Programming note: Giants-White Sox coverage starts Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. with Giants Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area
The Giants traveled to Chicago having lost six of seven, but they weren’t exactly unlashing the lifeboats.
They led in the eighth inning or later in all three of their losses to the Colorado Rockies, and one of those defeats came on a fluky, inside-the-park home run. They outhit the Washington Nationals in two of their three losses in that series.
And they still held the best record in baseball, along with the largest division edge – 6 ½ games over the Los Angeles Dodgers. They had every reason to shrug it off as one of those unfortunate stretches that every team faces over a 162-game season.
Then came Tuesday night’s series opener on the South Side against the Chicago White Sox.
It wasn’t just that they lost 8-2 to sustain their seventh defeat in eight games. It was the manner in which they lost. Matt Cain remained stuck on one victory in mid-June, couldn’t locate anything from the stretch (the White Sox were 6 for 9 with two homers against him) and he even issued a bases-loaded walk to a hitter, Tyler Flowers, who was leading the NL in strikeouts.
There is nothing more deflating than a starting pitcher who doesn’t have it. It goes from deflating to alarming when that pitcher is in the early stages of a $127.5 million contract.
It’s because of that big-money deal, and also the two-year, $35 million contract that Tim Lincecum signed last offseason, that will keep the Giants from making a hard push at Jeff Samardjiza or David Price, the top two pitchers who figure to be available at the trade deadline. Even if they had the prospects to close a deal for either of those pitchers, how would they pay them, given the amount already committed to their rotation?
Giants GM Brian Sabean is certain to look for pitching. He always does, whether it’s middle relief or late relief or Jason Schmidt (dynamite deal) or Sidney Ponson (dud). But for the most part, the Giants figure to be in the market for a starting pitcher as a depth signing. They already have their frontline guys, and they won’t move them out of the rotation. This team will be as good as their starting pitchers can carry them.
That’s what made Tuesday’s loss different than the ones that preceded it. They took a 2-0 lead, Cain leaked it all away and for once, a spirited group looked lifeless. Look at the faces or look at the swings. Even from my view watching from our studio 1,800 miles away, there was no question this team wouldn’t come back on this night.
It wasn’t just another spotty outing from Cain that left cause for alarm. Hector Sanchez took a foul tip from Adam Dunn that hit his mask with such force, it literally knocked him on his backside. He stayed in the game but was holding his head in his hands in the dugout between innings. Buster Posey was just taken out of Sunday’s game in the fourth inning after the latest in a series of fouls off the mask. This is absolutely nothing to take lightly, and the Giants know that better than anyone. With no warning, Mike Matheny’s career ended after a foul tip in the second inning May 31, 2006, at Miami.
The Giants are also without Angel Pagan, who reportedly has just inflammation in his back and no structural damage but hasn’t played since he took himself out of Sunday’s lineup less than an hour before the first pitch.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy probably won’t say it publicly, but he’s desperate for Pagan to get back in the lineup Wednesday against the White Sox’s Chris Sale. Otherwise it’d be a left-handed bat, Gregor Blanco or Tyler Colvin, in there against a pitcher who has held lefties to a .057 average this season.
Pagan has played brilliant baseball all season, but his center field play in those meltdowns against the Rockies –- and this absence from the lineup – is not winning him any points within the clubhouse.
Add it up and that’s a lot of drama for a team that still – STILL! – owns the best record in baseball. They still have the largest division lead, too – even if it’s nearly half what it was a week ago.
No, the Giants might not be listing into the ocean. But they definitely have soggy loafers now. And that’s never fun.