The Giants continued their plummet back to earth Tuesday, losing their third consecutive game and sealing their third-consecutive losing series with a 5-3 fall to the Nationals.
Rookie Conner Menez (L, 0-1, 5.73 ERA) could not repeat the success of his late-July debut. The Nats tagged him for five runs on six hits, including two bombs, while the Giants (56-58) offense came up short repeatedly over nine innings.
This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at Oracle Park.
Since August 1, the day after San Francisco made several meaningful trades at the deadline, the day after they closed the book on a feverish 19-6 July and the day they placed Alex Dickerson, who many cite as the catalyst for that feverish July surge, on the injured list with a strained right oblique, the Giants have a 1-5 record and have been outscored by their opponents 35-17.
Is it a natural regression to the team’s true-talent level? Is it a hangover? Did the Giants sell off too much at the deadline? Not buy enough? Or is Dickerson’s contribution on the active roster so vital that his mere absence could send the team into such a tailspin?
It’s difficult to say. But like the five August games before Tuesday night’s, the Giants looked the spitting image of the team that entered early July with a run differential slightly better than minus-100.
Menez allowed a pair of walks and a pair of singles in the first and was lucky to get off only allowing one run after he caught Trea Turner stealing halfway through issuing a walk to Anthony Rendon. Kurt Suzuki, who went 3-for-4 Tuesday, knocked Rendon in for the first of three RBI on the evening.
Menez said his stuff wasn’t consistently working for him Tuesday, but he also felt home plate umpire Gerry Davis’ strike zone wasn’t exactly rulebook:
“My fastball was kind of there, kind of off sometimes today. And I think I got squeezed just a bit, I was just kind of trying to adjust to the tighter zones.”
The rookie southpaw opened up the third by walking Turner again before giving up a single to former Giant Gerardo Parra. A Rendon sac fly scored Turner, and a batter later, Suzuki went yard (12) to put the Nationals (60-53) up 4-0.
Turner would also take Menez deep (10) to lead off the fifth on a ball to left with a 108.2-mph exit velocity.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he was glad Menez was able to make it through six innings, but acknowledged that the lefty’s stuff wasn’t quite there:
“The early walks hurt him. He didn’t quite have a good feel for his changeup tonight, and that’s a big pitch for him. He was missing with that and it was hard work for him not to have that working along with the breaking ball and the fastball.”
Relievers Jandel Gustave and Willliams Jerez kept the Giants in it after Menez hit the showers Tuesday night, holding Washington to just the five run, but the offense failed to dig itself out.
The Giants had three opportunities to answer back with big innings against Aníbal Sánchez (W, 7-6, 3.67 ERA), but the right-hander consistently kept them well enough contained to secure the win, limiting them to just one run per rally.
After Kevin Pillar led off the third with a single and moved to third on a throwing error by Sánchez, the most the Giants mustered was a ground out from Brandon Crawford to score Pillar, but the rally ended there.
Pinch-hitting for Menez to lead off the sixth, Pablo Sandoval slapped a double into the right field corner on the second pitch of the inning and Brandon Belt knocked the very next pitch up the middle for an RBI single.
A batter later Buster Posey drew a one-out walk but Stephen Vogt grounded into a fielders choice and Evan Longoria grounded out to third. End of threat.
Facing former Giant Hunter Strickland in the seventh, San Francisco had another chance to get back in the game. Pillar got on with a one-out single and Sandoval knocked him in for his 23rd double of 2019, but Belt flied out to put another rally to bed prematurely.
Over 1/3 of Sandoval’s 72 knocks this season have gone for doubles and nearly 20 percent (14) have been dingers. According to Baseball Reference, he’s been the fifth-most valuable Giant in 2019 despite his bench-role, with 1.5 wins above replacement, behind Will Smith, Stephen Vogt and Madison Bumgarner (1.6 WAR) and Evan Longoria (1.8 WAR).
Bochy said Sandoval’s been a great weapon to have:
“He gives you good at-bats. He’s got a lot of pop in the bat to all fields He’s got good plate coverage–he doubled down the right-field line and he doubled to left-center tonight. He’s a good hitter and he’s been batting well right-handed, too.”
He almost played the clutch hero Tuesday, something he’s no stranger to. He came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth as the tying run with two outs and a runner on. But Nats lefty closer Sean Doolittle (S, 25, 6-3, 2.81 ERA) came through for Washington, managing what neither Sánchez nor Strickland could do before him, retiring Sandoval to seal victory.
“We had our guy up there in that last inning there and they got him, but he’s done a great job since he’s been here. I’m like the fans, I have a lot of confidence when he’s up there.”
If San Francisco’s recent nose-dive is a function of a hangover from a whirlwind July, the Giants still have time to bounce back.
If it’s the absence of bullpen pieces like Sam Dyson, Mark Melancon and Drew Pomeranz, whom the Giants traded away at the deadline, they could still get creative and look to Triple-A for help or seek castoffs. If it was a failure to plug holes in the starting rotation at the deadline, they could take a similar approach.
If it’s Dickerson they’re missing, things could turn around as quickly as this weekend when Bochy expects the left fielder, who’s slashed .386/.449/.773 in 30 games since putting on a Giants uniform June 21, to be reactivated from the IL.
But if this is just regression to the mean, then Giants fans will have to settle for enjoying the mid-summer memories as they lick their wounds.
Of the downturn Bochy said:
“You just keep going, you’re going to have these little ruts where you’re not quite putting up the runs like you have been the last five, six weeks. It’s going to come down to us pitching a good ball game and just finding a way to win a good close one.”
Rookie Shaun Anderson (3-3, 5.08 ERA) will take on Oakland native Joe Ross (1-3, 8.10 ERA) in Wednesday’s 12:45 p.m. matinee series finale with the Nationals at Oracle Park as the Giants try to avoid the sweep.
Johnny Cueto is scheduled to make his second rehab start Friday in Arizona. Bochy said he will throw 30 pitches and begin a schedule of throwing every five days as he ramps up. The skipper said he expects Cueto back by early September. … The Giants DFA’d Joe Panik Tuesday.
Julie Parker is SFBay’s San Francisco Giants beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @InsideThePark3r on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Giants baseball.