SAN FRANCISCO – The Giants threw jabs all night and connected enough times in an 8-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. But there was only one haymaker Wednesday night. And it was felt in NL West standings.
The Giants are on rubbery legs now, 7 ½ games out in the NL West – their largest deficit of the season.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Reds 8, Giants 3]
That was the most important number on a wild night full of incredible stats – like how the Giants managed to score just three runs on 15 hits and leave 15 runners on base in one game, while also getting outhomered 6-0 in the series and giving up 22 extra-base hits to the Reds in four games.
The other number that was most compelling: Hunter Pence had five of the Giants’ 15 hits, to match his career high.
There’s one week to go before the non-waiver trade deadline, and while the Giants are not shopping Pence, they’ll answer the phone – especially if a contender is willing to give up a controllable starting pitcher that they’d feel good about putting on the mound every fifth day.
The Giants have Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner under contract for next season. They have an option on Ryan Vogelsong they’ll probably pick up, and another on Barry Zito they almost certainly won’t. Tim Lincecum will be a free agent and it’s anyone’s guess what could happen there.
Their rotation is in need of a serious retrofit, since none of their minor league arms will be ready next season. (The perceived front line of Chris Heston and Mike Kickham hasn’t worked out as well as anyone hoped.)
No, the Giants do not have another outfielder in the minor leagues knocking on their door. Gary Brown’s development has stalled out. And Francisco Peguero just returned to Triple-A Fresno after missing a month from his concussion. So Pence isn’t blocking anyone at present.
But he’ll be a free agent after the season. The return might not be as big as what the Giants gave up to get him from the Phillies last July (Nate Schierholtz, minor league catcher Tommy Joseph and minor league right-hander Seth Rosin), since he doesn’t have another year of club control. The Giants could find it more in their interests to keep him, make him a qualifying offer and get a draft pick if he signs elsewhere.
But if a team likes Pence enough to offer something good? If trading him can shorten GM Brian Sabean’s to-do list this winter? Then perhaps being open for business isn’t the worst idea in the world.
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Giants manager Bruce Bochy hinted ever so slightly at that increasing reality when asked if he fears Sabean might dismantle key parts in the next week.
“This is our ballclub right now,” Bochy said. “My focus needs to be here. … We have to do what’s right. That’s what we will do. But right now, this is our club and we’ve gotta get this thing turned around before the next series.”
There’s a lot to turn. Start with a rotation that had pitched better in recent weeks, yet still finished Wednesday with a 4.75 ERA – for the first time anyone could remember, the highest in the National League.
In losing six of seven games to the Reds, the Giants had a starting pitcher record a grand total of ONE out after the fifth inning.
The Giants’ plucky offense might have completed enough hair-raising comebacks to keep them over .500 in the first two months. But the home runs stopped coming, and so did the walk-offs and the giddy handshake lines.
They haven’t caught the ball as well as they did last year, either.
“Last year we had a lot of timely hitting, timely defense, timely pitching, getting the breaks,” said Pence, “and it hasn’t seemed to be the case this year so far.”
If there’s one eternal optimist in this game, it’s the Giants’ right fielder, who matched his career high for hits he set in 2008 with the Astros.
“We’ve just got to keep pushing and continue to try to progress and compete each day with everything we have,” Pence said. “I feel we’ve been playing hard. The effort, the hustle, those are the things you can control. The preparation, all of that. We’ve got to constantly believe the tide can turn.”
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He still believes they can win the division, even down 7 ½ games, trailing three teams – and with the streaking Dodgers finally proving that someone in the NL West can get it past first gear?
“I’m not a give-in guy,” Pence told me. “I’m a guy that enjoys the competition, enjoys the challenge, and I hope to look at this as a way to grow stronger and continue to push. And not just myself, but everyone. There’s been a lot bigger leads in one month switch around. So you’ve got to black out one game at a time.”
Pence insists that blackout extends to trade rumors. He said he doesn’t hear, acknowledge or pay any mind to them except when he’s being polite and answering a reporter’s question. He said he went about it the same way last July, when the Phillies dealt him to the Giants.
He made it clear he doesn’t want to leave, though.
“I love the city,” Pence told me. “I feel like we owe everything collectively as a group to the fans and the organization. And we still are in this.”
When you proclaim yourself all-in, you’re not looking to get out.
“Absolutely not,” Pence said, in a firm tone. “I love it here and I love this team. I still believe in us.”
Pence on the Reds, after being outscored 45-14 in losing six of seven: "They’ve just beaten us. They’ve pitched good, they’ve hit good and they’ve played good defense. They’ve beaten us."
There’s a vortex of stats in the instant replay for your perusal, and the Giants’ postgame notes offered more tasty carrion:
The Reds’ 55 hits, 15 doubles and 22 extra-base hits all established AT&T Park records for a visiting club in a series of any length.
Their 55 hits were the most by a team in San Francisco in a series since mutton chops were all the rage -- July 1-4, 1977, when the Dodgers had 60 hits in four games at Candlestick Park.
And Todd Frazier’s five doubles were the most by an opponent in a series by an opposing player at AT&T Park. Frazier was 12 for 28 (.429) with five doubles, a home run and 10 RBIs as the Reds won six of seven in the season series.
At least the Giants can sic the Reds on the Dodgers. That’s where they’re headed next.
In-line photo of Jay Bruce and Joey Votto provided by the Associated Press