SAN FRANCISCO -- Madison Bumgarner’s presence on the mound is one of the few things that should generate optimism these days for the Giants.
So where do they turn when even their All-Star left-hander can’t direct them to the win column?
Bumgarner was throwing up zero after zero in Friday night’s 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, but his mojo ran out in the top of the seventh.
[RECAP: Pirates 3, Giants 1]
Two straight hard-hit singles followed by a sacrifice bunt put runners on second and third with one out and the Giants leading 1-0. Then Bumgarner delivered a 1-1 slider that wasn’t too bad of a pitch. Clint Barmes, Pittsburgh’s No. 8 hitter who had just 16 RBI to his credit all season, crushed a three-run homer to left.
“I thought I made a good pitch,” Bumgarner said afterward. “It was pretty much right where I wanted it. He just made an adjustment and hit it. It’s why they’re a good team.”
To think that Bumgarner had surrendered just 13 homers all season. Of those, nine came with no one on base.
So the Giants lost when their pitcher who rarely gives up any damaging homers served one up to a hitter who rarely does any damage.
That’s how things are playing out for the defending World Series champs, who have fallen so hard that manager Bruce Bochy was talking before the game about evaluating young players during a month of September that will be meaningless in the standings.
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Fresh legs and youthful enthusiasm seem like the only things that can salvage the final five-plus weeks of the season.
There were few players around after Friday’s game who were available to shed any insight to the loss. Not that there was much insight to provide. Frustration and disgust are building for the Giants (56-72), and being asked about it by those holding notebooks and cameras can’t be very appealing right now.
“We all want to win,” Bumgarner said. “We’re playing a first-place team right now, a really good team. You can’t really give them a lot of runs to work with because they’re such a good team, so you gotta try to just hold them to as (little) as possible.”
Bumgarner, 11-8 with a 2.84 ERA, hasn’t been dominant of late. He’s walked four in each of his last two outings and has won just once in his last seven starts. But it isn’t enough for the Giants to just hand their All-Star the baseball and show him the way toward the mound.
Over those last seven starts, Bumgarner has received an average of two runs per game.
The Pirates (76-52), leading the National League Central by one game over St. Louis, mustered just seven hits Friday, but they did enough to make them count.
[RELATED: MLB standings]
“(Barmes) got enough of it,” Bochy said. “They got the timely hit there, it’s what wins games and they’ve been getting a lot of them. That’s why they’re where they’re at.”
It’s a position the Giants expected to be in down the stretch, competing in the NL West and trying to make a run at a third World Series crown in four years.
Friday night exposed their offensive woes. They generated precious little hard contact, didn’t take advantage of the few opportunities they had, and at times jumped at the first pitch from Charlie Morton (5-3) and his bullpen and squandered at-bats.
When asked after the game about his hitters’ approach, Bochy countered with a different thought.
“They were competing against a tough pitcher,” the manager said. “I thought sometimes we took the first pitch too (much) that we could have been a little more aggressive on.”
Indeed, it’s tough to pin down any one single thing the Giants are doing wrong. The only obvious point is that they’re nowhere near where they want to be.