SAN FRANCISCO -- Tim Hudson’s cutter away caught a little more of the plate than he wanted, but he didn’t expect Josh Donaldson’s fly ball to become anything more than a sacrifice fly.
“I was a little shocked by it,” Hudson said. “The last thing I thought in the world was that he’d pop it up for a home run.”
Donaldson is strong. Really, really strong. He put so much backspin on the ball that it landed in the right field arcade for a two-run home run. And then, minutes after the A’s sealed up their 6-1 victory over the Giants, Donaldson received an invitation to participate in the All-Star Home Run Derby.
The Giants aren’t generating any backspin, unless you’re looking at their fall in the NL West standings. They’ve lost 21 of their last 29 games, with the rotation, bullpen and defense breaking down at times. But the biggest issue is and continues to be the offense.
If not for another garbage-time run Thursday and a relatively meaningless solo homer from Tyler Colvin in Oakland, the Giants would’ve been shut out in all three of their losses in this four-game series with Oakland. They’d have been shut out in six of their last 11 games, too.
Even the weekend that greased their slide, when they blew three leads in the eighth inning or later and got swept by the Colorado Rockies June 13-15, was to blame as much on the offense’s inability to land a put-away punch as it could be on Sergio Romo’s flat slider or Angel Pagan’s ineptitude in center field.
Pagan took himself out of the lineup in that series finale against the Rockies, and he hasn’t appeared since. He is a good player but has never made an All-Star team. A first place club should not completely break down when they lose a player like Pagan, but the Giants didn’t have the depth to replace him.
Now when they play a clean game, they’re liable to lose a tight one. And when they make mistakes, they’re nowhere close to outhitting them.
"It just looks like we're caught in between as an offensive group," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "We're a little late on the fastball and out front on off-speed pitches. (Wednesday’s 5-2 win) was a good game for us and you like to think, 'OK, we'll build off that.' But their guy threw well.’”
Scott Kazmir is going to the All-Star Game and he certainly looked good while shutting out the Giants over seven three-hit innings. But his offspeed stuff was all over the place in the first inning. The Giants still let him back into counts and went down in order. They just aren’t hitting the fastballs when they get them.
Their bench is thinner than two-ply, the minor leagues hold no hope and there’s no indication a trade is coming soon. So Bochy just has to hope his guys figure it out. And, sometimes, let the pitcher hit for himself down 2-0 in the fifth inning because, being honest, you like the matchup better with your 38-year-old right-hander than anyone else you have in reserve.
(Friday marks the one-month anniversary of Brandon Hicks’ last hit, by the way. Marco Scutaro can’t return soon enough, although he oddly was the DH in what should be his final rehab start for Triple-A Fresno Thursday.)
It’s downright creepy how similar this spell is to last season, both in terms of timing and duration. Last year, it was Pablo Sandoval who came back from the DL expected to snap a tepid lineup out of group hypnosis. He went 3 for 33 over his first nine games. This year it’s Belt who came off the DL and is 2 for 25 with eight strikeouts and two walks in seven games back.
Belt must’ve been hard for Bochy to watch, because he sent up .182-hitting Joaquin Arias to pinch hit for him after he went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.
“Today wasn’t great,” Belt said. “I wasn’t able to get the bat where I wanted it to be quick enough. I guess it’s to be expected a little but I’ll keep trying stuff till I get it right.
“Whoever’s coming into the game is in midseason form, and the reality is, I’m not right now. That’s not an excuse. I’ve got to find a way to get my body where it needs to be. Honestly, I like my approach right now. We just ran into a really good team. But I’ve got to be productive out there and if I’m not, I’ve got to figure something out.”
The A’s have no such issues. They exploit platoon matchups, they have boogeymen on their bench and they’re forever making an opposing manager uncomfortable with the matchup at the plate.
"One through nine, they've got guys going," Belt said. "If someone goes down, someone else is there to pick him up. That's what we've done in the past, and I think that's what we can still do. We're just trying to find a way."
Said Bochy: “They’re playing so well. Two-out hits killed us. They’re getting contributions from everybody and you look at their staff, starters and bullpen, they’re very well balanced and well run. They play the game hard. They fight. That’s what makes them so good. They’re a team to be reckoned with, no getting around it. They played well in this series. I said we had to play our best ball and we didn’t. It got away from us at times.”
Hudson knows what the Coliseum looks and sounds like when the A’s get rolling. After absorbing Donaldson’s pop-up homer, one of four consecutive extra-base hits he allowed in the sixth inning, he’s 0-2 with a 9.58 ERA in two career starts against them.
“They’re a good ballclub. They did a good job executing,” Hudson said. “At the same time, I feel we’re just as good as they are. They’re catching us as bad as we can be. Hopefully we run into them and we go get ‘em next time.”
Now that’s putting a hopeful spin on things.