Bochy: 'The third inning got us again today'
"We don’t have our leadoff hitter or our 5-hole hitter. But there’s no excuses." -- Bruce Bochy (AP)
ST. LOUIS – It’s one thing when you’re a mistake-prone team, committing errors and throwing pitches over the middle and getting trampled on the road.
It’s another thing when you’re a mistake-prone team and you’re missing the meatiest third of your lineup.
It means you almost have to play perfect to win. And the Giants are far from perfect these days.
They didn’t have Buster Posey, Angel Pagan or Pablo Sandoval for the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader. They were facing the St. Louis Cardinals, who have the best record in the National League.
The result was a predictable, 7-1 loss. The Giants served as the anonymous wrestling heel while the locals delighted in a doubleheader sweep at Busch Stadium.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Giants swept in day-night doubleheader]
The Giants’ ninth road loss in 10 games (and seventh in a row) included Madison Bumgarner giving up a double to pitcher Adam Wainwright on an 0-2 pitch, catcher Guillermo Quiroz not applying a tag quick enough at the plate and Bumgarner hanging a two-out, 1-2 slider that Carlos Beltran punched through the middle for a two-run single.
It made for a 3-0 lead in the third inning. And with no Posey, Panda or Pagan, even a team that has stayed afloat with comeback wins knew a thunderous rally probably wouldn’t be in the offing this time.
“When you’re facing the type of pitching we’re facing, you can’t make those kinds of mistakes,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, adding that Bumgarner “dropped his guard” in the third and Quiroz’s tag on Pete Kozma might have come in time if the catcher had positioned himself a step closer to the plate.
(There’s some irony there, since Posey is under orders to take throws well in front of the plate.)
At least the Giants will have Posey back behind the plate on Sunday, when Chad Gaudin makes his first start since 2009. Expect the Cardinals to stuff the lineup with left-handed bats; they’re hitting .341 against him, whereas right-handers own a .130 average.
As for Pagan, who had a cortisone shot in his hamstring? Bochy said a day earlier that his leadoff hitter was “definite” for Sunday. Now he sounds anything but.
“Angel, I can’t answer that right now,” Bochy said. “We’ll get with Angel and see where he’s at.”
Sandoval is definitely out for Sunday. There’s no guarantee he’ll be back when the club begins its two-game home series with Toronto on Tuesday, either.
“It’s hard to say,” Bochy said of Sandoval, who wasn’t limping as badly on his sprained left foot. “He’s making progress, which is a good thing. There’s no question we miss him. We don’t have our leadoff hitter or our 3-hole hitter. But there’s no excuses."
The Giants’ inexperienced bench didn’t inspire much confidence exiting the spring. Quiroz didn’t make the club, initially. Nick Noonan almost made it by default because Tony Abreu wasn’t healthy. Joaquin Arias is ideally suited to get his at-bats against left-handers.
Gregor Blanco, forced into an everyday role, is hitting .148 (4 for 27) with three runs scored in seven games since Pagan went down.
Noonan, who hit .333 in a rousing April, has a .121 average (4 for 33) in 19 games from May 1 to the present. Don’t be surprised if the Giants give him the Hector Sanchez treatment and send him back to Fresno, just to benefit from regular playing time and get his stroke back.
Regardless of who his reserves are, Bochy made it clear he expects a lot from them.
“Well, guys are getting a chance to play,” said Bochy, asked about the rigors of winning without Pagan, Posey and Sandoval. “You need 25 guys and all your extras. Look at (the Cardinals). They played all their guys.
“It’s not easy. But at the same time, you’ve got to be prepared for the task and to show something.”
The Giants are still two games over .500 and were two games back of Arizona for first place in the NL West, with the Diamondbacks’ result pending at Wrigley Field. If the Giants were playing in the NL Central, they’d be good and buried – 8 ½ games behind St. Louis.
The Cards (20-7), Reds (19-8) and Pirates (19-9) had the NL’s three best records in May. Sorry, Milwaukee Rally Banana.
So there’s no need for the Giants to panic. But a healthy sense of urgency might not be a bad idea.
“I think all of us know we can come out of it,” Posey said. “It comes down to putting solid games together. … I don’t think we make any excuses. If we have a guy go down, I think we have other guys that can step in and do that job well.”
This should be the Giants’ only goal: Manage to stay within reasonable striking distance through July 4. That’s when the schedule lightens up a bit, they’ll be able to drop their suitcases for a spell and they’ll have opportunities to begin climbing.
Until then, and until they’re back at full strength, the pressure will be on the pitchers to limit their mistakes. And with a bruising road trip to Arizona, Pittsburgh and Atlanta -- all winning teams that pitch very well at home -- that pressure won’t let up anytime soon.
Bochy said he thought Bumgarner “dropped his guard” by thinking that Wainwright would be bunting on an 0-2 pitch in the third, which the Cards pitcher laced for a double.
Bumgarner said no, he wasn’t making that assumption. He just missed badly with a back-foot cutter.
“I kind of had an idea he’d be swinging,” he said. “One way or the other, I wanted to make a good pitch and didn’t do it.
“You can’t make a mistake, especially to a team like this. You’ve got to bear down and make pitches and I’ve got to do a better job of that.”
I talked to one scout between games who watched Matt Cain in Game 1. He didn’t think Cain was tipping his pitches from the stretch, but definitely found it interesting that both Mike Matheny and Bengie Molina, two members of the Cardinals coaching staff, had caught Cain in his career.
It’s possible that Buster Posey was doing something in his setup to give away the pitches, too.
Mostly, though, the scout told me that he just felt Cain threw way too many cutters. Seven of the nine hits Cain allowed in the third inning came on fastballs – either cutters, two-seamers or four-seamers. Then there was the first-pitch curve to Pete Kozma that the batter jumped on like he was expecting it.
I expect there will be much more breakdown of Cain’s start on film. Dave Righetti and Co. have two off days before his next outing to pore over this one.
The Giants don’t have a complete game. Adam Wainwright has three.
This is the longest the Giants have gone without a complete game to start a season since 2008, when Cain threw their first on July 24.
Hindsight being what it is, it sure seems like the Giants would've been better served to DL Angel Pagan right away and call up Roger Kieschnick, who is blistering the ball at Fresno. See if you could get a temporary bounce from someone new. That's the benefit of hindsight, though.
Doubleheaders always make for a long day but we’re fortunate the weather not only held, but turned out to be pleasant. You can’t beat a nice, cool night under the Gateway Arch to watch baseball.