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Madison Bumgarner's indestructible arm, strong bat carrying Giants

The Giants' Madison Bumgarner has been dominant this month. Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner may be the biggest impediment to the Chicago Cubs' hopes of reaching the World Series for the first time in 71 years.

We’re talking about both the past and present as it pertains to Bumgarner, and we’re talking about both his arm and his bat.

Bumgarner drove in the only run in a 1-0 win over the Cubs on Sunday. He and Clayton Kershaw are the only pitchers to win a 1-0 game in which they drove in the only run this season. Bumgarner is the first Giants pitcher to do so since Russ Ortiz against the Brewers in 2000.

He’s now 5-0 with a 1.25 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings pitched in his past six starts overall. He has a 1.26 ERA in his past four starts against the Cubs.

How he’s doing it

Bumgarner has gained back some of the fastball velocity it appeared he had lost earlier in the season (remember that he pitched on Opening Day against the Brewers with the flu). He averaged 90.4 mph with the pitch in April but has bumped that up to 91.2 in May. The little extra push has helped. Opponents hit .276 against that pitch in April but only .186 in May.

Bumgarner’s breaking pitches have been similarly dominant, with the month-to-month batting average drop going from .231 to .167. He threw 64 curveballs and sliders against the Cubs, which netted 17 outs and yielded only two baserunners. He threw 38 of 50 sliders for strikes, resulting in 14 outs and one hit allowed.

The slider takes its toll on many a pitcher’s arm, but Bumgarner has managed to maintain his effectiveness and indestructibility regardless of how many he throws. Over the past three seasons (including postseason), Bumgarner has thrown a major league-high 2,750 sliders. Two right-handed pitchers -- injured Tyson Ross (2,691) and Chris Archer (2,607) -- rank second and third. The next most by a lefty is Kershaw’s 2,120.

And with the bat, too

Bumgarner hadn’t been hitting like he usually does. He entered Sunday 3-for-23 this season but notched an RBI on Sunday, his 26th in the past three seasons. Mike Leake has the second-most RBIs as a pitcher in that time with 14.

Bumgarner excels (at least for a pitcher) in handling the bat against pitches at the top of the strike zone. If he makes contact, look out! Over the past three seasons, he’s hitting .329 with six home runs against pitches in the upper half of the zone or above. All four of his hits this season, including the game-winner on Sunday, came against pitches of that type.

If you want to have a little fun with Bumgarner’s offensive numbers, consider this: He has a .444 slugging percentage in 169 at-bats over the past three seasons. That ranks 100th of the 504 players with at least that many at-bats.

Among the players he ranks better than are Eric Hosmer, Mark Teixeira and Hanley Ramirez.

Hunt for October

You're likely already familiar with Bumgarner's postseason excellence. He's 7-3 with a 2.14 ERA in those games with three World Series rings to his credit. The Cubs can cling to this: His excellence is primarily in the World Series, where he has a major league-best 0.25 ERA. The Cubs wouldn't be facing him there. They just might have to beat him to get there.