seven times in the next 10 days and 10 times in the next 3½ weeks.
By that point, the Giants may have a better idea of whether Blach, top pitching prospect Tyler Beede or somebody else can help stabilize the rotation while filling in for Bumgarner.
For now, though, the blanket of fog that often covers San Francisco in the summer months has descended upon the team much too early.