Giants looking for answers and looking up at D-backs in NL West
There won't be any Florence + the Machine for Bruce Bochy on his iPod for this 10-game road trip. "Dog Days Are Over" wouldn't be appropriate music, because Bochy and his Giants are right in the thick of the dog days: snarling, mangy, flea-bitten dog days.
The reeling, reigning World Series champions appear to have lost the magic touch that carried them through last year's postseason and fueled them in the first half of this season. The Giants lost seven out of 10 at home and arrive in Florida for a weekend series out of first place for the first time since June 24. The Arizona Diamondbacks lead San Francisco by one game -- the first time the Giants have trailed by more than a half-game since May 9.
The Giants have scored the fewest runs in the National League. On the past home stand they batted an anemic .159 with runners in scoring position. They tied a 97-year old record, matching the 1914 Phillies by running their solo home run streak to 19. Not the kind of record a team is aiming for.
And the bad news keeps coming. New acquisition Carlos Beltran didn't make a significant impact when he was on the field and now he's off the field; he hasn't played since last Sunday due to a sore wrist, received a cortisone shot on Wednesday and may not be available this weekend.
Nate Schierholtz -- the last Giant to hit a home run with a man on base back in early July -- is nursing a sore hip. The usually rock solid bullpen has had two four-run implosions in the past week. And don't even ask about the fifth starter position: the Barry Zito-Jonathan Sanchez shuffle hasn't produced anything but a parade of walks, runs and headaches.
"Right now their confidence is shaken because they haven't been having a lot of success," Bochy said of his team after Wednesday's 9-2 loss to the Pirates.
Shaken confidence? That doesn't sound like the carefree, goofball crew that won the World Series last November and spent the first three months of this season finding the clutch hit or the timely strikeout to stay afloat, loose and confident.
But the Giants have come back to earth. The twin losses of Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez have finally seemed to take their toll. Posey was lost for the season in a home plate collision against the Marlins, the team the Giants will face this weekend for the first time since that emotional May series. Freddy Sanchez had surgery on his shoulder last week, finally conceding that the dislocated shoulder he suffered in early June couldn't be cured with just rest and rehabilitation.
The Giants can take solace in the fact that they've heard this song before: last August they were taking on water, and sank behind San Diego by as many as six games.
"It's very similar to last August," Bochy said. "You think, 'Gosh, are we going to come out of it?' But it's got to start with our pitching. That's our strength."
Even that has been wobbly, though. On the last home stand every starter incurred one loss and Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez were winless. That's a dog day problem for the Giants: last August the Giants starters went 14 games without a win. Tim Lincecum was a particular cause for alarm -- the Giants ace didn't win once and dropped five games in August. The Bay Area debate was whether Lincecum could contribute anything in the stretch. Of course, he did and then some.
Back then, the team had new pieces and was trying to figure out its new chemistry on the fly.
"Coming in here the team wasn't playing all that great, Timmy was struggling, a lot of things were just so-so," said Cody Ross who was one of those new pieces. "It took a couple of games and the next thing you know we're in September and it kind of catapulted us."
The Giants are looking for another catapult. They are clinging to the old baseball adage that a road trip is a good thing; that it will help them bond and find a groove. That's kind of an odd theory though because -- until the last home stand -- AT&T Park had seemed to hold a magic elixir. And the Giants generally haven't played well in the hot, humid conditions that await them in Florida, Atlanta and Houston (if the roof is open). On this trip, the Giants will be noticing the wild card standings for the first time and will see that they're trailing Atlanta by five games: the Giants are 2-6 over the past two seasons at Turner Field.
The Giants need some offense. Aubrey Huff, who had close to a career year in 2010, has been struggling and has heard boos at home. So has Ross. Pat Burrell, currently on the disabled list, is a non-factor. Last year's sparkplug, Andres Torres, is hitting .231 and being platooned.
A year ago, Posey's bat carried the Giants through the summer doldrums until things began to click. This year the team is averaging a full run per game lower than last year's anemic offense. The team is desperately hoping that Beltran can step in and take the place of Posey's offensive production and that a rejuvenated Pablo Sandoval -- who leads the team with a .310 average -- can also make up for the shortfall in production from the rest of the order.
Bochy is staying the course, playing his veterans and trusting his starting pitchers, trying to hit the same formula that reaped such winnings last year.
The main thing the Giants have going for them is the knowledge that the dog days don't last forever.
"We've got a lot of baseball left," Ross said. "We've got to go out and play like champions....We've got to do something."