By Morris Phillips
At 69-74, with 19 games remaining, the Giants are playing out the string, holding daily auditions for the 2023 season, and moving players between Sacramento and San Francisco so frequently they could cause their own, I-80 traffic jam.
It’s tedious stuff especially after the excitement stretched into October last season, and those 107 wins are just a polarizing subject at this point. But the organization trudges on, knowing that a better 2023 season is within their capable reach.
But first, what went wrong? And when did it happen? The Giants started fast through April 26, winning the 13 of their first 18 games to take a lead in the NL West, then a disturbing trend emerged: losing games too frequently to mediocre and bad teams.
In the four games starting April 27, the Giants lost three of four home games to the A’s and Nationals, the teams with the worst record in each league this season. And it wasn’t that they lost, but how they lost. First, a 1-0 shutout loss to Paul Blackburn and the A’s at Oracle Park, followed by a 14-4 whipping in which Alex Wood was roughed up, and then to finish the series with the Nationals, Alex Cobb was taken to task in a 11-5 loss. We’ll term the stretch one frustrating loss followed by two embarrassing ones.
A key moment emerged regarding the team’s bullpen in the 11-5 loss. Trailing 8-0, the Giants struck for five runs in the bottom of the seventh to crawl back in it, only to see reliever Jake McGee allow two hits and two walks in the eighth, culminating with Yadiel Hernandez’ bases-clearing double that again put the game out of reach. McGee would go on to get roughed up in his next outing versus the Cardinals, and then released on July 9, a humbling conclusion for a pitcher who was signed prior to the 2021 season to be the team’s closer.
Keeping track? On May 1, beginning with McGee’s implosion another troubling trend emerged: the season-long failure of the bullpen which has gone from the NL’s best in 2021 to one of the worst in 2022.
So does May 1 qualify as one of the Giants’ six most damaging losses in 2022? Probably, but for our purposes, no. The Giants have performed admirably against non-NL West competition, with a 48-38 record that culminated with the 4-1 win over the Braves on Wednesday. Their biggest malfeasance has been competing against divisional opponents, who have doubled down their efforts to beat the Giants after they were soundly outclassed in 2021.
Last season the Giants were an other-worldly 53-23 against the Dodgers, Padres, D’Backs and Rockies (17-2 against Colorado). This season, with the final 19 games all against these four teams, the Giants are 21-36 with a string of narrow losses in low-scoring games in which their offense has all but disappeared. That’s a .368 winning percentage that would rank as their third-worst showing versus divisional opponents since 1969. In a closer look, that’s 15 games below .500 with a run-differential in those 57 games of only minus 30. Again, the NL West losses have been close, low-scoring and agonizing.
Here are the six, most frustrating of those losses, and the most damaging of the season in its entirety.
May 3, at Dodger Stadium: Coming off the A’s/Nationals downer, the Giants needed a pick-me up in their first meeting with the hated Blue after the Game 5 loss in the 2021 NLDS. Carlos Rodon appeared to be the guy to give it to them, but he walked Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger in a 27-pitch, second inning that left him trailing 2-0. Meanwhile, the Giants with Mauricio Dubon and Darin Ruf (both subsequently traded) hitting 2-3 in their limited lineup went 0 for 7 against Julio Urias and four relievers. In the eighth, trailing 2-1, John Brebbia allowed a leadoff double to Hanser Alberto, who later scored on Jose Alvarez’ wild pitch to provide the Dodgers insurance in a 3-1 win.
Biggest frustration: the Giants got beat by Chris Taylor (2 RBI) and Alberto, hitting 8-9, not Mookie Betts, Trea Turner and Freddie Freeman, hitting 1-2-3.
May 18, at Coors Field: After a pair of losses at Los Angeles, the Giants rebounded with a winning home stand, followed by three wins in five games at St. Louis and Colorado. In the getaway game against the Rockies the Giants had an opportunity to secure a winning road trip while topping the Rockies for a franchise-record 13th straight time. Leading 3-2 in the eighth inning, things went sideways despite the presence of Logan Webb, looking for a ML-leading sixth win.
Manager Gabe Kapler decided to stick with Webb to start the eight, and he allowed a leadoff single to Connor Joe, and Webb was replaced by Jose Alvarez. Charlie Blackmon’s bunt moved Joe into scoring position, and the next batter, Yonathon Diaz, delivered a game-tying single. Slugger C.J. Cron then got revved up by receiving a 3-0 count from Alvarez, and delivered the game-winning, two-run homer two pitches later. The Giants went scoreless after the fourth inning against starter Kyle Freeland and three, less than exemplary relievers.
Biggest frustration: Webb allowed two runs in the first, then settled in. He retired 16 consecutive batters before allowing Joe’s leadoff single in the eighth. Should Kapler have lifted him at that point with fewer than 100 pitches thrown (97)?
July 7, at Petco Park: In what would becme the Giants 13th loss in a 17-game stretch, Webb was again terrific, but given no support. This time, Webb went a full eight innings, allowed one run, but left with the game tied, 1-1 in what would become a frustrating 2-1 loss in 10 innings. What’s worse, Webb had company in being singularly heroic in a devastating loss as Brandon Crawford came up with a game-tying base hit with two outs in the ninth. Even worse? Taylor Rogers, on a night the Giants’ offense was MIA, played the helpful twin brother (to the Giants’ Tyler Rogers) by plunking Austin Slater to leadoff the ninth. Slater than stole second, and scored on Crawford’s big hit… to no avail.
Biggest frustration: The Giants went 10 innings in this one with just two hits, and somehow realized 11 missed opportunities with a runner in scoring position. Three of those came in the 10th with the placed runner at second base, another three came in the sixth when the Giants failed to push a run across after Lamonte Wade Jr. ignited the inning with a leadoff double.
July 21, at Dodger Stadium: The first game after the All-Star break saw the Giants all but finished in the division with a 13 1/2 game deficit behind the first-place Dodgers. But at 48-44, the team was still in great shape to compete for a wild-card spot in the newly-expanded postseason format. Five wins in the final six games leading up to the break suggested that the club was ready to put it’s bad habits away, and get down to business, but that turned out to not be the case.
After Rodon was uncharacteristically roughed up in the game’s first, five innings, the Giants mounted a rally down 5-0. A five-run seventh tied it, and Thairo Estrada drew a bases loaded walk in the eighth to give the Giants a 6-5 lead. Kapler summoned Dominic Leone to pitch the bottom of the eighth, but he allowed a one-out double to Gavin Lux on a two-strike pitch and the walls caved in. After retiring Max Muncy on a ground out, Leone gave up a game-tying triple to Trayce Thompson, and he was relieved by Jarlin Garcia. Clay Bellinger, batting ninth, drew a four-pitch walk and three pitches later, Mookie Betts’ three-run homer put the Dodgers in the winners circle once again.
Biggest frustration: The Giants came up empty under the big lights. With singer Billie Eilish, her songwriting brother Phineas, and 3-time World Champion Klay Thompson in the stands the Giants came up small in the game’s biggest moments. That they were ultimately undone by Betts (facing Garcia) only furthered the belief that the club needs an infusion of superstar-talent to compete with their hated rival from Southern California.
July 27, at Chase Field: The Giants’ decisive stretch of seven-consecutive losses to start the season’s second half concluded with this one, a game that was tied 2-2 in the seventh when the D’Backs pushed across three runs to decide it. While Arizona got resourceful and opportunistic with a pair of bunts to ignite their game-winning rally, the Giants just self-destructed. After Jake McCarthy’s leadoff bunt base hit, Sergia Alcantara’s single moved McCarthy to third. Austin Slater attempted to throw out McCarthy at third, but failed, and that allowed Alcantara to move up a base. Jose Herrera got down a bunt to score McCarthy and give Arizona a lead, but Brandon Belt fielded the bunt and airmailed his throw to the plate in an attempt to cut down McCarthy. That error allowed Alcantara to score as well.
Biggest frustration: Kapler, once again saw his Giants fail with Rodon or, in this case, Webb getting the start. Even more telling, the club’s body language wasn’t what it needed to be after six, consecutive losses, prompting Kapler to say, “We need to come out with more fire.”
August 10, at Petco Park: In the midst of a stretch of games where the Giants again sprung to life winning eight of 10, this was the one that prevented a ninth win in 10 outings, as the Giants blew 4-0 and 7-6 leads only to lose 13-7. The Padres basked in the glow of their Juan Soto acquisition, and got to spray off a bunch of self-congratulatory quotes after the game. The Giants squandered a big game from deadline pickups J.D. Davis (three hits, two runs scored) and Austin Wynns (two hits, two runs scored), but saw starter Jakob Junis and reliever Yunior Marte fall into a world of trouble. Junis was a revelation in the season’s first half with his ability to take the ball every fifth day in place of the injured Anthony DeSclafani, but this game highlighted the fact that Junis’ season derailed for a stretch following a hamstring injury. Marte, pitching in a big spot in the absence of a bunch of ineffective Giants’ relievers that were released, demoted or no longer trusted, was left to get fleeced in the Padres’ seven-run, sixth inning rally.
Biggest frustration: Another loss to the Padres (the Giants trail the season series with San Diego 11-5) and another lost opportunity to expose their shortcomings. Since August 3, the date of Soto’s acquisition, the Padres have gone 18-19 and seen Fernando Tatis Jr. suspended for 80 games for violating MLB’s rules regarding performance-enhancing drugs. Had the Giants applied the heat in head-to-head matchups, they’d likely still be in the postseason hunt. Instead the Padres received a pass, and even then, they might be had by the Brewers down the stretch.