Gone are the days of inspired pitching performances and heroic walk-offs for the San Francisco Giants.
For a few mystical weeks in July, the Giants looked like legitimate playoff contenders, winning games in every way imaginable and forcing their way into the NL playoff picture. A 17-4 run from June 30 to July 24 helped keep mostly intact a Giants squad that suddenly had a shot to grab a wild card past the July 31 trade deadline.
But now, with the deadline come and gone and the season’s most important stretch still ahead, the Giants have returned to the lackluster play that characterized the first half of their season, losing a third game in a row on Tuesday night, 5-3 to the visiting Washington Nationals.
The loss moved the Giants four games behind the Philadelphia Phillies – who the Giants play next from Thursday to Sunday – for the second NL wild card spot.
What San Francisco has missed in its 4-7 stretch since July 24 is production from its young developing players, a trend that continued with a poor start from left-hander Conner Menez in his second big league appearance.
Menez (0-1, 5.73 ERA) gave up five runs on two home runs in six innings and, though he settled down in the later innings, struggled to locate the strike zone, walking three on the night.
“He was okay tonight,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “Early walks hurt him. He didn’t quite have a feel for his changeup, which is an important pitch for him.”
While he ended up pitching one inning more than in his first major league start – a two-run five-inning performance against the New York Mets July 21 – Menez again showed his inexperience and proclivity to give up the long ball, yielding blasts to Kurt Suzuki and Trea Turner for three of Washington’s five runs.
“The pitch that I’m sure that he’d like to have back is the two-outs two-strike two-run homer,” Bochy said. “That was dangerous and it ended up being the difference in the ballgame.”
Menez and other youngsters will have to step up for the Giants if they are to climb back in the wild card race – which they are quickly sliding out of – as the decision by the San Francisco front office to stand pat at the deadline was largely based on its faith in the budding core of rookies and sophomore players.
Still, it has been the burden of the Giants pitching staff to consistently shut down opposing offenses as the San Francisco bats have done nothing to inspire faith in Giants starters.
Before Tuesday’s game, the Giants had scored two or fewer runs in seven of their last 11, batting .245 with a .309 on-base percentage and .389 slugging percentage. In those games, San Francisco was also batting .193 (16-for-83) with runners in scoring position.
With Alex Dickerson, another member of the San Francisco youth movement and one of the Giants’ best hitters in July, sidelined with a right oblique strain, the Giants offense has turned to some of its veterans to pick up the offensive production.
Kevin Pillar and Pablo Sandoval did just that on Tuesday night, going 3-for-4 and 2-for-3 at the plate respectively, but came up short in the biggest moment.
In the bottom of the ninth with Pillar on third and the Giants down 5-3, Pablo Sandoval struck out swinging at a pitch up out of the zone to end the game and continue the team’s offensive woes. Pillar and Sandoval were the only Giants players to record multiple hits in the game.
Evan Longoria made his first home start for the team since July 7 after returning from a left foot plantar fasciitis injury on Sunday in Denver. Longoria went 0-for-3 with a strikeout as he looks to recapture his hot hitting – 12-for-30 with six home runs and 12 RBIs in nine July games– before landing on the injured list.