It's do or be done for Giants

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It's do or be done for Giants

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO -- For all the energy devoted to the back end of the Giants' starting rotation in the National League Division Series, it turns out that the front end was the problem after all.

And for all the fretting about the front end of the rotation, it turns out that the real problem was the hitting after all.

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It's a hellish Moebius strip of paralysis for the locals, who flee for Cincinnati after a defeat and a sound throttling at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds. They have nothing to use as a springboard, no optimism from recent events to use as a guide for the flop, the turn and the river of this series. The Reds hold king-king, the Giants have a seven-deuce unsuited, and the easy part of the series is done.

Sunday's 9-0 muzzling seems so much worse than it actually is, and it was the worst shutout loss in franchise history, because the Giants did nothing whatsoever to provide any hope. Sure, Tim Lincecum made the transformation from Roy Halladay to Joba Chamberlain with surprising ease, but the bigger picture prevents that development from being other than a catchy little sideshow.

Madison Bumgarner didn't last as long as Matt Cain did the night before, the long end of the bullpen essentially cratered, and the hitters, who had scuffled against Cincinnati's makeshift pitching staff in Game 1, did nearly nothing against the more traditional Bronson Arroyo. It looked, when you put the 18 innings together, like the Giants are simply and thoroughly overmatched.

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And maybe they are. Series are over when they are over, and this one isn't over. But it has the overwhelming feel of over-ish, so much so that there is no second-guessing to be done, no what-ifs, no wasted opportunities. The best moment the Giants have had was Johnny Cueto's eighth pitch Saturday night. After that, they have looked baffled, and buffaloed. Even Giants manager Bruce Bochy was more platitudinous than usual, which is how he typically is when the team gives him nothing to talk about.

"We know where we're at right now and our backs are to the wall," he said, his voice more graverl-based than usual. "We have to come out and be ready to play once we get to Cincinnati. It's been done before and we have to keep fightin'. There is no choice in this. We have to keep our heads up and be ready to go come Tuesday."

So this series is no longer a matter of macro-decisions like the starting pitchers, or who catches whom. The what-to-do-with-Lincecum issue is now played out, and the identity of the Game Four starter is even less meaningful than ever. Even the sniveling about the fans being too quiet to inspire the boys is not only out of place but out of time as well. This is now about little moments, single at-bats, fly ball outs in San Francisco that won't be in Cincinnati. This is about finding at-bats that work, and the best Ryan Vogelsong Ryan Vogelsong has ever been. Just to give them a chance.

The Giants have been in this situation before, most recently in 2003, when they were flap-slapped in four games by the Florida Marlins, but nobody in uniform save pitching coach Dave Righetti was there to draw from it. History doesn't help you when you're face down in a puddle. So it is that their only salvation is incremental improvement in the following areas:

Places 1 through 3 in the order, where Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval are 3 for 26.

Places 5 and 6, where Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt are 1 for 13.

Places 8 and 9, where Brandon Crawford and an amalgam of pitchers and pinch-hitters are 1 for 11.

That's 5 for 50, and there isn't enough Buster Posey and Gregor Blanco and the ghost of Melky Cabrera to tidy that up.

And the pitching? Well, the next time we see Cain would be in an as-yet-still-hypothetical Game 5, and everyone else is available for whatever scut work is there to perfrom. Lincecum acceded to Bochy's desires and went to the bullpen without protest, and his reward is that he and George Kontos are suddenly the staff aces.

But all this is small sample size stuff, and so is the Giants' task -- to make the monumental into a series of small and potentially digestible chunks, if they can. They have no choice, as Bochy said forlornly. It is do, or be done.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Giants dropping series vs Braves

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Giants dropping series vs Braves

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — The kid who raced The Freeze on Thursday night blew a tire as he hit center field, hobbled for about 50 feet, and then went down for good. He still had a better night than the Giants. 

They blew all four tires in the fifth, giving up eight runs in a nightmare frame that turned a two-run lead into a 12-11 loss. The Giants finished 1-7 on the swing through Denver and Atlanta, and they have lost 18 of their last 23 games. 

But, let’s face it, you’re here already. So here are five more things to know from the night … 

—- Matt Cain was hanging in there until the fifth, and then … disaster. The inning started with Brandon Phillips’ solo shot that cut the lead to one. Then it went single, single before Cain was relieved by Bryan Morris. After that, it was single, single, single, sacrifice fly, homer, flyout, walk, single, pitching change, single. 

—- Morris had to wear it in the fifth because the bullpen is short, and boy, did he wear it. Morris gave up five runs on five hits and a walk. His ERA jumped two full points in two-thirds of an inning. 

—- Kyle Crick made his MLB debut in that horrendous bottom of the fifth. The Giants surely did not want to bring him in with runners on, but Bruce Bochy had no choice when Morris blew up. Crick’s first pitch was a 95 mph heater. After giving up a hit in that inning, he pitched a perfect sixth and perfect seventh. Crick topped out at 97 mph. Pretty, pretty good stuff there. He needs to get a long look the rest of this year. 

—- In the second, Buster Posey hit a ball that went 311 feet and had a hit probability of just six percent. Cain hit a ball 357 feet. Posey got a homer that bounced off the top of the wall; Cain just got a double. Baseball is such an odd game.  

—- On a positive note, Javi Lopez, who calls Brandon Belt “Sparky,” repeatedly referred to Posey as Gerald. He’s going to be good at this job. 

Why you shouldn't freak out in June about Cueto's opt-out

Why you shouldn't freak out in June about Cueto's opt-out

SAN FRANCISCO — There’s a very important fact you need to keep in mind when talk of Johnny Cueto’s opt-out comes up, as it so often will over the next six weeks: The Giants always expected him to opt-out after this season, from the moment the ink was dry on the six-year, $130-million contract. 

When you sign at the top of your game and have a chance to hit the market at 31 years old and cash out a second time, you take it. Those are just the rules of professional sports. On the day Cueto was introduced, his agent, Bryce Dixon, said the two-year opt-out was important because they felt Cueto didn’t get a totally fair shot at free agency. 

“Johnny, a little bit unfairly, had a lot of questions about his arm,” Dixon said in December of 2015. “I felt we could reestablish his actual value … He knows he’s as good as (David) Price and (Zack) Greinke, but his situation was a little different.”

The Giants were fine with this, too. The flip side of the opt-out is that if you have the chance to pay a dominant right-hander $46 million over two years, and then escape his mid- to late-thirties, you do it. Every time. You don’t even blink. 

So, here we are, in June of the second year of that deal, with reports that Cueto will opt out. You should take a deep breath because you should have already expected this. But if you didn’t, take comfort in this: By all indications, Cueto has not made a decision, even with the Giants having an unimaginably poor season. 

First of all, Cueto can't make a decision in June. What if the blisters return and he repeats his April ERA a couple more times? What if his elbow starts barking? There are no guarantees with pitchers, and until Cueto gets through the second season, there will be no finality with his decision. 

Aside from the fact that he really can’t make that decision, though, sources insist Cueto hasn’t made up his mind or even thought much about it. People familiar with his thinking continue to say the focus has been baseball all season long, from spring training through his last start. 

Cueto is said to be happy in San Francisco and he enjoys pitching in front of the crowd at AT&T Park. His biggest concern has been wins and losses, and in that respect, this has been a disappointing year for all involved. 

That record has brought the Giants to a crossroads, and this is where it gets interesting. The easy solution is to trade Cueto next month, avoid the opt-out situation entirely, and add prospects to a system lacking them. But, it’s complicated. The Giants do not intend a full teardown, and if they’re going for it again in 2018 — with their core of Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Madison Bumgarner, etc. locked in, that’s the plan — they’ll want that second ace at the top of the rotation. And if Bumgarner doesn’t return to form after an injury, they’ll need Cueto’s presence. 

The Giants have until July 31 to decide what to do with Cueto. He has until three days after the World Series ends to decide what to do with his contract. Here in June, by all indications, those decisions haven’t been made.