For Giants, Saturday sucked a very great deal

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For Giants, Saturday sucked a very great deal

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO -- Brandon Phillips saw his starting pitcher Johnny Cueto shut down after eight pitches. He heard the crowd at the Thing On King roar their delight. And he copped to the feeling of despair that washed over the one part of the ballpark that wasn't populated by Giants or their faithful customers.

"When Johnny went down, I was like, 'Oh gosh. Oh no. We're done. Why? Why?'" the Cincinnati second baseman said. "It sucked a little bit."

Well, it sucked more than a little bit for the Reds. But as time went on, it started to suck less and less until it didn't really suck at all, except for the Giants. For them, Saturday sucked a very great deal.

BAGGS' INSTANT REPLAY: Reds beat Cain, Giants in Game 1

Phillips was one of several Reds who gave the Giants that general feeling of suck in Game 1 of this National League Division Series. He turned on a delicious and nutritious Matt Cain curve ball to give the Reds a 2-0 lead, he drove in an insurance run in the ninth with a two-out single, he dove to save extra bases on a leadoff single by Giant right fielder Hunter Pence, and he verified what he claimed after the game:

"I'm good on TV."

RELATED: Phillips shines under bright lights

But lots of Reds were good on TV, including manager Dusty Baker and pitching coach Bryan Price. Between their jerryrigging a solution to Cueto's first-inning back spasms, Mat Latos' four-inning relief performance, Jay Bruce's homer, Ryan Ludwick's defense, and mostly from relief pitching, the Reds took a 1-0 lead in the series that feels a lot more like 2-0 or 3-1, and in doing so, they saw to it that the only Giant that looked good was Buster Posey.

In other words, they brought home the suck.

There is no truly elegant alternate way to put it, for this was not an elegant game. It was more a white-knuckler on a 20-seat plane through bad weather and turbulence, and though the box score suggests that the Giants were dominated, what they really endured was a night of vertigo. Cueto to Sam LeCure to Latos to Sean Marshall to Jonathan Broxton to Aroldis Chapman is enough to make anyone's head wobble on its axis, and even though Broxton and Chapman seemed most vulnerable to offensive coercion, the Giants did too little too often to have it matter.

And therein lies the difficulty they face going into Game 2. The only quality at-bat they got with runners in scoring position all night was Cain's line-out to Bruce to end the second. Posey's home run off Latos was the one at-bat that brought the sellout crowd of 43,492 out of its torpor, but it was followed by nothing of substance.

The Giants' offense forced Cain to be perfect, which is not unusual for him or them. But it happened on a night when he plainly wasn't. He missed spots, he left curve balls like the one to Phillips in hittable places ("If he throws a fastball or a cutter, I'm back in the dugout with everyone else"), and he was not dominant on a night when dominance would have barely broken him even.

Suddenly, the onus of the series is squarely on San Francisco. A split is barely tolerable, but it is all the hope the Giants have, and they need Madison Bumgarner to be what Cain was not -- masterful. The Reds, who looked to be in shambles after eight pitches, may still have Cueto for Game 3 against (in all likelihood) Ryan Vogelsong, in which case they have lost nothing at all from a night that looked so . . . well, suckworthy halfway through Marco Scutaro's first at-bat.

Cueto said he feels fine, and Baker said, "You know how back spasms are. When it lets you go, it lets you go when it wants to."

But that's too far away for the Giants. They have to navigate another of Cincinnati's nasty starters, Bronson Arroyo, Sunday or go to Ohio needing a sweep in a park that is not kind to their kind of pitcher, whether it be Vogelsong, Barry Zito or Tim Lincecum.

In short, and with all apologies to the gods of strained metaphors, the suck is already on the other foot.

Giants get blanked by Braves, now have lowest-scoring team in majors

Giants get blanked by Braves, now have lowest-scoring team in majors

SAN FRANCISCO — Over in Cleveland earlier Friday, Brandon Moss hit a three-run homer for the visiting team and five other players chipped in a pair of hits. The Royals had six runs, which meant that when Jim Johnson closed the Giants out a few hours later, what has seemed true all season became officially true. The Giants have the lowest-scoring lineup in the majors.

At 3.32 runs per game, they have dipped below the equally-disappointing Royals (3.38). They are capable at the moment of making any pitching staff look dominant. A 2-0 shutout was the first of the year for the Braves, who previously had just two games this season where they allowed fewer than two runs. 

“Six runs in (the last) four games … I thought we would come home and get some rips in tonight, but it didn’t happen,” Bruce Bochy said. 

The manager’s frustration showed late in this one. After the only rally of the game — a two-run single by opposing pitcher Jaime Garcia — Bochy took his cap off and rubbed his forehead. He dipped his head and briefly stood as if he was going to fall asleep on the rail. The bats were equally still. 

The Giants had just four hits, all of them singles against Garcia, who is a nice pitcher but hardly one of the league’s best. One was an infield single by Eduardo Nuñez, another a single through Garcia’s five-hole, and a third a generous ruling by the official scorekeeper. 

“It comes down to, you’ve got to get some hits and create opportunities, and we’re not doing it very often,” Bochy said. “It’s just a matter of guys getting somewhat hot. We did, we had some success, and we won some games. The thing you like to see is some good cuts and I didn’t think we got enough of those tonight.”

That run, which spanned the last homestand and small parts of two road trips, has come to a screeching halt. The Giants have lost five of six. It seems silly to scoreboard-watch in May, especially when a team is playing like this, but it’s worth noting that the teams the Giants eventually need to catch keep winning. They fell 12 games back of the Rockies and 11 back of the streaking Diamondbacks. They are 9 1/2 back of the Dodgers, who might be the best team in the whole league. 

Matt Cain did his part to allow the Giants to keep pace. He got beat just once in seven sharp innings. The Giants intentionally walked Dansby Swanson to get to Garcia, who bounced a single into left. Brandon Belt had a play at the plate, but his throw was short and hit the runner. A second run scored. 

“That’s tough,” Cain said. “(Garcia) was throwing the ball really good and that’s what it comes down to, you’re looking for that one hit and he did it. He’s a good hitter. We’ve seen it in St. Louis. But it definitely is tough when the pitcher does that … it just stinks on my part to give up a hit to the opposing pitcher.”

Instant Analysis: Giants bats silenced, losing streak now at four games

Instant Analysis: Giants bats silenced, losing streak now at four games

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — The return to AT&T Park was a huge boost to Matt Cain, who has wild home-road splits this season, but it did predictable things to an already-limp Giants offense. 

The Giants entered the night as the lowest-scoring team in the National League and they got blanked 2-0 by Jaime Garcia and the Braves. Garcia out-dueled Cain and provided the only offense of the night, as well. The Giants have dropped five of six.

Here are five things to know from AT&T Park, where they keep having Star Wars Night but they’ve never once celebrated Super Troopers … 

--- Cain entered the seventh with a 0.94 ERA at home this season, but the opposing pitcher busted him. With one on and two outs, the Giants intentionally walked Dansby Swanson to get to Garcia, a career .145 hitter. He bounced a single into shallow left and it looked like Brandon Belt had a play at the plate, but his throw home hit the runner. That allowed Swanson to race home for a 2-0 lead. 

--- Cain’s final line: seven innings, one earned run, one walk, three strikeouts. Yep, that’s a Caining.

--- Justin Ruggiano is here for the opportunity he was given in the sixth. Ruggiano has always crushed lefties, and Bruce Bochy put him behind Buster Posey on Friday night. The Braves intentionally walked Posey to load the bases for Ruggiano, who grounded out to third. Even the platoon splits are failing the Giants. 

--- If you need a little perspective on Christian Arroyo’s struggles, look across the field. Swanson, the former No. 1 overall pick, is batting .198. The shortstop slashed .302/.361/.442 as a rookie but his numbers are way down across the board, and he’s nearly two years older than Arroyo. These things take time. Having said that, Arroyo’s hole is pretty deep. He’s hitless in his last 21 at-bats after an 0 for 3.

--- There were three no-pitch intentional walks. I hope you used the extra ninety seconds wisely.