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July 28, 2013
Offensive woes persist in 2-1 loss as Giants are swept by Cubs

SAN FRANCISCO -- Bruce Bochy said at the start of the Giants' 10-game homestand to start the second half that he didn't want his players thinking about the upcoming games in terms of a homestand -- or even a series. He wanted them focused on the day's game, and when they won the first two against the division-leading Diamondbacks to climb back to within 4 ½ games of first place, it seemed like a sound strategy.

Sunday, after the Giants lost 2-1 to the Cubs to end a three-game sweep and mark their seventh loss in eight games, Bochy was willing to reflect on the homestand as a whole. Asked if it was a missed opportunity, he quickly said: "No question."

The Giants were outscored 31-8 in losing three of four to the Cincinnati Reds, then put up three runs total in a three-game sweep at the hands of the Cubs, who came in 10 games under .500. Now the Cubs own two more wins than the Giants, who are 12 games under .500 and in last place in the West, 10 games behind the first-place Dodgers.

"We just didn't play winning baseball," Bochy said. "We had a tough series against (the Reds), found a way to win one game. But this series, this shouldn't happen. To get that kind of pitching and not only not win a game, but to get swept, that shouldn't happen."

The Giants' starters -- Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum -- combined to allow three earned runs in 22 innings in the series, including Lincecum's seven innings of two-run ball Sunday. None, obviously, earned a win, and only Cain left his outing in line for one. The Giants stranded 24 runners in the three games and went a combined 4-for-23 with runners in scoring position, including 2-for-9 on Sunday.

"In all my years, I haven't seen a team quite go through such a hard time getting runs like we're having right now," Bochy said.

Sunday, the Giants' hottest hitter -- Hunter Pence, who came in batting .455 (15-for-33) on the homestand -- came up with multiple runners on base in each of his first three at-bats and could not drive one in. The Giants' lone run came on Pablo Sandoval's two-on, two-out double in the fifth, which followed Buster Posey hitting into a double play with the bases loaded and nobody out. Pence then struck out to leave men on second and third.

Posey said the Giants' hitters are all probably pressing right now, wanting to be the guy to come up with the big hit. "When you're struggling that's sometimes the battle is trying not to do too much and trying to slow the game down a little bit," he said.

Posey acknowledged that goes for him, too, right now, as he's hitless in his last six games after an 0-for-4 day Sunday with two strikeouts.

"Sometimes I've been going out of the strike zone a little bit the past couple games," he said. "So it's a matter of taking a deep breath and making sure to get a good pitch to hit."

The double play Posey hit into the fifth was on a hard-hit grounder to third baseman Luis Valbuena, and Bochy pointed out that the Giants can't rely solely on the reigning MVP for run production.

"It can't be (just) Buster," Bochy saidl. "We've got to get contributions throughout the order occasionally. He's not going to be the guy to do it, you've got the other guys in the lineup that have to come through."

Sandoval was asked what needs to happen for the lineup to start clicking again and gave a small shrug while answering.

"If I had the solution to explain it, I would," he said. "But that's part of the game.

"We've been hitting the ball hard, right at them. We need to find the holes. When that starts to come down we're going to win some games."

As it nears time to flip the calendar to August, though, and with the Giants trending the wrong way in the standings, the question of how late is too late to make a push seems to be getting more pressing -- especially with the Dodgers suddenly one of the hottest teams in baseball, having gone 26-6 in their last 32 games. There may be an indication of how the front office feels about that in the next few days, with the trade deadline Wednesday and the on-field performance not likely to generate much optimism from the brass.

Still, no white flags were being thrown up Sunday, with players doggedly saying they just need to get back to playing like the team that earned Monday's visit the White House as the 2012 World Series champions.

"We've got two more months," Sandoval said. "We need to keep going, keep the motivation. Keep playing like we love to play."

* Lincecum rebounded from arguably his worst outing of the season against the Reds with seven strong innings that included two mistake fastballs to the Cubs' No. 8 and 9 hitters. The home run by opposing pitcher Travis Wood might look more galling -- even though Wood came in batting .263 with two homers and seven RBIs on the season -- but Lincecum said it was the seventh-inning 3-1 pitch to catcher Wellington Castillo that irked him more.

"I think the harder one to take is the second one just because our team worked hard for the one run (to tie the game)," Lincecum said. "To give it back like that, that's actually tougher."

Other than that, Lincecum was sharp outside of a 32-pitch first inning in which he gave up a leadoff walk and one-out double but escaped by striking out Nate Schierholtz and getting Starlin Castro to fly out to right. Lincecum struck out double-digit hitters for the third time in his last four starts -- after going nearly a full calendar year without doing so (from last July 14 to this July 8).

"He threw the ball really well," Posey said. "You throw the ball like that, you deserve to get the win. Unfortunately we couldn't pick him up."

Lincecum tried to help himself with the bat, singling in his only two at-bats. Both led off innings, and he reached third with the Giants loading the bases in the fifth but was tagged out at home on Posey's double play.

Lincecum said he "felt good" after 115 pitches, indicating there's no reason to be worried about carryover from his 148-pitch no hitter still. He said the difference between this outing and last was just location. Asked if he, like Bochy, is blown away by the offense's struggles, Lincecum tried to strike a positive note.

"We've been there before," he said. "We always talk about believing that we can get out of it and we've been scuffling a little bit here and there. It just takes a couple things going right to springboard us into something positive. Right now we're kind of avoiding those.

"If we can just hit something right and catch stride somewhere, maybe win a few games in a row or get better during a series, I think that'll give us a little more confidence."

* A note on the series: The Giants were swept at home by the Cubs for the first time since Sept. 13-15, 1993. That sweep actually ended an eight-game losing streak for the Giants, which ended up being costly when they won 103 games but missed the playoffs by finishing one game behind the Atlanta Braves in the N.L. West.

* Despite his struggles with runners on Sunday, Pence beat out an infield hit in the eighth to extend his modest hitting streak to seven games, over which he's 13-for-27.

* One reason why Bochy is so intent on the Giants shoring up fundamentals like defense and baserunning -- as this series showed, they can be the difference in close games. The Giants lost all three games to the Cubs by one run and are now 15-16 this season in one-run games. Last year they were 30-20.

* Bochy said before the game Joaquin Arias could see starts against left-handers going forward at either shortstop or first base. He started at shortstop Sunday because Bochy felt Brandon Belt had been seeing lefties a little better than Brandon Crawford, who is hitless in his last 21 at-bats against them.

So much for that. Belt struck out in all three of his at-bats against Wood -- the first two on three pitches -- and added a fourth strikeout against Kevin Gregg in the ninth. It was the second time in Belt's career with four strikeouts, the other being his five-strikeout game in the Giants' 16-inning loss to the Mets earlier this month.

"He was just throwing all different kinds of pitches, kept people off-balance, worked in and out," Belt said of Wood. "He did a good job."

* Why not end on an uplifting note? Though Posey has been held up as the catalyst for the Giants' World Series runs in both 2010 and 2012, Monday will be his first time at the White House as a World Series champion. Posey missed the 2011 trip while rehabbing in San Francisco from his season-ending ankle injury.

"I'm excited," Posey said. "I didn't get to go in 2011 with being hurt, so yeah, I'm excited for the experience."

Other players were -- less enthused. Lincecum said the trip hasn't really been talked about amid the current team's struggles. Sandoval smiled when asked if he's looking forward to it and answered: "It's normal for me."

* Well, we tried. After tomorrow's off day the Giants head to Philadelphia for three games and then to Tampa Bay for three against the 62-win Rays. Here are the pitching probables for the Phillies series:

Tuesday: LHP Barry Zito (4-7, 4.92) vs. LHP John Lannan (2-4, 4.13)
Wednesday: RHP Chad Gaudin (4-2, 2.77) vs. RHP Kyle Kendrick (9-7, 3.96)
Thursday: RHP Matt Cain (6-6, 4.79) vs. LHP Cole Hamels (4-13, 4.09)

The Giants will try to snap their four-game losing streak with Zito looking for his first road win of the season. Stay tuned.

-- Matt Kawahara

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About Bay Area Baseball

Matt KawaharaMatt Kawahara was born in Sacramento and attended McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley, where he wrote for the independent student paper The Daily Californian. He graduated from Cal in 2010 and started at The Sacramento Bee as a summer intern. He joined The Bee’s sports staff in fall 2011.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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