PITTSBURGH — The Giants weren’t in the mood for silver linings Sunday night, not after losing for the fifth time in seven days and again failing to execute in big spots. They weren’t too excited about the fact that they actually picked up a game on the Dodgers during this rough trip.
“If you look at it, had we played better we could be in a little bit better situation,” starter Ryan Vogelsong said.
As it is, the Giants will fly back to San Francisco just 1 1/2 games out of first place. They were 2 1/2 out when they flew to St. Louis for the start of a seven-game set against the National League’s two best teams. The Giants have talked all season — through good times and bad — about how they’re chasing that division crown, and that’s by far the easiest route at this point.
The Wild Card-leading Pirates are nine games clear of the Giants, and they look like the class of the National League. They’re chasing the Cardinals in the Central, not looking back at the teams chasing them. The Cubs come to AT&T Park this week with a six-game cushion for that second Wild Card spot and they took four from the Giants earlier this month.
The West title is the easiest way into the postseason at this point, and while Bruce Bochy hates to talk about anything existing more than 24 hours ahead of him, he said Sunday that the Giants still have their fate in their hands.
“You’ve got to go out there and win ballgames,” Bochy said. “You don’t back into this stuff. It’s up to us. It’s the only thing we can control."
Bochy’s guys didn’t play particularly well Sunday in a nationally-televised game. Vogelsong said his pre-game bullpen session “was the best I’ve ever warmed up in my life,” but once he took the PNC Park mound he had trouble throwing strikes. Vogelsong gave up three runs in the first and didn’t make it through the fourth.
“I didn’t make good pitches when I needed to,” he said. “Most of them started in the strike zone and ran out. I couldn’t find a good place to start anything to keep it in the strike zone. I just didn’t execute very well tonight.”
The lineup didn’t, either. The Giants left 11 on base and couldn’t take advantage when the Pirates literally started handing the game away with a series of defensive miscues.
“We were getting some help, too,” Bochy said. “We couldn’t take advantage of it and that’s kind of been the story on this road trip. A lot of close games … We’re having a hard time getting the clutch hits. It goes through cycles.”
It’s hard to pile up runs when the middle of your order is struggling, and the Giants are without Hunter Pence and they have Buster Posey going through one of his worst stretches of the year. Posey was 3 for 26 on the road trip.
“I feel like I hit the ball hard a few times,” he said. “I’m just a little bit off. I don’t feel like I’m too far off.”
None of the Giants do, and that’s what was so disappointing about this week. They weren’t blown out, they simply couldn't hang in the late innings of close games. While that didn’t cost the Giants any ground to the Dodgers, it did allow two other West teams to continue their sneaky ways. The Arizona Diamondbacks have won four straight and they’re all of a sudden just 3 1/2 games behind the Giants. The San Diego Padres have taken nine of their last 12 to give the division a fourth team within 6 1/2 games of first.
“They’ve been playing well,” Bochy said of the teams trailing him. “They’ve really picked up their play. There’s a lot of baseball left. It’s all about winning games.”
A few hours after Clayton Kershaw told reporters that the Dodgers might need to start “panicking a little,” Giants players said there’s no need to look at the big picture quite yet. They’re focused on Tuesday’s game against the Cubs, and five more on a tough homestand. They’ve survived this brutal stretch of games, but they were hoping to thrive.
“We need to go home and win some ballgames,” Vogelsong said. “I don’t ever look at it as ‘just trying to get through.’ I don’t think any of us should. We’re banged up but we still have guys that can win a baseball game. We just need to put it together.”