SAN FRANCISCO – As feeble and fallible as the Giants have been this season, at least they could claim this much: they have played their archrivals tough.
They entered Wednesday night trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers by 37 games in the NL West, but a victory would have allowed them to knot up the season series between the clubs with three games remaining at Dodger Stadium next week. It’s a discrepancy that wasn’t lost on Dodgers manager Dave Roberts.
“In person, it seems like they bring out their best when we play them,” Roberts said prior to Wednesday’s game.
He spoke too soon. The Giants took their depressingly low bar and found a way to slither underneath it in an unfashionable 4-1 loss at AT&T Park, once again leaving them with the worst record in the major leagues.
The Giants made baserunning mistakes that shouldn’t exist beyond Pony League. Their abysmal outfield failed to catch a variety of contact from hard liners to soft bloopers. Matt Moore kept the game on the road, but it was another rough ride in a disappointing season. And while there is no shame in getting shut out by Yu Darvish, it was one more night when the Giants offense needed to be poked with a stick to see if it would move.
If the objective were to make soup, the Giants would have ruined the pot.
They were just the nourishment their spiraling archrivals needed. The Dodgers entered having lost 15 of 16 before taking two of three in the series. Now to win the season series, the Giants must sweep the three games at Dodger Stadium next week.
With any luck, the Dodgers will have clinched the NL West and emptied their bottles before the Giants arrive for that series opener on Sept. 22.
But there is no escaping themselves. They have 14 games remaining before the season comes to a merciful end, and they must go at least 6-8 to avoid the second 100-loss season in franchise history.
Their 91st loss matched their most since the 2007 team was a sideshow to Barry Bonds’ pursuit of the all-time home run record. They have not lost 92 games in a season since the 1985 team finished 62-100.
It is one thing to lack talent. It is another to lack fundamentals.
The first mistake came when Hunter Pence further branded himself as a defensive liability in right field. He couldn’t catch a two-out line drive off Cody Bellinger’s bat that went for an RBI triple. The shortcoming led to two runs and an additional 17 pitches for Moore in an inning that didn’t end before Kyle Crick began to warm up in the bullpen.
Moore somehow emerged from a scoreless second inning even though Pence was charged with an error for letting a pop fly drop at his feet for the second night in a row. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who started because Ryder Jones was sick, mixed in a throwing error, too.
Even Eli Whiteside, as laconic as they come, is hopping mad. Cameras showed the bullpen catcher pacing the dugout and yelling what you might classify as tough love.
The Giants did not limit their mistakes to the field. They ran into a highly irregular double play in the first inning when Denard Span hit a comebacker, Darvish caught Pence between second and third, and after he was tagged out, the Dodgers threw out Span trying to advance to second base.
The most inexcusable mistake of the night: with the Giants trailing 4-0 in the seventh, Jarrett Parker was doubled off first base after left fielder Kiké Hernandez made a running catch of Buster Posey’s shallow fly ball.
Through it all, left-hander Moore struggled with command and to put batters away. He missed at the belt to Bellinger in the fifth inning, which resulted in a two-run splash home run, and a 4-0 Dodgers lead.
The Giants would’ve been shut out for the 11th time if not for an RBI single with two outs in the ninth.
It’s the same “Benny Hill” theme the Giants have played all season. Now the Dodgers are finally getting a listen. And perhaps Roberts begins to understand why there is a historic gulf between the two archrivals in the standings.
“When I watch them on TV, it seems they don’t play the quality of baseball they play against us,” Roberts said prior to the game. “That could partly be because we haven’t played our best baseball against them.
“But we have so much respect for those guys and the nucleus of that ballclub. We had them picked right with us, to be quite honest, when the season started. Obviously losing (Madison) Bumgarner was a big blow. I just have so much respect for Bruce Bochy and that club. They’ve played us tough all year.”
The Giants’ narrative through most of this lost season is that the front office continues to believe in its core, and that a fresh start – combined with a few tweaks to shore up the outfield, get more right-handed in the lineup and perhaps add a left-handed reliever – will position them to rebound in 2018.
But every sloppy series tells another story.
Roberts is not in any position to offer suggestions for improvement to an NL West rival. Still, when you are speeding along in your Cadillac, it’s human nature to slow down when you see a wreck on the shoulder.
“We’re as surprised as anyone when you look at the standings,” Roberts said. “Because the track record, you look at the starting pitching, you’d think they had depth. The offense has gone through its struggles, but the track record of those guys is that they perform, too. It just goes to show when you meet that up, that’s why you play 162 games to see who the best team is over the course of the season. In this 16 game sample, we’ve been neck and neck.”
Among the major differences between the Dodgers and Giants are the ages of their star players. Bellinger is 22. Corey Seager is 23. Even the Giants’ less established players such as Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson are closer to 30 than 25.
The younger your core, the less apt they are to become old almost overnight.
“This is a young man’s game – it really is,” Roberts said. “And it really puts the impetus on coaches to teach, because players are being rushed to the big leagues a lot sooner.”
It’s a good point. But when your veterans are forgetting how to play this game, what hope is there?
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