AT&T PARK — Chris Stratton threw his third straight quality start on Sunday, after the tutelage of Ryan Vogelsong helped shore up his mechanics, but as has been a trend with this year’s San Francisco Giants, he came away with not much to show for it.
Out of 33 games in which the Giants have seen their starter go six or more innings, allowing two or fewer runs, they have won just 11, according to Bill Arnold of the Sports Features Group.
Stratton, on Sunday, threw No. 34, striking out two and allowing three hits — including a two-run home run — to the New York Mets in six innings of work, but San Francisco couldn’t muster any run support, losing 4-1. Pitching and defense can win championships, but not without something resembling a shadow of an offense. The Giants (68-70) don’t even have that against Noah Syndergard.
“I think you have to look at the pitching we did face in the series,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “You’re facing really big arms. He’s done that to a lot of clubs. He’s throwing 99, a good slider, a changeup, a two-seamer, you have your hands full. You hope your pitching keeps you in the game.”
San Francisco ranks 26th in the major leagues this season in runs per game (3.91), but have slid four spots since the start of July, with their average dropping by 0.23 runs per game. Heading into Sunday’s game, since July 1, San Francisco had managed just 3.53 runs per game — which would be the worst in the major leagues this season by almost a quarter of a run. Over that same span, they’re hitting .225 as a team.
To add insult to injury, the Giants have the best ERA in the majors since June 1 (3.23 headed into play on Sunday), but that still doesn’t give San Francisco much margin for error. The Giants bats were again listless on Sunday, managing just two hits against Syndergard, who at 25, is having his worst big league season to date, with a 3.51 ERA.
“They give us a chance, but you see the numbers; it’s just been tough since June 1 with the offense,” Bochy said. “A couple of guys getting hot, driving in runs, that’s what we’re missing. Somebody’s got to do that for you to win ballgames. That’s what we’re missing.”
Syndergard struck out 10 in his first career complete game, the second complete game thrown against the Giants this season. His last pitch clocked in at 99 mph.
“He’s one of the best in the game,” Stratton said. “His changeup’s the same speed as my fastball. You just go up there and battle him the best you can.”
“You do have to look at who’s on the hill,” Bochy said. “You don’t expect to score a lot, but with that said, I’d like to think we could get more than two hits.”
The only real mistakes Stratton made on the day came in the second, when he allowed a 2-2 double to third baseman Todd Frazier and then a first-pitch homer on a 90-mph fastball to Michael Conforto — his 20th of the season. He would allow just one more hit on the day. After that home run, Stratton retired 12 of the next 13 men, including seven in a row.
The 28-year old right-hander had to provide his own run support, as for the sixth time this season, he got less than two runs of help from the rest of the offense. After a leadoff triple by Alen Hanson in the bottom of the third — his sinking liner to right got past a diving Brandon Nimmo — Stratton fought off two 0-2 offerings from Syndergard and sent a sacrifice fly to right, accounting for the Giants’ only run.
Stratton would be taken out after 75 pitches, with his spot due to lead off the seventh. Hunter Pence struck out on seven pitches.
“He threw a nice ballgame, [but] leading off there in the sixth, it was pretty evident we’re having trouble scoring runs,” Bochy said. “Put a hitter up there to lead things off against a tough pitcher, see if we could get a run. We worked Stratton pretty hard last game — eight innings, 116 pitches — and he could have kept going, but we had to try to find a way to score. Doesn’t do us any good to sit on one run.”
Sunday was the sixth time that Stratton has gone six or more and allowed two or fewer runs, but he’s far from the only pitcher who has been victimized by what’s become a generally anemic offense. He’s not even had the brunt of it.
Saturday’s starter, Derek Holland, has gone six while allowing two or fewer a team-high seven times. San Francisco has won two of those games. Madison Bumgarner has gone six or more while allowing fewer than two runs six times. The Giants are 1-5 in those games.
Hanson — who scored the Giants’ only run — started at short in place of Brandon Crawford, who has now spent three straight games on the bench with a bruised left knee. Hanson turned in four spectacular plays at short, capped by a ball he fielded nearly behind third and fired on one bounce to Brandon Belt at third to end the top of the ninth.
Hanson also made a spinning, sprawling, rolling play behind second to get Conforto after a Frazier double in the seventh.
“The defense behind me was unbelievable,” Stratton said. “It doesn’t need to be overshadowed by the game. Just Hanson out there was unbelievable, the plays that he made.”
Gregor Blanco added to the defensive wizardry, making a diving snag on a sinking liner by former Giant Austin Jackson in the fifth. Austin Slater made a diving catch in right field for the final out in the top of the ninth.
“You don’t hit, you look flat, you don’t look like you have a lot of energy out there, but you look at what Hanny did today, that was a really impressive game at short,” Bochy said. “He was all over the field, the forehands, backhands, really did a nice job. Blanco, nice catch, Slater, we played hard. You’ve got your work cut out going against Syndergard.”
Crawford will be back against Colorado, Bochy said, but he may not be much help; he’s hitting .177 since July 1.