Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Giants are playing small

Arizona Diamondbacks center fielder Chris Owings (16) scores safely past San Francisco Giants catcher Trevor Brown (14) in the ninth inning during a game at AT&T Park on Thursday April 21, 2016 in San Francisco, Calif.
Arizona Diamondbacks center fielder Chris Owings (16) scores safely past San Francisco Giants catcher Trevor Brown (14) in the ninth inning during a game at AT&T Park on Thursday April 21, 2016 in San Francisco, Calif. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Seventeen games. Late April. The season is like the weather, just starting to warm up. But those Giants hitters and their prolonged cold spell?

This is a real head-scratcher. The position players are healthy, experienced and well aware that 2016 is an even year, which in recent history has meant three World Series victories, ticker tape parades and plenty of parties. Yet thus far their sense of timing is terrible.

The big hit is missing. The double plays are rally killers. The Giants – these Giants! – are playing small. Although third baseman Matt Duffy responded to his one-day “mental break” with three consecutive two-hit games, including a pair of singles in Thursday’s 6-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Giants were swept in a four-game home series for only the second time since AT&T Park opened in 2000.

There are plenty of other tortured numbers to crunch, the kind Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean would prefer to stash under someone else’s tires, with these among them: The Giants were 0for 5 with runners in scoring position in the series finale and 3 for 35 .086) with RISP in the last five games, they have scored four runs in the past 33 innings, they have managed only four runs in the first inning in 17 games, and they have dropped five consecutive games and eight of their last nine.

Dare we say it? With Prince’s music playing in tribute between innings? When it rains it pours?

“I don’t think anybody saw us sputtering quite like this offensively,” Bochy said. “But we have to get clicking here. There’s no magic wand. We need somebody to inject some life in us. They were trying to give us the game there. If it wasn’t for the walks, they probably would have shut us out. We had our chances and didn’t take advantage of them.”

Right-hander Johnny Cueto (3-1) allowed three runs and eight hits in a solid seven innings but was supported meekly by Duffy’s two singles and Brandon Crawford’s sinking line drive. As for those missed opportunities, most occurred in the third inning, when Diamondbacks starter Shelby Miller walked four consecutive hitters to bring the Giants within 2-1.

With the bases still loaded, reliever Tyler Wagner induced Brandon Belt into a double play that tied the score but effectively doomed any prospects of a breakout inning. Crawford grounded to first for the final out, stranding Joe Panik at third.

The Diamondbacks grabbed a 3-2 lead on Yasmany Tomas’ home run to left-center field in the fourth, then piled on – or it certainly had the look and feel of piling on – with a three-run ninth that included a double steal, an error by catcher Trevor Brown on a throw at the plate and a triple by Jean Segura.

“It’s frustrating,” Bochy said. “Nobody wants to have a series like this at home. We just have some guys who aren’t seeing the ball. We’re just in a little rut.”

But a rut is a rut is a rut. While Bochy considers whether to tinker with his batting order for the upcoming series against the Florida Marlins, perhaps the sight of Barry Bonds will provide that jolt of inspiration. Bonds will make his first appearance at his old ballpark as a Marlins hitting coach Friday night. Or if not Bonds, perhaps the Giants can take something positive from their young third baseman’s sudden burst of production.

Other than Angel Pagan (.328) and Brown (.300), the batting averages of the players on Thursday’s lineup card resembled numbers more typical of the team across the bay: Denard Span (.226), Panik (.242), Hunter Pence (.230), Belt (.262), Crawford (.222).

“We have too many hitters who understand what they’re doing at the plate for us stay down there this long,” Duffy said. “For me, I can only speak for myself, but I think the mental day off was helpful. It’s not a bad thing to take a mental day off and stop thinking so much. I wasn’t giving myself time to see the ball, was just jumping at it. I kept rushing.”

Asked if his teammates might be pressing or similarly overthinking, he demurred.

“They have to ask themselves,” Duffy said. “There can be a lot of reasons someone is not hitting. Weird? You saw how bad I was. Hitting in baseball in general, there are highs and lows. It’s really hard to be really good every single day throughout the season. It’s just about managing the lows and trying to ride the highs as long as possible. Maybe guys are starting to get a little overanxious, and when you get opportunities, try to do a little more. Baseball has a way of humbling you.”

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