San Francisco Giants

Upcoming series in L.A. has major N.L. West implications

San Francisco Giants’ Marlon Byrd, center, is congratulated after hitting a three-run home run off Chicago Cubs pitcher Dan Haren that also scored Matt Duffy (5) and Brandon Belt (9) during the third inning in San Francisco, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015.
San Francisco Giants’ Marlon Byrd, center, is congratulated after hitting a three-run home run off Chicago Cubs pitcher Dan Haren that also scored Matt Duffy (5) and Brandon Belt (9) during the third inning in San Francisco, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015. AP

Matt Duffy got philosophical when asked if the Giants’ 9-3 record against the Dodgers this season has any bearing on the teams’ upcoming series at Dodger Stadium, which could have heavy implications on the National League West race.

“The past doesn’t dictate what’s going to happen tomorrow,” the third baseman said.

In an immediate sense, the Giants hope that’s true. Their six-game homestand ended on a down note Sunday, a 7-5 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in which the Giants had 12 hits, scored four runs against Jaime Garcia – who came in with a 1.77 ERA – yet couldn’t capitalize as Chris Heston had a rocky return to the rotation.

The Giants’ absences were felt again Sunday, as the middle of their lineup (Brandon Belt, Buster Posey and Marlon Byrd) combined to go 10 for 12, and the rest of the lineup went 2 for 25. This injury-riddled iteration of the Giants’ offense falls off notably after the No. 5 spot, just one reason the Giants will benefit from the return of Brandon Crawford. They expect that to happen Monday, just in time for a series that several players admitted after Sunday’s loss is critical.

“Oh yeah, it’s huge,” Heston said. “We’re chasing them (the Dodgers). And we’re going to play them. Anytime you’re going against the people you’re chasing, you’ve definitely got a chance to gain some ground.”

The Giants’ loss Sunday ensured they will not catch the Dodgers in Los Angeles this week, even with a sweep. They were four games back after their loss, with the Dodgers still to play the Cubs on Sunday evening. Still, they’ll have a chance to make up most of that ground, with four games still to play at home against the Dodgers later in September.

“It’s huge,” Duffy said. “It’s a series that we can really come out of it right on their tails, or they can create separation. We’ve just got to play good baseball. Up to this point, we have this year against them. We’ve just got to continue that.”

Right fielder Marlon Byrd, who has given the Giants an offensive boost since arriving from Cincinnati via trade, was not around for any of the Giants’ games against their rivals this season. But he sounded encouraged when told of the head-to-head record, saying it should add confidence.

“I would say so,” Byrd said. “If they’re 9-3, that means they’re playing well against them. That’s a good thing. Hopefully that carries over. We’ll be ready to go tomorrow.

“The last two days we have Greinke and Kershaw. That doesn’t make it easy. But it’s a battle we’re ready for.”

Zack Greinke is leads the majors in ERA at 1.61. Kershaw is the reigning league MVP and has pitched as well as, if not better than, Greinke since the end of June. As Byrd said, the Giants have their work cut out to avoid slipping further behind in the division race over the next few days.

Even manager Bruce Bochy broke from his usual rhetoric to acknowledge the importance of the Giants’ next three games.

“It’s a big, huge series for us,” Bochy said. “We’re behind. And so we’re going to have to execute, play our best ball, hopefully go down there and get on track.

“(The Dodgers are) good and they’re on a roll right now; they’re on a good winning streak; they’re playing good baseball. You look forward to a series like this, especially when you’re behind. Your best chance is playing the team that’s ahead of you. We have our work cut out; we need to win ballgames. It’s pretty simple at this point.”

▪ The story from Sunday’s game can be found here, with more on Heston’s outing. The Cardinals jumped on him quickly, not allowing the right-hander to settle in after 12 days without pitching in a game. Heston said he did take one positive out of the game: Before his extended rest, he was walking too many batters, and he avoided that problem Sunday. But too many of the strikes he threw were hit hard.

“That was kind of a focus – get back in the strike zone and be aggressive – and I was,” Heston said. “The ball was just up a little bit. That was just (something) I need to focus on in the next one and get the ball down.”

The question is when the next one will be. Bochy was noncommittal when asked whether Heston will make his next scheduled start, against the Rockies at Coors Field. Heston has struggled there, with a 9.82 ERA in two starts.

“On the way to L.A., these are things we’ll talk about,” Bochy said. “It’s going to be up to our starting pitching to come through for us.”

▪ Byrd turned 38 on Sunday and celebrated with three extra-base hits and four RBIs. He nearly had another hit in the third inning, when Cardinals left fielder Brandon Moss dove to catch a sinking line drive. The Giants had runners on first and third, and had the ball fallen in, it might have been a different game.

Still, Byrd finished with two doubles and a triple and now has 13 RBIs in nine games for the Giants. His doubles were hit to nearly the exact same spot, falling inside the final archway down the right-field line.

“If I get it, I can go the other way,” Byrd said. “I know there haven’t been a lot of balls hit out by righties here. But I got enough carry, enough backspin to get it off the fence twice. Just one of those days where your swing’s going good, the path’s going good.”

Bochy said Byrd was “putting us back in the game with every at-bat.” But the pitching couldn’t keep the Cardinals down, and the right fielder’s big day went for naught. Asked afterward if he could have celebrated his birthday in a better way, Byrd said immediately:

“Yes. With a ‘W.’”

▪ If you couldn’t tell from Matt Carpenter’s leadoff home run that the ball was carrying to center field, Jason Heyward’s screaming liner two batters later drove the point home. Gregor Blanco broke in on the ball, Heyward appeared to think it was an out, and then it seemed to rise mid-flight and carry over Blanco’s head.

“That was a really hard line drive,” Blanco said. “It was tough to read it, and I don’t think even if I go back, I was going to catch that ball.”

Blanco said the ball was “carrying pretty good” in the early innings, but he made sure not to get fooled again on Moss’ drive to straightaway center leading off the second. Blanco dropped back immediately and reached up for a running catch as he neared the wall.

▪ It came up that Duffy, who grounded into two double plays Sunday, has hit into 19 on the season. That’s tied for the fifth-most in the majors.

Duffy is not a fly-ball hitter, and said he especially tries to hit the ball low and hard when he’s at AT&T Park. Sometimes, that results in double plays.

Duffy said he wasn’t too frustrated with a first-inning double play Sunady because he hit the ball squarely but right at second baseman Kolten Wong. Duffy was less happy with a 6-4-3 that ended the seventh, as the Giants had a man on and were down two at that point.

“Keep the ball low, you hit into more double plays than if you hit fly balls,” Duffy said. “That’s the way it is.”

▪ The marquee pitching matchup in L.A. is Tuesday, when Greinke opposes Madison Bumgarner, who just wrapped up a 5-0 month of August with a 1.43 ERA. The best part might be watching these pitchers hit against each other. Bumgarner, with five homers, should win the N.L. Silver Slugger Award again. But Greinke, who won the award in 2013, is no slouch.

The probable pitching matchups:

Monday: RHP Jake Peavy (4-6, 4.21) vs. LHP Brett Anderson (8-8, 3.36)

Tuesday: LHP Madison Bumgarner (16-6, 2.97) vs. RHP Zack Greinke (14-3, 1.61)

Wednesday: RHP Mike Leake (9-6, 3.53) vs. LHP Clayton Kershaw (11-6, 2.24)