San Francisco Giants

Giants change things up at start of key series against Cardinals

After scoring five runs in three games while being swept by the Padres, the Giants changed things up before Thursday’s opener of a big series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Manager Bruce Bochy dropped a struggling Denard Span out of the leadoff spot in his lineup. He also canceled batting practice, allowing players to report a couple of hours later than normal for a night game.

“We didn’t hit too much yesterday and the boys just looked like they were dragging a little bit,” Bochy said. “So I just wanted to give them a break, try to freshen them up – and get their mind off it a little bit.”

The Giants were swept by the Padres for the second time since the All-Star break and go into this series with a half-game lead over the Mets in the wild-card race and a one-game lead on the Cardinals for the second spot.

Span will bat eighth Thursday night with Angel Pagan leading off and Joe Panik in the second spot. Eduardo Nunez also returns to the lineup at third base after missing three games because of back tightness.

Span has just two hits in his past 41 at-bats. He also hasn’t had much success during his career (2 for 15) against Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals’ starter Thursday.

“I just decided to give him a break until he gets going, finds his swing,” Bochy said. “Just trying to do something to see if we can get this offense going – and it hasn’t (just) been Denard, that’s certainly not the case. There’s a few guys that aren’t quite locked in.”

Pagan, for example, is 7 for 51 (.137) in his past 13 games. Buster Posey is hitting .193 in his past 14 games and Brandon Crawford .185 in his past 54 at-bats. Bochy said that Panik has been “swinging better” – he’s hitting .216 in his past 11 games.

Still, this is the first time since 2008 that Span has batted eighth.

“He’s the boss, he’s the man, point blank, period,” Span said of Bochy. “Like I told you guys in the room next door in my (introductory) press conference, I’m going to do whatever it takes to help this team. If that means hitting 20th, I’m going to be the best 20th hitter I can be.”

The Giants are opposing Wainwright with Johnny Cueto. The two have matched up three times in the regular season in their careers. Wainwright has a 1.71 ERA in those games and Cueto a 1.42 ERA.

Both managers acknowledged before the game the importance of this series, in which one team could pad its wild-card position. Bochy said he expects “a lot of tension in this series.” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said the elements give the series a postseason feel – a not unfamiliar scenario for these two teams in recent years.

“I’ve sat up there and watched those guys celebrate too many times,” Matheny said in the dugout Thursday afternoon. “I’m good with trying to change that.”