Bay Area Baseball

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August 11, 2013
Giants' home struggles continue with 10-2 loss to Orioles

SAN FRANCISCO -- When the Giants' struggles of 2013 are deconstructed down the road, they'll likely have to be broken down into phases -- the early rotation struggles, the injuries, the midseason swoon brought on by a rampant slump. The last two and a half weeks will go down as the phase of not doing enough to support a starting rotation that is once again performing like in seasons past.

Matt Cain gave the Giants their 13th quality start in 16 games Sunday, retiring 15 of the first 16 hitters he faced and allowing three runs in seven innings -- two on a seventh-inning home run by J.J. Hardy that looked like a routine fly ball before it carried in the San Francisco afternoon over the wall in left field.

And the Giants dropped to 6-10 in those games as the offense did nothing after a two-run first inning and the bullpen imploded in the late innings. Manager Bruce Bochy pointed out himself that it's an explanation he has given several times: "What's encouraging is our starters are doing a real nice job ... but it's just a case where we're not doing a lot offensively."

The Giants scored 17 runs on their seven-game homestand against the Orioles and the Brewers and went 3-4. They haven't won a homestand since May 20-26, when they went 4-2 against the Nationals and the Rockies. They've lost 11 of their last 15 home games, 19 of their last 27, and they're 31-31 at AT&T Park, where they only lost 31 games all of last season.

That's striking for a team built to succeed in its home park, where good pitching and defense are typically rewarded. But while the former, at least, has been there since the All-Star Break, the support has been lacking. The Giants took a 2-0 lead in the first on Sunday on RBI doubles by Brandon Belt and Hunter Pence, but got one runner past second base the rest of the afternoon.

"We score two runs early and then it's like we just kind of sit on the two-run lead and think that's all we need," said shortstop Brandon Crawford. "A lot of times with our pitchers it is. But we need to pile on."

The implication there is the Giants have become a little spoiled in recent years by their pitchers' performance. But the offense's struggles this season really seem to go beyond that. In the rare occasion a hitter has gotten hot -- Buster Posey a month ago, or Belt and Pence right now -- it simply hasn't spurred the rest of the lineup to follow. That's what made Pence's comment Saturday night that "hitting is contagious" somewhat ironic -- the Giants this summer seemed to build up an immunity.

Obviously things got out of hand late Sunday, and Cain and Bochy both credited Orioles right-hander Bud Norris with making some adjustments after the first inning to keep the Giants in check. The Giants had a chance in the second to add on with runners on first and second and two outs for Belt, who hit a blooper to shallow left that Nate McLouth caught on a slide. Pablo Sandoval scorched a ground ball right at Manny Machado in the third that turned into a double play. Bottom line, though, as Bochy reiterated for what must have seemed to him like the umpteenth time: "We're just having a hard time busting out with the bats here."

"They've been doing a great job," Sandoval said of the starters. "We don't give them the support we need to when we've got men on base. It's disappointing for the offense, but we need to keep focused."

* Cain seemed more frustrated by the pitch Brian Roberts hit for a leadoff triple in the sixth inning Sunday than the fastball Hardy hit out in the seventh. Both Bochy and Cain said they thought Hardy's would be a routine play for Jeff Francoeur.

"I thought it was a pop-up," Cain said.

"It just kept carrying," Bochy said.

It was the first home run Cain has allowed in eight starts after giving up 16 in his first 16. Otherwise, Cain looked to be continuing his strong second half -- he has a 2.38 ERA in five starts since the All-Star Break.

* Barry Zito's first two outings since being moved to the bullpen have not gone well -- after giving up a three-run homer to Adam Jones in the ninth on Sunday, he has allowed five runs, six hits and two homers in two innings as a reliever.

"It's not easy for him, I know that," Bochy said. "He's a starter and that's what he wants to do. We're in a box right now where we've got five guys throwing the ball well. So he's a guy that's going to have to help us down there and hopefully learn from each outing so he gets better."

Maybe if Zito is thrust into a long-relief situation in the early innings of a game that's still winnable, it will feel more natural to him. But entering in the ninth inning of a 7-2 game, ostensibly because there's no need for the Giants to warm up and use one of their key late inning guys -- that can't be an easy pill for a veteran starter to swallow.

* Tomorrow's print story touches on Belt's hot start to August, in which he's hitting .438 with seven extra-base hits after a 1-for-4 day Sunday. Belt said Saturday night that he has rediscovered the "feeling" he had during spring training (when he hit .410) and in select games earlier this season -- due in part to adjustments to his swing and positioning in the batter's box -- and the key now is sustaining that feeling.

"It's just a matter of being able to keep it going for a long period of time," Belt said. "You try to search for something and make adjustments, whatever you can, to kind of find that consistency. I'm hoping that this is what I have right now."

* The Orioles came into this series leading the majors in home runs and added four in the three games. Hardy had two and Jones one, but none were more impressive than Chris Davis' 42nd of the year off Santiago Casilla on Saturday night.

Bochy was asked about that before today's game and said Davis' ball looked "like a golf ball" leaving the field. Davis hit another ball to the wall in center Sunday and Cain said while he didn't think it was gone off the bat, he hesitated a moment before looking back because with Davis, you never know. His power is as advertised.

* As is the Orioles' defense. Baltimore is on pace to set a record for the fewest errors in a 162-game series and made a couple more sparkling defensive plays Sunday -- McLouth's sliding catch, a 5-6-3 double play (due to an infield shift) started by Manny Machado and a running catch in foul ground by Hardy. Don't be surprised if some Gold Gloves head to Baltimore at the end of the year.

* In case you missed it this morning, Angel Pagan is running bases in Arizona and getting closer to starting a rehab assignment, with designs on rejoining the Giants in September if he's healthy.

Bochy admitted the Giants have missed Pagan in the leadoff spot a lot more than they expected. In another bit of serendipity, that last homestand the Giants won included the 10-inning win over Colorado in which Pagan hit a walk-off inside-the-park home run. Pagan hasn't played since.

* The Giants are off Monday as they fly to Washington to start a six-game road trip against the Nationals and Marlins. The pitching probables in Washington:

Tuesday: LHP Madison Bumgarner (11-7, 2.75) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (7-5, 3.52)
Wednesday: RHP Tim Lincecum (6-11, 4.18) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmerman (13-6, 3.06)
Thursday: RHP Ryan Vogelsong (2-4, 6.71) vs. RHP Dan Haren (7-11, 4.99)

-- 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.
Email: mkawahara@sacbee.com.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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