ORACLE PARK — The magic has started to wear off for the 2019 San Francisco Giants.
The hottest team in baseball just a week ago has regressed to its mean. Following a 5-2 homestand July 18-24 that got them to within smelling distance of the wild card, the Giants went 4-5 on the road before returning to Oracle Park on Monday.
With a 4-0 series-opening loss to the Washington Nationals in which its offense failed to even threaten to score, San Francisco continued to fall into question the front office’s decision not to sell for prospects at the trade deadline.
“We just couldn’t get things going, that’s all,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “It was a tough night got the hitters. I thought we had some pretty good at-bats at times but we hit some hard luck.”
The loss was the first game of a grueling stretch in which the Giants plays seven games – three with Washington and four with the Philadelphia Phillies– against teams ahead in the National League wild card race and dropped the team below .500 to 56-57, 3 1/2 games out of a playoff berth.
On a night where Jeff Samardzija performed below his standard and the bullpen showed its inexperience, pitching did not matter because the Giants offense managed just seven hits and put a man into scoring position once, when Samardzija doubled in the third inning.
Samardzija took a step back from his exceptional month of July – 4-1 with a 2.09 ERA over 38 2/3 innings – allowing one run but only going four innings. It was his first start since May 28 in which he pitched fewer than five frames.
Samardzija worked out of a first-and-second no-out jam in the second with help from center fielder Kevin Pillar.
Pillar made a diving snag for the second out of the inning to save at least a run when Kurt Suzuki rocketed a line drive to left-center field.
“Seeing the ball slice away from him,” Samardzija said, “you’re just kind of sitting there hoping the ball sits up long enough for him to make a dive at it. He’s a joy to watch out there play baseball.”
While Samardzija limited the damage despite not having his usual solid command, long at-bats in the second and third innings ballooned his pitch count to 82 by the fourth.
Outside of just battling and fighting, there wasn’t too much positive out there for me,” Samardzija said. “They made me work and my slider wasn’t very good today. Everything was kind of the same speed.”
The right-hander’s exit in the fifth meant that the Giants‘ bullpen depth – weakened at the trade deadline by the departures of Drew Pomeranz, Sam Dyson and Mark Melancon – would be tested.
Sam Coonrod was the first San Francisco reliever to enter and looked shaky in the fifth, walking three and allowing two runs. However, Coonrod was not completely accountable for the damage as the Giants, as a team, had a messy inning, with a balk and a routine fly ball lost in the stadium lights that was ruled a double.
Before the inning, Coonrod had not allowed an earned run in eight big league innings dating back to May 28. Considering Coonrod’s strong performance since his second July callup, the outing may be just a blip, but served as a reminder that while the Giants still have a strong relief corps, it is now a much younger group that is not immune to rookie struggles.
Now one of the veterans in a generally inexperienced bullpen, Trevor Gott nailed down the sixth and seventh, retiring all six batters he faced. Gott would be the only Giants reliever to allow fewer than two baserunners in an inning.
Reyes Moronta and Sam Selman covered the eighth and ninth innings and both left much to be desired. Moronta pitched a scoreless inning but walked two batters and needed 25 pitches to record three outs. Selman gave up two hits and allowed a run to score on a double steal – which was admittedly misjudged by Buster Posey.
By the end of the night, however, the youthful struggles of the Giants bullpen were a moot point, as not even five scoreless innings would have shifted the outcome of a game marked by lifeless San Francisco bats.
“It was an off night,” Bochy said. “Long innings by everybody and some guys just had trouble locating their pitches.”