The Giants and Nationals will have identical 59-42 records when they begin a four-game series between first-place teams Thursday at AT&T Park.
But being tied for the National League’s second-best winning percentage (.584) cannot hide that the Giants have been in free fall since the All-Star break. On Wednesday, they lost for the ninth time in 11 games since the break, squandering a strong outing by Madison Bumgarner to fall 2-1 and drop a three-game series to the Cincinnati Reds, the second-worst team in the league.
“If you didn’t have runs like this, we’d be on pace to win 115 games,” catcher Buster Posey said. “That would be pretty remarkable. It stinks to go through it, but I guess it’s not that far out of the norm. You just try to get back on track as quickly as possible.”
Wednesday seemed like an ideal opportunity with Bumgarner allowing two runs – one earned – over eight innings. But a day after scoring nine runs in their lone win of the series, the Giants’ lineup had just three hits against Reds right-hander Dan Straily, including Conor Gillaspie’s solo home run in the third inning.
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It was reminiscent of the Giants’ offensive struggles on their recent 1-7 trip. But those losses were mainly due to a lack of hits with runners in scoring position. Wednesday, the Giants did not send a single hitter to the plate with a runner past first base.
If a return home was supposed to cure the Giants’ ills, they instead seemed to follow the team west. The Giants lost their fourth consecutive series to begin the second half and allowed eight home runs against the Reds – the most they’ve given up in a three-game series at AT&T Park. Jay Bruce’s homer off Bumgarner on the first pitch of the seventh inning broke a 1-1 tie.
“Road trip has nothing to do with it, really,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “Sure, it’s disappointing when you have Bum throw the ball the way he did today. We just couldn’t figure out Straily. We couldn’t generate much there offensively. That’s a tough one.”
Bumgarner has a 1.75 ERA in five starts in July, but the Giants won just one of those games and are 2-6 in their ace’s last eight starts. He retired his first 11 hitters Wednesday before Joey Votto’s infield single in the fourth and had a 19-inning scoreless streak at home snapped on an unearned run in the fifth.
After Brandon Phillips’ one-out single, Eugenio Suarez hit a line drive to left that Angel Pagan dropped for a two-base error. It was Pagan’s fifth error, his most since 2012. Phillips scored on Tucker Barnhart’s sacrifice fly, with Straily standing on deck.
“That ball was hit hard,” Bochy said. “It’s a tough play. I didn’t talk to him (about) if he lost it in the sun.”
Bruce broke the tie in the seventh with his fourth home run of the series. It was the 24th home run the Giants have allowed in 11 games since the break, 19 given up by starters.
“Just didn’t make a good pitch to him,” Bumgarner said. “I know that’s a spot that he can handle. … It just leaked back over the inside – and the way he’s going right now, he’s not going to miss those. He’s not going to foul them off. He’s going to hit them.”
Bumgarner even hit for himself in the bottom of the eighth with two outs and the Giants down by a run – a reflection of the offense. Bumgarner lined a single to left field, but Gregor Blanco grounded out to end the inning.
“He was really good,” Posey said of Bumgarner. “You want to take advantage of starts like that.”
The Giants hope to have reinforcements soon. Joe Panik (concussion), rehabbing at Triple-A Sacramento, could return this weekend, Bochy said before the game. Hunter Pence (hamstring surgery) is hitting well in the minors, but the Giants will not rush Pence after an earlier setback and Bochy did not anticipate him returning on this homestand.
So it will be the current group that starts out facing the Nationals, trying to cling to a lead in the N.L. West that has dwindled to 2 1/2 games since the break. The Dodgers also lost Wednesday, so the Giants surrendered no ground despite the continuation of their second-half swoon.
“There’ve been talks amongst the guys,” Bumgarner said. “We are on the younger side, but we’ve got a lot of guys who have been through a lot of adversity. You’ve just got to keep going; that’s the only way to do it.”