SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Eight in a row for the Giants, the wrong way. True, they don’t count, but going a week without a win, even in the exhibition season brings back haunting memories of the second half of the 2016 regular season, when those losses did count, when San Francisco plunged from first place.
Madison Bumgarner pitched beautifully on a 72-degree Sunday afternoon, and that is what we should take from yet another Cactus League defeat for the Giants, this one to the Kansas City Royals, 4-3.
That’s what the skipper, Bruce Bochy, tells us. And through the seasons we’ve come to learn. The old Washington Senators, a veteran baseball man reminded, would finish first in Florida and last in the American League
And yet eight in a row? Doesn’t it bother you one little bit, Bruce? Doesn’t it matter?
“If it were like this two weeks from now,” said Bochy, “then I’d be concerned. I just would like to win enough so this question is not asked.”
The question that should be asked is when will Johnny Cueto, who arrived in Arizona on Friday with his ill — but improving — father from the Dominican Republic, pitch. The answer was March 11, or six days.
The question that should be asked is whether Buster Posey, who missed two days because of a stiff neck and then with teammate Brandon Crawford leaves today for Florida and the World Baseball Championship, is behind. “With the last three days,” said Posey, who was 2-for-3 with two RBI Sunday, “I caught up. I’m ready.”
Appropriate Posey, the catcher, is caught up.
The question that should be asked is how is the new closer, Mark Melancon, doing, because as everyone knows the Giants bullpen last season blew 30 games including the very last game, the playoff against the Cubs. Melancon went one inning, allowed one hit and two walks and then got out of it with a double play. In four innings in four games he hasn’t given up a run. “No wasted time,” Posey said about Melancon. “He’ s so diligent in his preparation.”
In the regular season it’s about team, not individuals. In the exhibition season it’s about individuals not team.
“You want your regulars to get in their work,” said Bochy. “They don’t play nine innings. The idea is to get a lot of people in a game, to see how some of the other people do.”
Bumgarner threw 45 pitches — “I counted them,” he said. Among those was a second-inning single by Jorge Bonifacio that scored a run.
“The last two starts,” said Mad Bum who has pitched three games, “I was a little sharper, a little crisper. If it keeps heading in that direction, I’ll be happy.”
Since pitchers aren’t coming to the plate in Cactus League games, Bumgarner, so effective with a bat he’s been used as a pinch hitter, has swung only in the cage.
“A pitchers goal — not that I’m big on goals — is to keep (the batting average) in the .200s.” He was a bit below that last year, .186, with three home runs.
Of course, it’s what Bumgarner does when the other team is at bat that has the greatest effect. He’s San Francisco’s No. 1 starter, a World Series winner. How he goes, go the Giants.
“He was really sharp today,” agreed Bochy. “He threw really well. He looked really strong. I like where he is right now.”
Where the Giants are right now depends on one’s judgment.
“This was a good game,” Bochy said of Sunday. “A good, crisp game.”
And another loss, meaningless as it might be.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.