With three games remaining in August, the Giants are still looking for their first three-game winning streak of the second half.
The Giants are limping toward September in any sense of the word. Their 3-1 loss to the National League-worst Atlanta Braves on Saturday evening was their 10th in their last 15 games and dropped them two games back of the Dodgers, who beat the Cubs, 3-2. Their lineup for Saturday’s game had to be cobbled together to account for numerous absences.
Albert Suarez started in place of Jake Peavy, who was placed on the disabled list earlier in the day with a back strain. He was throwing to Trevor Brown, with catcher Buster Posey getting a night off. Hunter Pence missed a second consecutive game with hamstring tightness. And shortly before first pitch, Brandon Belt was scratched with a stiff neck.
The resulting lineup collected five hits, their lone run coming on a second-inning homer by Brandon Crawford off of Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz. The only two position players with hits were Crawford, who also doubled in the seventh, and Denard Span, who singled in the sixth and doubled in the eighth and was stranded both times.
“Sure, you’re going to miss those guys,” manager Bruce Bochy said of the absent regulars. “But that unfortunately happens once in a while, and it happened tonight to us. But it’s a pretty good lineup, you look at the first six, they’re regulars.
“You’ve got to go with these guys sometimes, and they just happened to run into a well-pitched game. (Foltynewicz) was tough on us in Atlanta, too. He’s got great stuff. When he’s on, he’s tough.”
Suarez said he’d found out Friday night he would be starting Saturday for the Giants and drove to San Francisco from Fresno, where the Triple-A River Cats were playing. He did not allow a hit for three innings but was burned by a five-pitch sequence in the fourth.
Adonis Garcia bounced a single through the left side. Freddie Freeman doubled off the right-field wall. And Suarez left an 0-1 fastball over the plate to Matt Kemp, who drove his 26th home run of the season over the wall in straightaway center.
“One pitch, left it up, and he put a good swing on it and hit it far,” Suarez said. “Other than that I felt good.”
That ended a streak of 25 consecutive scoreless innings by Giants pitchers. Suarez exited two batters into the fifth at 76 pitches. Five relievers combined to cover the final 4 2/3 innings without allowing a run.
The Giants next need a fifth starter Friday in Chicago. Bochy said the Giants hope Matt Cain will be ready to return from the disabled list to make that start. Cain made his first rehab start at Triple-A on Saturday – and allowed six runs (four earned) on 10 hits in five innings.
Suarez accounted for the Giants’ other hit with a one-out double in the third, his first career extra-base hit. He then scampered to third on a wild pitch but was stranded there as Span and Angel Pagan both grounded out to second base. It encapsulated an 0-for-8 night for the Giants with runners in scoring position.
“We just couldn’t get a key hit,” Bochy said. “That’s how you win ballgames, and that was missing tonight.”
That, and several key bats. Belt came off the bench to pinch-hit in the eighth and struck out against Foltynewicz. Span followed with a double, and Pagan worked a walk, finally forcing the Braves to use their bullpen. Mauricio Cabrera entered and induced a harmless groundout from Joe Panik.
Belt said he tweaked his neck Thursday night when he rolled over in his sleep, and “it locked up on me.” He played through it Friday but said when he went to take batting practice in the cage Saturday afternoon he “couldn’t take a full swing.”
“I usually have to deal with this pretty much every year, and it’s almost always in spring training,” Belt said. “It just happened to be right now this year. Usually a couple days. For the most part I can play with it unless it gets too bad like today. I would assume I can get back out there tomorrow.”
It would put the Giants closer to full strength, as Posey will also be in Sunday’s lineup to catch Madison Bumgarner. The Giants will be trying for just their second series win of the second half. They have lost nine series and split two since the All-Star Break.