SAN FRANCISCO — Bruce Bochy has spent just about every day this month giving the latest on three key players: Hunter Pence, Joe Panik and Matt Duffy. Finally this week, there has been light at the end of the tunnel, with Pence and Panik poised to return within the next four or five games and Duffy nearly set for a rehab assignment.
But even without those three the Giants are far more talented than the last-place Reds, which made three games at AT&T Park just as frustrating as eight poor ones on the road. After a 1-7 trip, the Giants lost two of three to the rebuilding Reds, the final one a 2-1 defeat that included eight strong innings from ace Madison Bumgarner.
The run the Giants are on is one of their worst in years. While players have tried to project confidence, faces are a bit longer. The frustration is showing, but Buster Posey tried to keep it in perspective.
“If we didn’t have runs like this we would be on pace to win 115 games,” he said. “That’d be pretty remarkable. It always stinks when you’re going through it, but it’s not that far out of normal. You try to get back on track as quickly as possible.”
The Giants, incredibly, are still just one game behind the Cubs for the best record in baseball. They still have a lead in the National League West. If the playoffs started tomorrow, they’d be hosting a series.
But the road gets tougher — starting with the Nationals the rest of this week — and that’s why days like Wednesday can be so painful. Bumgarner going eight against the Reds is one you should chalk down as a W.
“Sure it’s disappointing when you have Bum throwing the ball the way he did,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “Two (runs) and he can’t get a win. We just could’t figure out (Dan) Straily. You run into a well-pitched game. That happens. You hate to see it when your guy throws well. No question, (Straily) pitched great. We just couldn’t do much with him.”
The journeyman right-hander has found a home in Cincinnati, and his 7 2/3 innings lowered his ERA to 3.84. Conor Gillaspie was the only one to get to Straily, hitting an early solo shot.
The Reds got the run back thanks in large part to Angel Pagan dropping a ball in deep left. The error was Pagan’s fifth of the season. Jay Bruce led off the seventh with a solo shot to right.
“I just didn’t make a good pitch to him,” Bumgarner said. “I know that’s a spot he can handle, especially early in the inning before you get loose and back up again. It just leaked back in the zone. The way he’s going right now, he’s not going to miss. He’s not going to foul that off.”
Bruce has a homer in five straight games, upping his value right before the August 1 deadline. The Giants have not been all that interested, hoping instead that Pence will fill out the outfield when he returns and that Mac Williamson or Jarrett Parker can solve left field long-term.
The bigger Giants issue is with pitching, anyway. The Giants gave up eight homers to the Reds, the most ever in a three-game set at AT&T Park.
“It’s warm and the ball is traveling right now,” Bumgarner noted.
It didn’t travel far enough for Giants hitters, though. After Straily departed, the Giants had a shot for a walk-off that would have wiped away all the negative memories from the past few days. Pagan led off the ninth with a single, but Williamson hit into a fielder’s choice, Posey flied out and Brandon Crawford popped up.
“I know the guys are competing,” Bumgarner said. “It’s not like they don’t want to hit. They want to hit. It’s just a tough game and you’ve got to have a short memory.”
--- Here’s the latest on the injured. Bochy was adamant before the game that Pence will go the cautious path, but you have to wonder if another game like this will change minds. Pence brings more than just a big bat. He brings energy, and right now this team looks flat.
--- Bochy said he liked the way Bumgarner was swinging (Bumgarner said he felt sharper at the plate) and he wanted to give him that shot in the eighth. You can bet the manager was hoping Bumgarner would pop one and tie the game. He got a single, but Gregor Blanco couldn’t continue the inning. This is somewhat unrelated because Bumgarner isn’t a bad choice there, but it’s also kind of related: If the Giants can’t upgrade the pitching staff because of the insane market prices, they sure could use another bench bat.
--- Joey Votto is known as a trolling Hall-of-Famer. Here’s his latest.
--- If you're annoyed by the loss and ready for a long evening walk, I posted two new podcast episodes last week.