The Giants have been one of the best teams on the road this season, with the fourth-best winning percentage away from home and a road ERA that leads the Major Leagues. But their three-game set at Busch Stadium to start the second half of the season showed a different version of the team with the best record in the Majors.
The 2-1 loss at the hands of the Cardinals on Sunday meant a series loss, marking the fourth loss in six games against St. Louis this season. The Giants haven’t secured a season-series victory over the Cards since 2014, when they won four out of seven games.
After the offense ignited for seven runs on 10 hits (three homers) in the series opener on Friday, San Francisco’s lineup was hard pressed to find the same production, as it only plated a pair of runs in the next two games.
San Francisco worked its way into two bases-loaded situations in the finale, but came up empty as the team went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and left 10 runners on base. The Giants struck out 10 times, while working five walks.
“Not our best performance overall, obviously. I think we sort of lost today's game in the first inning and the sixth inning, collectively,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “The first inning -- the bases loaded and one out -- and then the sixth -- first and third and nobody out -- we kind of have to cash in on those opportunities.”
The hitting woes have diminished the Giants’ ( 58-34) lead to one game in the National League West, as they start a pivotal four-game series against the second-place Dodgers on Monday.
The Giants recorded 11 hits between Saturday and Sunday, with the only extra-base hit belonging to Darin Ruf. He crushed a solo homer Sunday to lead off the fourth inning against lefty starter Wade LeBlanc, tying the game at 1. Ruf’s 10th homer of the year was a towering fly ball that had an exit velocity of 107.2 mph and traveled a Statcast-projected 413 feet to left field and landed in the third deck.
“Coming back from the All-Star break, it's always nice to kind of pick up where you left off, feeling good,” Ruf said. “To square up a ball in my last at-bat yesterday and then see some pitches today and run into one that second at-bat, it's nice to pick it up that quickly.”
Ruf’s homer was the only run support the Giants garnered in Johnny Cueto’s first start in nearly two weeks; he faced the Cardinals in a 6-5 loss on July 6, when he was tagged for four runs on nine hits in six frames.
The right-hander pitched five innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts, a performance he was satisfied with after not being on the mound in 12 days.
“I felt really good. That break was extremely long, but everything worked out well,” Cueto said in Spanish. “I felt I could have [pitched more than five innings].”
Though his pitch count was at 70 and he was commanding his location in the zone with 47 strikes, Kapler opted to remove Cueto after the fifth due to heat and extended time off.
“He's OK physically. He had some general soreness in his arm when we took him out of the game,” Kapler said. “He could have kept pitching, but it was hot [and] we're coming out of the break. This was just one of those situations where it felt like the right time.”
The Cardinals scored the go-ahead run in the seventh when first baseman LaMonte Wade couldn’t cleanly field Harrison Bader’s infield single, allowing José Rondón to score from third on a ball that traveled only 28 feet from the plate.
This is a series the Giants will put behind them quickly as they face their division foe, but one they’ll use as motivation to add breathing room in the standings.
“I think it's really important to use past experiences to remind us you know just how good we are,” Kapler said. “More importantly, to remind us that very good offensive teams, very good baseball teams, go through periods of time when you’re just kind of dry.
“The runners in scoring position thing, you're hitting into some bad luck and all of those things feel really heavy. But we remember that right after those times, you can have offensive explosions, and I could not have more confidence in this group.”