SAN FRANCISCO – Nine days ago, the Giants were coming off back-to-back wins over the division-leading Arizona Diamondbacks, their deficit in the National League West narrowed to 4 1/2 games with eight remaining on a long homestand to start the second half.
"I think after the San Diego series (winning three of four going into the All-Star break) and then opening up with Arizona, we were feeling pretty good," catcher Buster Posey said. "And then obviously these last two series, we didn't have the outcome we wanted."
Today, the Giants are a season-high 12 games under .500, last in the division and 10 games behind the streaking Los Angeles Dodgers after winning just once more during the 10-game homestand. Along the way they were outscored 31-8 in four games by the Cincinnati Reds and managed three runs in three games while being swept by the Chicago Cubs, including Sunday's 2-1 loss that saw another strong outing by a starting pitcher scuttled by a lack of timely hitting.
Tim Lincecum allowed two solo home runs in seven innings and took the loss with the Giants leaving nine men on base, bringing their total stranded for the series to 24. They went 4 for 23 in the three games with runners in scoring position while being swept at home for the first time in 20 years by the Cubs, who came in 10 games under .500 and considered trade-deadline sellers in the competitive N.L. Central.
Now it remains to be seen whether that role fits the Giants, who visit the White House on today's off-day to be recognized by President Barack Obama for a 2012 World Series crown that is looking less and less like something they'll have a chance to defend this October.
"We always talk about believing that we can get out of it and we've been scuffling a little bit," Lincecum said. "It just takes a couple things going right to springboard us into something positive. Right now we're kind of avoiding those.
"If we can just hit something right and catch stride somewhere, maybe win a few games in a row or get better during a series, I think that'll give us a little more confidence."
Pitching was not the issue against the Cubs, as the Giants' starters in the series combined to allow three earned runs over 22 innings. Lincecum rebounded from his shortest outing of the season against the Reds by striking out 10 Cubs over seven innings – his third double-digit strikeout total in his last four outings – and allowing just four hits.
Two of them, though, were home runs by the Cubs' eighth and ninth hitters on fastballs that Lincecum called "location mistakes." Opposing pitcher Travis Wood took Lincecum deep in the fifth for the game's first run, and catcher Welington Castillo homered two innings later for the decisive blow.
It held up, as the Giants scored just an unearned run against Wood and two relievers, on Pablo Sandoval's two-out double in the fifth. The Giants had loaded the bases with no outs in the inning – kick-started by one of Lincecum's two singles and an error that let Andres Torres reach on a potential double-play ball – but Posey grounded into a double play and, after Sandoval's double, Hunter Pence struck out to end the threat.
Pence hit with a total of seven runners on in his first three at-bats Sunday and stranded them all. The Giants put multiple runners on in three of the first five innings and got the tying run to third base in the ninth with two outs against Cubs closer Kevin Gregg, who induced a harmless pop-up from pinch hitter Gregor Blanco to secure the sweep.
Manager Bruce Bochy was asked if the Giants had missed an opportunity with 10 games at home to open the second half and said: "No question.
"We just didn't play winning baseball," Bochy said. "We had a tough series against Cincinnati, found a way to win one game, but this series – this shouldn't happen. To get that kind of pitching and not only not win a game, but get swept, that shouldn't happen.
"Believe me, we're I think as surprised as anybody that as a group we can struggle this much, especially with the situations we created in the series. One game we lost by an error and baserunning, and the next two we just couldn't get a hit."
The Giants totaled 21 runs in the 10 games, leading Bochy to say that, "In all my years, I haven't seen a team quite go through such a hard time getting runs like we're having right now."
Posey, who is hitless in his past six games, said hitters, including himself, are likely pressing, because "when you're struggling, that's sometimes the battle – trying not to do too much and trying to slow the game down a little bit."
Asked to put into words what is ailing the Giants right now, with the calendar about to flip to August and their division standing trending in the wrong direction, Posey was frank.
"We're not playing good baseball," he said. "That's about it. We've got to play better."