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Saturday, June 4, 2011
Next-gen aces of the NL West

By Geoff Young


Jhoulys Chacin and Madison Bumgarner never faced each other in 2008, but both established themselves that year in the Low-A South Atlantic League. The 20-year-old Chacin went 10-1 with a 1.86 ERA for the Asheville Tourists before a midseason promotion to Modesto of the California League. Bumgarner, 20 months Chacin's junior, went 15-3 with a league-leading 1.46 ERA for the Augusta Greenjackets.

The following spring, Baseball America named Chacin its 46th-best prospect, while Bumgarner checked in at ninth overall. Chacin made his big-league debut against the Giants in July of that year and Bumgarner followed a few months later against the Padres.

The two again failed to connect in 2010, when Chacin pitched for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox and Bumgarner for the Fresno Grizzlies, or later in the year, when both were in the big leagues. But on Saturday in San Francisco, they finally met and the matchup did not disappoint.

Their approaches varied, with Chacin working perhaps too carefully to a lineup that has showed little bite through the season's first two months. (Only San Diego has averaged fewer runs per game than the Giants, who have failed to score as many as three runs in roughly 35 percent of their contests.)

Bumgarner, meanwhile, attacked hitters from the outset and kept applying pressure all afternoon long. Their pitch counts through four innings told the story: 77 for Chacin, 39 for Bumgarner.

Colorado finally broke through in the fifth with help from a throwing error by rookie shortstop Brandon Crawford. Recalled from the minors on May 26, Crawford took a high feed from second baseman Emmanuel Burriss and skipped the ball past Aubrey Huff at first base, allowing Troy Tulowitzki to score.

Tulo was mired in an extended slump, hitting .210/.266/.357 in 37 games prior to this one, but he singled to center the next inning to drive home Eric Young Jr. with an insurance run. With Cody Ross launching a solo shot off Chacin in the bottom of the sixth, Tulo's RBI single proved to be huge.

The Rockies' wasted opportunities to extend the lead in the eighth and ninth innings. In each, they got a runner as far as third base but couldn't drive him home. And so the game remained 2-1 headed to the bottom of the ninth, which made Andres Torres' brain cramp in the fifth that much larger.

With one out, Torres ripped a double to deep right field, bringing Burriss to the plate. Burriss isn't much of an offensive threat, bringing a .270/.329/.305 career line into the game, which is why he is constantly riding the shuttle back to Fresno, but Nate Schierholtz was waiting on deck. Schierholtz is no behemoth himself, but he knocked a double in the first, and again, for a team that struggles to score runs, he's as good a healthy option as the Giants have. At the very least, he's more of a threat than Burriss. Behind Schierholtz was Huff, who pounded three homers the other night against the Cardinals as his bat seems to be getting started.

So, one out, but it's starting to look like a decent inning for the Giants. All Torres has to do is be ready to move should something happen. You let Burriss do his thing, and then if that doesn't yield results, hope one of the (relatively) big bats behind him can tie the game.

What you can't do here is what Torres did: get picked off second base. Would Burriss have done anything anyway? Or the guys behind him? Maybe; maybe not. But a runner on second with one out is better than nobody on and two out every day of the week.

A team that has trouble scoring runs can't afford to make such fundamental mistakes. Sometimes, it will get away with those mistakes -- having a great pitching staff makes up for a lot. Other times, all the arms in the world and a healthy dose of Huston Street on the other side to “close out” the game -- Ryan Spilborghs' nice running catch on a drive to the warning track in right field ended this one -- won't help.

And maybe one game in June won't end up meaning anything. Then again, the Giants didn't clinch a playoff spot until the final day of the 2010 season -- and they ended up winning the World Series.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Logan Morrison
Geoff Young writes Ducksnorts, a blog about the San Diego Padres affiliated with the SweetSpot Network. You can also follow him on Twitter.