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Tumbling Giants can’t outplay Brewers, cough up NL West lead after fourth-straight loss

Wednesday was another evening of missed opportunities for the Giants, as they struggled to deliver with runners on base and failed to make big pitches against the Brewers in a 5-2 loss at Oracle Park.

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For the second time this season, the Giants (84-49) have now dropped four games in a row. A three-game Dodgers home sweep of the Braves means Los Angeles now holds a half-game lead in the NL West.

Lorenzo Cain shined for the Brewers (82-52), going 2-for-3 with a solo homer and two run-single.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at Oracle Park.

On the effort, Giants manager Gabe Kapler said:

“Yeah, we can play better baseball all the way around. I don’t think we’re really at our best in any department. We’re not getting enough big hits. Obviously we’re not playing tight enough defense, you can’t give good teams extra outs. We’re not making enough pitches and ultimately, when we get some rallies going, we’re just not able to complete those and that’s hurt us.”

Kevin Gausman (ND, 12-5, 2.52 ERA) stuck out the side with ease in the first inning, aided by three swings and misses on his splitter. Trouble emerged in the second when Milwaukee racked up two straight hits, followed by a walk, then a two-run single by Cain to put the Brewers up 2-0.

Gausman settled down, but was still having occasional issues locating his fastball, falling behind in the count, and allowing loud outs all over the field. The average exit velocity against his fastball was 99.9 mph. The silver lining was that he produced 15 swings and misses.

The righty finished the evening throwing five innings, yielding four hits, two earned runs and a walk while striking out seven. He threw just 82 pitches and, with San Francisco’s pitching staff begging for innings, it’s worth wondering whether he could have tossed another.

On Gausman’s outing, his catcher, Buster Posey, said:

“I thought he threw some he saw some some swings and misses. That’s a great sign. And overall, I think it’s a step in the right direction and it’s something he should feel good about.” P

The Giants starting pitching remains a concern. Before Wednesday’s game, the Giants placed Johnny Cueto on the 10-day injured list with a right elbow strain. It’s not the first time Cueto has battled through pain with his money-making arm; he underwent Tommy John surgery in late 2018 and returned from a right flexor strain on August 19. So when Cueto’s arm began barking last week, the coaching staff wasn’t interested in taking any chances.

Alex Wood, who tested positive for Covid-19 on August 30, still isn’t feeling well as he continues to deal with lingering body aches and chills. The Giants will have to look elsewhere for innings and Kapler’s club has their eye set on doing it collectively, meaning outs are divided up among a group of pitchers. Newly-acquired lefty José Quintana is built up to eat multiple innings and so is youngster Sammy Long. Jarlin García and Zack Littell were other options that Kapler mentioned can throw multiple innings – which they have both done in the past.

On the issue, Posey said:

“Yeah, we’re obviously very confident in the guys that are going out there each day and the bullpen seems to get stronger as the year has gone along. And I know that as the guys that toe the rubber are going to be a challenge.”

The rise and success of “bullpening” has benefited a number of contending teams. The Tampa Bay Rays have long used a similar formula, while the Los Angeles Dodgers have made up for their own starting pitching woes by utilizing their relievers.

The Giants haven’t had their best results against left-handed starters this year, going 23-17 against them heading into Wednesday. With difficulty comes change, and the Giants opted to change up their style by starting Darin Ruf as the leadoff hitter on the lineup card. In 256 career games, Ruf hadn’t once hit first to begin a ballgame. Although it was a different look, his ability to attack the first pitch and fight with two strikes created a fighting-chance opportunity.

The Giants offense strung together three hits in the first two innings against Brewers starter Brett Anderson (ND, 4-8, 4.18 ERA). One left a mark in the second; a hard line drive off the bat of Brandon Crawford struck Anderson in the left shoulder. He took inventory, a few warm up throws, and stayed in the game, but later departed the next inning in favor of former Giants reliever Hunter Strickland.

After Alex Dickerson punished a one-out double off the left field wall for a pinch-hit double, Kris Bryant rapped a double into the right-center field gap to cut the lead in half at 2-1.

On the offensive woes, Kapler said:

“They’re (the offense) really built around looking for pitches to drive. And being especially aggressive on those pitches, being more patient on pitches that we can drive. … So those are things that we just haven’t quite been able to execute once the game is started. So urgency is perhaps about just turning up the dial on our intensity level just a little bit.”

After Brandon Belt was intentionally walked, Posey was next. In the midst of a tough time at the plate, Posey – with the right amount of luck – poked a slow bouncer barely inside the first base line into right to score Bryant and tie the game at 2-2. The softly-struck single had an expected batting average of .120.

During the upcoming stretch run, the Giants will look to keep Posey fresh and ready to go for a competitive bid at October baseball. In his last 13 games, the 34-year-old is 7-for-51 with just two extra-base hits. The Giants view the troubling stretch as a sign that Posey’s body is feeling the grind, and that he may not be 100 percent right now. For Thursday’s series finale, Curt Casali is expected to catch Webb.

On the recent fall, Posey said:

Yeah, I mean, anytime you have a little losing streak It’s, it’s not fun. But this group’s showed an ability to bounce back throughout the year and that’s just what you have to believe that you’re going to do. We’re playing some really good teams, some good pitching. That’s going to continue and hopefully continue in the playoffs as well. And it’s just a matter of showing up each day and competing. It’s really simple as that.”

As they’ve done quite a bit recently, the Giants bullpen went to work with a scoreless effort from Tony Watson in the sixth. The seventh didn’t go so smoothly when Dominic Leone entered with Cain working a two-out walk followed by Jackie Bradley Jr coming off the bench with an infield single. Jose Alvarez entered to once again play stopper, but instead allowed the go-ahead blow by yielding an RBI single to Jace Peterson to give the Brewers a 3-2 lead. Leone’s two-out walk proved to be the difference in the game.

In the ninth, Cain ripped a shot to deep left that appeared to bounce off the very top of the wall and back into play for a double, but the Brewers challenged the initial call. After further review, the ball cleared the fence barely to certify the round-tripper and make it 4-2. Later in the frame, the Brewers put the nail in the coffin when they pounced on another mistake when Willy Adames doubled to left to knock in a run.

Series Wrap

Monday – Brewers 3, Giants 1: The Giants ran into Milwaukee ace right-hander Corbin Burnes (9-4, 2.27 ERA), who showed right off the bat why he’s in serious consideration to win the National League Cy Young Award. Burnes shut down the Giants offense through six innings and finally yielded a run in the seventh when Crawford singled home a run. Although they were hitting rockets all over the field, most of the hard-hit balls were manufactured into outs. The San Francisco offense rallied in the ninth, but their bid was quickly shut down by fireballing lefty closer Josh Hader. As the COVID-19 bug continues to infiltrate their clubhouse, the Giants opted for a bullpen game, with left-hander Álvarez getting the nod for the Giants. The Brewers were helped offensively right away by Omar Narváez‘s RBI single in the first and Burnes’ single in the second. They also added a run in the eighth when Luis Urías manufactured a sacrifice fly.

Tuesday – Brewers 6, Giants 2: For the second straight night, San Francisco’s offense quieted as they faced another big-game pitcher in righty Brandon Woodruff (9-7, 2.35 ERA). After reports of Cueto feeling ill a few days prior, the Giants sent out the veteran righty to face his former National League Central foe. He was lit up right off the bat with a two-spot in the first and a deep homer from Cain (6) in the second. The Brewers scored three more runs in the third and fourth innings, limiting Cueto to only 3-2/3 frames of work. Quintana made his debut in a Giants’ uniform, tossing 3 1/3 innings of one-hit baseball out of relief. He struck out six in the eye-raising outing. The Giants scored two late in the game when Belt roped his 20th homer of the season to straight away center in the sixth and Wilmer Flores crushed a solo shot to left in the ninth.

Up Next

The Giants wrap up the four game series against Milwaukee on Thursday afternoon at Oracle Park as the Brewers send out left-hander Eric Lauer (4-5, 3.61 ERA) to face Logan Webb (8-3, 2.65 ERA). Since he’s taking the hill for the series finale, Webb – one of baseball’s best second half pitchers – will be forced to miss the entire three-game set against the Dodgers starting Friday. First pitch is set for 12:45 p.m.

Notes

As a part of the annual September call-ups, the Giants expanded their roster from 26 to 28 active players. Normally, two players are to be added, but Cueto heading for the IL gave them the flexibility to add a third. Left-hander Caleb Baragar, reliever John Brebbia, and infielder Thairo Estrada were added to the roster before Wednesday’s game. … As of now, there is no plan for a second scan for Cueto’s right elbow. … Infielder Donovan Solano is still quarantining in a New York hotel later testing positive for Covid-19 on August 26. He’s feeling better and the chills he was experiencing are no more. … One of the team’s hitting coaches Justin Viele has been dealing with a Covid-related issue and recently tested negative for the virus. If he racks up another negative result via a swab test, he’ll be allowed to return to the club. … Evan Longoria – rehabbing back from a right-hand contusion – took swings in the batting cage before the game.

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