LOS ANGELES — Madison Bumgarner and Yasiel Puig nearly came to blows at Dodger Stadium two summers ago. At the time, it looked like Bumgarner and Puig would headline one of the game’s best rivalries for the next decade.
Puig didn't live up to his end of the bargain, but the Dodgers still have a star to go toe-to-toe with the Giants’ ace, albeit in a quieter way. Corey Seager is officially a problem for the Giants, who at the moment have many of them.
Seager, the enormously talented 22-year-old shortstop, reached base three times against Bumgarner and was in the middle of three Dodgers rallies. He added a fourth hit against a bullpen that imploded in a 9-5 Giants loss.
“He’s good, he’s really good,” Bumgarner said. “Especially with as young as he is. The more time he spends here, he’s not going to do anything but get better. There’s no telling how good he can be. He’s way ahead of schedule for a (22-year-old) shortstop.”
The Dodgers are ahead of schedule, period. They have quietly been rebuilding, mixing a new generation — Seager, Julio Urias, Joc Pederson, etc. — with an aging core. The Dodgers are building what they hope is a sustainable powerhouse, and this season looked like the Giants’ chance to steal the division.
They led by eight games at one point. They now trail by two.
The Dodgers are threatening to pull away in the division, even though their rotation is in shambles (two more starters went on the DL on Tuesday) and Clayton Kershaw is weeks away from returning. The damage is being done by Seager, Justin Turner, Adrian Gonzalez and the rest of a lineup that is bashing the National League. The Dodgers have scored six-plus runs 16 times since the All-Star break, and they became the first team this season to hang five on Bumgarner.
“Obviously he wasn’t Bum-like tonight,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “They’re swinging the bats well. We ran into a hot club. They’ve been scoring runs recently and they swung well tonight.”
Seager, Turner and Gonzalez combined for seven hits, a walk and a sacrifice fly in nine plate appearances against Bumgarner, who had allowed just 20 hits to lefties in 26 starts before Seager and Gonzalez got two apiece.
“I felt I made some pretty good pitches to them,” Bumgarner said. “The first one to Seager wasn’t very good. I don't know, man. Sometimes you've got to give those guys credit. They get paid to hit just like we get paid to pitch.”
The off night was a rarity for Bumgarner, but the rest of this loss felt familiar. Bochy has had trouble keeping games close in the sixth-seventh inning range, seemingly getting burned with every choice. On this night, Cory Gearrin was the one to light the match.
The offense had little chance to catch up, in part because of missed opportunities early. A glaring one came in the fourth, when Eduardo Nuñez and Joe Panik drew walks and then took off on a double-steal. Nuñez was cut down by a Yasmani Grandal throw and Bumgarner struck out to end the threat. It turned out the call from the bench was hit-and-run, but that didn’t get all the way across. While Bochy didn’t divulge many details, he made it seem that third base coach Roberto Kelly might have missed a sign in a big spot.
“It was a miscommunication,” Bochy said. “I’m a long way from Roberto. That’s what that was. I’ll leave it at that.”
All the mistakes added up to Bumgarner’s third loss in his last four starts against the Dodgers. He said he prefers to view this as a blip, although the Dodgers are certainly building a lineup that will test Bumgarner and his teammates for years to come. Bochy said he’s not worried about Bumgarner’s recent lack of success against his biggest rival.
“There’s nobody tougher than Bum,” he said. “They just did a good job tonight.”
Tune in Wednesday at 5 & 11 p.m. when I'll be reporting from Dodger Stadium on SportsTalk Live before Game 2 of the series in LA. You can also catch me on Giants Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. and on SportsNet Central after the game at 10:30 p.m. -- all of it on CSN Bay Area.