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9:03PM

Bochy on 2017: 'This isn’t who we are'

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — That was a Giants flag, a black SF on a circle of orange, almost like the Great Pumpkin, flapping in the freshening breeze and incoming fog atop the right field foul pole at AT&T Park on Wednesday afternoon.

A rare sight after a rare victory, a tease of what should have been this season, decent pitching, timely hitting, a good break — Jarrett Parker’s excuse-me double in the seventh that scored two runs — a 4-2 win over Milwaukee and a rare series victory.

A little more than a month remaining in the Great Lost Season, when the players stopped performing — for the most part — and the fans stopped coming, and given the farm system and budget restrictions, no one is quite certain how corrections can be made.

Unless, perchance, they don’t need to be made. Unless, as Giants manager Bruce Bochy said when the talk drifted from failure to frustration to potential, this season of 2017 was an aberration, a rare set of misfortunes that now and then strike teams in baseball.

“We don’t think we’re the team that had this rough a year,” said Bochy. ”We’ve been there the last six, seven years. These are really good ballplayers, really good pitchers. This year is different, injuries, off years. This isn’t who we are.”

So, instead of talking about 2018, Bochy's idea is to play well the rest of 2017, to regain lost confidence, find new belief.

No small issue, but with baseball's reliance on home runs, the Giants ought to find some new power. San Francisco’s cleanup hitter, Buster Posey, while batting .317, has only 12 home runs. The Brewers’ cleanup batter, Travis Shaw, has 27.

The cliché is good pitching will beat good hitting, but for the most part — yes, Madison Bumgarner was out weeks — the pitching hasn’t been that good. Which is why Matt Moore’s third straight quality start had Bochy enthusiastic and explanatory.

Moore went six innings and allowed only a run. He left when the game was tied 1-1. Hunter Strickland got the win, Mark Melancon the save — just as it was planned in March, before Strickland was inconsistent and Melancon was injured.

Still, Moore has a 4-12 record and a 5.54 ERA. And as we know, the Giants were eliminated from postseason play in mid-August, something unimaginable in spring training.

“It’s how you finish,” said Bochy. ”You’re going to have your struggles, your hiccups, bumps in the road. Matt had some good starts now. For him, less is more. He’s backed off his pitches a little bit.”

And some would say a little late.

The reflection of this season is as much in the bleachers and grandstands at AT&T as on the field. This is the 18th season for the park, but the first when there were huge areas of empty seats. 

The announced attendance Wednesday, meaning tickets sold, was 40,015, some 2,000 below capacity. Even in that streak of sellouts, which ended earlier this year, were unfilled seats. Now there are hundreds, probably thousands.

Giants fans, Bay Area fans, cannot accept losing. Interest in the Giants and Athletics has tumbled. No longer are BART trains packed with fans wearing orange and black.

The Wednesday game was joyful for those in attendance, a reminder of the way it was. A Giants win and that black-and-orange flag.

10:02PM

Bochy on the Giants: ‘I like to think this was a start’

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — Still learning. “That’s the goal,” said Buster Posey, "to learn.” About the Giants, and himself. To learn how to improve, and even for a former MVP, a World Series hero, the education never stops.

For Buster. For manager Bruce Bochy. For the fans, after a week of successful baseball that finally arrived after too many weeks of failing baseball.

They learned, and we learned, that for a few games at least the Giants were able to combine pitching and hitting, play as they once played, play — yes — as they were supposed to be playing.

They won five in a row, five out of seven on a home stand that concluded Wednesday afternoon at AT&T Park with a defeat, not surprising since the other team was the Dodgers and the other pitcher was Clayton Kershaw.

“He was his usual good self,” said Bochy, an understatement of sorts. Pitched the first seven innings. Didn’t allow a run. Impossible to win if you don’t score, although the Giants finally did, on an Eduardo Nunez bases-empty home run off of ex-Giant Sergio Romo in the ninth. It was a bit of face-saving in a 6-1 defeat.

In effect, the game was over in the first when Yasmani Grandal doubled in two runs off of Johnny Cueto. Kershaw with a 2-0 lead before two innings had been played? “Very tough,” said Bochy.

Two words that apply to the Giants' road trip, which starts Friday at St. Louis and then goes to Chicago. The Cardinals are in first in the National League Central. The Cubs are World Series Champions. Posey will learn something about the Giants.

“I like to think this was a start,” said Bochy of the home stand. “We lost the opener (falling 12 games below .500), and everyone is thinking we’re out of it.

“The thing I liked is we played Giants baseball. We were in games, got quality pitching, which gave us a chance.”

In the previous few games, at Cincinnati and New York, they barely had a chance, losing 13-3, 14-2 and 6-1. The return to San Francisco, to AT&T, a pitcher’s park, changed scores and perhaps attitudes.

“We kept people away from the big inning,” said Bochy. “The thing I like about this team is there’s a sense of confidence. We just have to keep playing the way we have been.

What appeared to be a reminder of the historic Dodgers-Giants rivalry popped up — in a manner of speaking — in the third. Cueto, possibly upset with himself after giving up the first-inning hits on two-strike counts, yelled at Grandal in the third for stealing signs from Posey after the first-inning double. An inside pitch, and like that both dugouts and bullpens emptied. And that was it.

In fact, Kershaw walked through the three dozen or so players from both teams that, as is the situation in most baseball confrontations, were just grabbing or yelling and marched to the mound to take his warm-ups for the bottom of the inning.

After the game, Grandal and Cueto (now 4-3) apologized to each other. No ejections, no fines and, for the usual sellout crowd at AT&T Park, no real excitement.

“It caught me by surprise,” Grandal said of the Cueto pitch, and no, he wouldn’t dare steal a sign and relay it to a batter, one of the many unwritten rules of a sport that has many.

“We talked about it,” said Grandal, the Dodgers' catcher. “We apologized, so we’re on good terms, I guess. Let’s not make it a larger deal than it really is.”

Everything between the Giants and Dodgers is large. San Francisco fans have forever chanted “Beat L.A.” Dodgers fans, and, wow, were there great numbers at AT&T, many of them hoisting a blue banner that covered much of the right centerfield bleachers, shouted “Let’s go, Dodgers.”

On Wednesday, after losing Monday and Tuesday, the Dodgers went. It’s obvious they’re a very good team. The Giants? We, and they, still are learning.

8:59AM

Bochy on consecutive 2-1 games: ‘That’s who we are’

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — That’s who they are. Bruce Bochy said it about the Giants. He didn’t mean losing to the Dodgers, as they did, 2-1, Tuesday night. He meant pitching well and fielding well and having chances to win, unlike those three games at the end of last week against the Rockies in Denver.

The Giants, built on pitching, desperate for hitting, lacked both in those games, losing them 12-3 and 8-0, respectively. That can happen at Coors Field, said Bochy.

But it didn’t happen for the Giants, just against them, against a staff that is supposedly among the best in baseball but last in the National League with an earned run average above 5. After two beautifully pitched games at AT&T Park against L.A., a 2-1 win followed by a 2-1 defeat, their ERA is still is up there at 4.39.

You allow only three runs total in two games, win or loss, and you can’t be displeased. Bochy wasn’t. The way Matt Cain pitched Monday, then Ty Blach — the spot starter, filling in for Madison Bumgarner — pitched Tuesday, had Bochy believing once again.

Had he been on the mound, and not on the disabled list — you do know about that dirt bike accident, of course — Bumgarner couldn’t have pitched much better or had much less offensive support than Blach. Then again, the guy starting and starring for the Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw, is a Cy Young Award winner.

“All we ask,” said Bochy, “is our starters give us a chance to win.” Blach, a lefty like Bumgarner — and Kershaw — certainly did that. He also doubled to lead off the third, then after a couple of strikeouts scored the game’s first run on Buster Posey’s single. That the Dodgers, quality team that they are, responded with two runs in the top of the fourth, showed why L.A. is the favorite in National League West.

In this agonizing season of injuries and inconsistency —  on Tuesday night, Brandon Crawford strained his right groin rounding first base after a single in the eighth — the Giants are trying to stay close and relevant. And, reminded Bochy, play their style of baseball, keeping in the game, as they did against the Dodgers, as they didn’t do against the Rockies.

They brought up the kid everyone thinks will be the star of the future, the next Buster Posey, infielder Christian Arroyo — only a few days after the front office said he would stay in the minors for a while. On Tuesday, Arroyo, 21, got his first major league hit, off the brilliant Kershaw, no less. His family was in the stands.

An omen for the Giants? Could be. As the injury to Crawford could be. Posey was out with a possible concussion. Cain pulled a hamstring. Bumgarner tumbling on his pitching arm and destined to miss two months. So much pain, and very little gain.

Crawford was to travel Wednesday to southern California to attend family services for his sister-in-law, who died last week. He would be on bereavement leave for three days. Bochy hoped Crawford would get an MRI before departing, but Crawford didn’t think it would be possible given time constraints.

“I’ve never had anything like this before,” said Crawford about the injury, “so I can’t tell you how bad it is.”

The other day, after losing four in a row, one to Kansas City and then the three to Colorado, the question was how bad the Giants might be. In the clubhouse Sunday, Bochy, invariably upbeat, sighed, “We’re not very good.” Then, maybe realizing how that sounded in just the third week of the season, added, “Right now.”

The two games at home against the Dodgers proved an antidote, a reassurance. “Ty did a real nice job,” he said of Blach. “He had his pitches going. It was a hard-fought, well-pitched game by both guys.

“This is our type of game. Two to one, close games, that’s who we are.”

9:22AM

S.F. Examiner: Baseball’s time in the sun

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

GOODYEAR, Ariz. – A manager’s dream. “I’m enjoying seeing those guys,” said Bruce Bochy. So are the rest of us. Not just the Giants, who Sunday out here on the desert among the scrub vegetation and abandoned jet planes, won another game.

Also the fans, few as showed up at Goodyear ballpark, seemingly halfway to California, which the Reds and Indians share each spring. It’s their time in the sun — and, yes, the sun was bright, if the temperature, 65, wasn’t that warm.

Read the full story here.

©2017 The San Francisco Examiner

8:47AM

Giants: Little things and big defeats

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — They’re not going to win the division. That’s for sure. Maybe the Giants still will make the postseason, get in as a wild card, and even that’s problematic.

But definitely the way they are playing, just poorly enough to lose, they won’t overtake the Dodgers — who gleefully overtook the tumbling Giants in the National League West days ago.

It’s not that the Giants are a bad team. The Atlanta Braves are a bad team. No, the Braves are a terrible team. The San Diego Padres are a bad team. They are 22 games below .500. And that’s after sweeping a three-game series from the Giants. For a second time this season.

The Giants are a good team playing badly. Or once were a good team playing badly, very badly as defined by a classical, baseball reference.

When they hit they don’t pitch, as they did and didn't on Tuesday night, San Francisco entering the ninth with a 4-1 lead and ingloriously losing to the Padres 6-4 on a home run by, not Nate Colbert or Tony Gwynn even, but Ryan Schimpf. The 27th blown save of the season. Oh, where are you now, Robb Nen?

When the Giants pitch they don’t hit, as they did and didn't on Wednesday in the sunshine and gloom (the mood, not the weather) at AT&T Park, San Francisco getting only four singles and thus getting whipped by the Pads, 3-1.

So the little bit of optimism created when the Giants had a sweep of their own, taking three in a row at Arizona over the weekend, has been trashed, smashed and tossed into McCovey Cove. So much for progress.

The Dodgers, who beat the Yankees for the second time in their three-game series at the Stadium, now are five in front of San Francisco. The billionaires at Chavez Ravine smirk.

In the post-game session Wednesday, Bruce Bochy, the Giants' manager, was asked if he had sleepless nights, to which he answered in the affirmative, adding, “I wish I could do more. Every manager or head coach does. It’s always on your mind.”

Some would say Bochy could have done more on Tuesday night if Brandon Belt hadn’t been out because he was ailing. Buster Posey was playing first, and there was a ball off Posey’s mitt, which became an infield single when reliever Hunter Strickland conceded he was slow to cover the base.

The little things, and the big defeats.

On Wednesday, the Giants' bullpen couldn’t be faulted. Neither could starter Madison Bumgarner. You allow only three runs, you’ll normally win. Not, however, when the season is coming apart at the seams.

San Diego starter Luis Perdomo mystified the Giants' batters. The first four men in the order, Denard Span, Angel Pagan, Posey and Brandon Crawford, had two walks and no hits among them. Only because Belt and Joe Panik managed back-to-back singles in the second, after a Crawford walk, did the Giants avoid a shutout.

“He had a good sinker,” Bochy, a former catcher, said of Perdomo, who didn’t look like someone who came into the game with a 7-9 record and 5.89 earned run average. Ah, but the Giants looked very much like the team that has collapsed (20-35 since July 10) in notable fashion.

Bumgarner, gracious as always post-game, stood there attired like a hunter (not Strickland) and was asked what needs to be corrected: pitching, hitting, whatever.

“I don’t know,” he answered quietly. “So far, the second half’s been a club I’ve never seen before.”

A club that Giants fans have seen too much of, one that's causing them to wonder what might have transpired if San Francisco, not the Cubs, got 100 mph closer Aroldis Chapman (or who the Giants would have been forced to trade to acquire him).

Bumgarner was unable to pick up his 100th career victory, a total that’s inevitable.

“There’s a lot of pressure this time of year,” reminded Baumgarner, reflecting on the chase for the playoffs and not his personal goals or difficulties. “It’s more of a mind-set this time of the year.”

Bochy could only agree.

“This was a big series,” he conceded about the three games, three defeats, against San Diego. “They’re all big.”

A little more than two weeks are left in a season that began so well, a season — an even year — in which the Giants were picked to be champions. How did we go wrong? How did the Giants?