AT&T PARK — Derek Holland is fond of graphic t-shirts. He wears a different one to every postgame. Sometimes they have a message — he’s fond of puns — and other times, they’re just pop culture shoutouts, like his pitching-day South Park character Butters cutoff, or his Marty McFly costume shirt.
“Disposable income,” catcher Nick Hundley said, by way of offering an explanation.
As much of a plus as Holland has been both in the clubhouse and on the mound — be it stumping for Brandon Belt to make the All-Star game in a wrestling belt and baby oil, or experiencing a career renaissance after a dismal season in Chicago — he couldn’t halt a losing streak of historic proportions. Not even Doc Brown’s DeLorean can save the Giants from what’s been a Deadball Era offense.
Holland went six innings and allowed just one run while striking out seven on Wednesday, but it wasn’t enough as San Francisco suffered it’s 11th straight loss with a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Atlanta Braves. It’s the franchise’s longest losing streak since the 1951 New York Giants lost 11 straight.
“Somebody’s got to knock in a run,” said manager Bruce Bochy, whose team has averaged 2.36 runs per game during the streak. “You can’t be in a better position to win a ballgame and to score some runs than we were today. Somebody’s got to come through. If not, this is what happens. We had a man on third with less than two outs three times. We’ve got to get it done.”
Holland — as has been the case in four of his last five starts — had nothing to do with the decision. Twice, the Giants (68-79) hit into double plays with the bases loaded, and they went 1-for-10 with men in scoring position. Over the 11-game streak, they’re hitting .150 in those situations.
“We don’t like this at all, and we know the fans are frustrated, too,” Holland said.
In the third straight quality start turned in by San Francisco pitchers in the three-game sweep by Atlanta (82-64) it was Belt pulling his foot off the first base bag — according to replay review — in the top of the ninth that made the difference.
Both Belt and the Giants coaching staff felt he kept his foot on the bag — “Usually, if I come off, it’s pretty obvious,” Belt said — on a grounder to third by pinch hitter Tyler Flowers.
“That wasn’t the game,” Bochy said. “Obviously, it was, they scored the winning run, but we had our chances.”
Twice in the first four innings, the Giants had the bases loaded with one out — the second coming after Holland worked a full-count walk after falling behind 0-2 — and twice, they grounded into inning-ending double plays. After a one-out double by Evan Longoria in the fifth, Belt –hitting third — popped out on the first pitch he saw, and then Brandon Crawford grounded out weakly to second to end the inning.
“I was in that situation too,” Belt said. “I had a chance to win the game for us, and I didn’t get the job done.”
In between, San Francisco scored when a one-out bloop single to right by Longoria cashed in a leadoff single by Joe Panik in the bottom of the third.
After Panik’s third hit of the day in the seventh, he moved over to third when reliever Jesse Biddle fielded an Alen Hanson bunt and lolipopped a throw to first. Hanson made a slight turn with his hips at the edge of the dirt, and was tagged out by second baseman Ozzie Albies when he tarried in getting back to first. With Panik at third on the throw, Belt struck out, and Crawford grounded out to second, into the shift, to end the inning.
“You cannot make a move towards advancing there,” Bochy said. “He’s got one job there. At that point, he has to realize that. You know if, as a runner, you did that, you get back to first. That was huge. That’s probably the difference in the game, a mental mistake on his part.”
Like the rest of the staff, Holland has suffered through the doldrums of an offense stuck in neutral.
While the Giants knocked out seven hits on Wednesday, they’re hitting .193 in the month of September, but the offensive struggles are nothing new. Only three teams are averaging fewer runs per game in all of Major League Baseball.
“I know for a fact that these guys are not happy,” Holland said. “We’re not happy with what’s going on. We don’t want to be doing this. We should be winning.”
Holland has thrown the most innings he has since 2013. Since he made a shift from the first-base side of the rubber to the third base side on June 20, has become as effective as he was at his peak with the Texas Rangers, going 3-1 with a 2.61 ERA.
San Francisco, though, is 3-6 in starts in which Holland goes six or more innings and allows two or fewer runs. Since he made the swap and turned into a late-season ace of sorts, they’re 2-5.
“It’s not frustrating,” Holland said. “I’m never going to get down on my teammates or anything like that. I know these guys are trying, every single time. I know they’re doing what they can to try to get me the W.”
Of the 38 games San Francisco has played in which the Giants’ starter has gone six innings or more, and allowed two runs or fewer, they have won precisely 11 games. Dereck Rodriguez has gone six and allowed two or fewer runs 13 times. The Giants have lost five of those. Madison Bumgarner has seen San Francisco go 1-5 in such games he’s pitched.
The only run Holland allowed was in the sixth, when he gave up a one-out double to Albies and an RBI single to Freddy Freeman.
“These games do matter to us,” Belt said. “We do care if we win or lose. We do care that we come out here and win ballgames. We’re definitely going to be working our butts off to do that.”