SAN FRANCISCO – The lingering memories from the San Francisco Giants’ 2012 World Series sweep include Pablo Sandoval’s three home runs in Game 1 and Sergio Romo’s dominant showdown with Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera to finish off the Detroit Tigers.
Everyone digs the long ball and sweep-clinching punchouts, but what about rock-solid defense? The Giants committed just one error in four World Series games, but now lead the National League with 74, one shy of the 75 committed by the 35-68 Houston Astros.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy said before Saturday’s game against the Chicago Cubs that the persistent miscues stand out as his biggest disappointment so far in a dismal season.
“That’s not us; that’s what we’ve become, but that’s not who we are,” Bochy said. “From this point on, we’re going to spend more time on the basics of good, fundamental baseball and they’ll spend more time on the field.”
Bochy said he may even have his team do nothing but fielding drills and forego batting practice before some games.
“We’ve got to get our focus back on catching the ball,” Bochy said. “If you look at why we were successful in the last four years of playing winning baseball, it’s because we pitched well, and sure that’s gotten away from us a little bit, but we also caught the ball. We were very good defensively; we didn’t beat ourselves. I think we are now.”
The Giants are 17-34 when they commit an error and 29-22 when they play a clean game.
“You’ve got to be strong to compete and smart to win; we’ve got to get back to playing smarter baseball,” Bochy said. “We’re too good a club to be making some of these mistakes that we’ve made.”
Brandon Belt’s Bill Buckner moment in Friday’s loss stands out as possibly the lowest point of the Giants’ season thus far. But Bochy, specifically mentioning that he wasn’t pointing fingers, referenced Belt’s baserunning blunder as the larger issue.
Despite the two game-changing mistakes, Belt is back in Bochy’s starting lineup. He’s batting eighth, after fluctuating between the fifth and sixth spots recently, against Cubs left-hander Chris Rusin.
Bochy said that Belt moving down was a product of the southpaw on the mound, not his mental state following a forgettable Friday night.
“He’s fine. We talked a little bit. As I said last night, in this game you have no choice but to bounce back. It’s all about being resilient in this game and putting that behind you. You have to deal with the ups and downs and he knows it. He’s a tough kid. You always hate to have a game like that. I know he felt horrible, but you have to come out the next day and be ready to go and hopefully come back with a vengeance.”
Belt will have the benefit of supportive teammates, according to Bochy, including closer Sergio Romo, who took the loss despite not allowing an earned run.
“Sergio, he’s not going to finger-point,” Bochy said. “We’re 25 guys that pull for each other. Occasionally we’re going to make mistakes. These guys do a great job of not dwelling on it or pointing a finger, because those same guys also win ballgames for you with a base hit or a great play.”
Bochy said his conversation with Belt included an oft-used motivational tool.
“I’ve said this to guys before: ‘What’s going to define you as a player? Is it the error you just made or your four or five previous games where you made great plays and played well.’ That’s what I said last night separates the average player from a good player is those guys that are able to do that.”
The Giants are 23-41 (.359 winning percentage) over their last 64 games dating back to May 14, which is the worst mark in the majors. That leaves the defending champions ten games under. 500 at 46-56 and a season-high eight games behind the division-leading Dodgers.
Bochy cautions his players against looking at the standings, even when the Giants are in first, and that advice rings truer for a fourth-place team.
“Where we’re at, there’s no point in looking at the standings,” Bochy said. “The important thing for us is to get back to playing good, solid, fundamental baseball. That’s where our focus has to be and I talked to the guys about it today. It doesn’t matter where you’re at in the standings if you don’t come out here and play the type of baseball that you need to play, and that’s winning baseball.
“Just start playing better baseball and find a way to win these games.”
Ryan Vogelsong, who allowed two runs in 2.2 innings in his first rehab start with Single-A San Jose on Friday, ‘felt great’ afterward, according to Bochy.
“He really felt good about adjusting,” Bochy said. “His bullpen, he said, was a little uncomfortable, getting loose and getting the ball where he wanted. He felt like he made a good adjustment. He felt good just coming out of that outing.”
Bochy said Vogelsong will join his teammates for the Giants’ White House visit on Monday, then make two starts with Double-A Richmond. The target date for a potential return to the big-league rotation remains Aug. 9.
“His arm feels great,” Bochy said. “We’re still on schedule with the plan we had mapped out for him.”
Right-handed pitcher Guillermo Moscoso, who the Giants acquired from the Cubs for a player to be named later or cash on Friday, has not been added to the 25-man roster.
Bochy said the Giants could ‘possibly’ activate Moscoso on Sunday.
In-Line image provided by USA TODAY IMAGES.