PHOENIX -- Giants manager Bruce Bochy placed a “pretty good percentage” that Angel Pagan will be able to start on Tuesday, one day after he was a late lineup scratch because of recurring lower back discomfort.
Meanwhile, the Giants’ percentages to win the NL West keep on dropping. Four back with 12 to play is not good. And with every game approaching must-win status, they couldn’t coax their most irreplaceable player past the batting cage.
With Pagan out of the lineup, the Giants offense once again struggled to find its way against a left-handed pitcher. Ryan Vogelsong served up his first career grand slam, and that was enough to eat everyone’s breakfast in a 6-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field Monday night.
The Giants also slipped a bit in the wild card standings, where their hold on the top spot is down to 2 ½ games over Pittsburgh; the Milwaukee Brewers lurk an additional 1 ½ games behind the Pirates.
Their focus remains on winning the division, and not letting their season come down to a one-game wild card knockout. But even with three head-to-head games remaining at Dodger Stadium, the Giants now have crossed over into another dimension. The one where they need help.
They need to help themselves, too, and you need no special understanding of advanced metrics to know they aren’t nearly successful when they don’t have Pagan in the lineup.
They are 57-38 with him and 25-30 without him, with most of those losses coming amid his 44-game absence from mid-June to early August. Last year, when he missed three months because of hamstring tendon surgery, they were 39-32 when he started and 37-54 when he did not.
Pagan has never won an MVP award, never made an All-Star team. He has surpassed 125 games played in a season just twice – a risk the Giants willfully accepted when they gave him a four-year, $40 million contract after the 2012 season.
He isn’t the team’s heart or soul or source of mirth. If Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval are supposed to be the horses in this lineup, Pagan is the show pony. He doesn’t even rate as an average center fielder, according to metrics like UZR and dWAR.
But you can’t argue the reality: Pagan is the toughest player on the roster to replace. And an hour before the first pitch, with the Giants desperate to hit the playoff thrusters, Bruce Bochy had to scribble down .189-hitting Juan Perez, instead.
Perez went 0 for 5.
“There’s nothing I can do when you can’t play,” Pagan said. “I always try to go out there and do my best but today was one of those days I needed a break. Your mind gets drained because you’ve been playing for so long like this.”
It’s a good thing he added “like this.” Pagan said his back began to stiffen up Saturday. Asked if it might have affected his play over the weekend (he did not run down the line well against the Dodgers, took a curious route on a catchable double to center and got caught napping when Yasiel Puig stretched a single on him), Pagan said he’s doing the best he can.
“Whatever you see is whatever you’ll get,” he said.
The Giants were missing more than Pagan Monday night. Brandon Belt, who was activated prior to the game from the concussion DL, nearly pinch hit in the ninth. Michael Morse has been out since Aug. 31 with a strained oblique but should be ready to return by Friday in San Diego.
Others are playing through pain. Bochy acknowledged Sandoval has a sore hip, which was evident by his limited mobility on the basepaths Monday. (He narrowly missed a two-run home run in the eighth, instead hitting a single off the wall.) Hunter Pence has played all but 11 defensive innings in right field this season, after playing all but 16 last season. It’s not like he soldered all his pain receptors.
Monday marked the second time in two weeks that Pagan was scratched within an hour of the first pitch.
“Between the travel, a new bed or something, it’s tighter than it’s been and he couldn’t take a normal swing,” Bochy said. “Hopefully he’ll be good to go and if not, hey, we’ll have to adjust.”
They haven’t adjusted so far, and Bochy is having a hard time understanding it.
“You look at the evidence when he’s not in our lineup and we’re a different club,” Bochy said. “We’ve had a difficult time, more difficult than you might think. The numbers are pretty dramatic.
“I’d like to think we’re still good enough to overcome it. … It’d be nice to have Morse and Belt healthy, but we don’t and there’s no point in thinking about it. We have to overcome it.”
Along with one more game in the standings, too, following Monday’s results.