SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants’ confidence has been running so high lately that they felt they were setting the stage for yet another dramatic comeback after they brought the tying run to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning against Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel.
The magic finally ran out, though, as Brandon Belt flied out to left field to seal a 4-1 loss in Wednesday afternoon’s series finale at Oracle Park.
“They were doing all they could to get this one, we just came up short,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “But the fight was there.”
The Cubs tagged rookie Tyler Beede for four runs -- all on home runs by Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora Jr. -- over 5 2/3 innings to snap the Giants’ three-game winning streak. San Francisco, meanwhile, produced only one run over four innings against Tyler Chatwood, who stepped in to pitch for the Cubs after scheduled starter Jon Lester fell ill.
While the Giants were unable to complete the sweep, they’re coming out of their 5-2 homestand feeling optimistic that they’ve shown enough to convince president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi to keep this core intact and give the group a chance to make a run at the postseason in Bochy’s final season as manager.
The Giants hope to keep that momentum going as they embark on a three-city road trip to San Diego, Philadelphia and Denver. They will not return to Oracle Park until after the July 31 Trade Deadline, and it’s unclear what their roster will look like when they come back home on Aug. 5.
“We’re thinking about winning every day,” said Stephen Vogt, who went 3-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI. “Obviously, we know what’s being said. We know what’s being talked about. But we can’t control any of that. What we can control is going out every day, trying to win. That’s what we’re trying to do. We just had an unbelievable homestand, coming off a great road trip. We’re excited for this off-day to rest up and pick right back up on Friday.”
Here are three questions facing the Giants with one week to go until the Trade Deadline:
1) Is this run sustainable?
A 16-4 record in July has vaulted the Giants into the National League Wild Card race, but they still have the fourth-worst run differential in the league (-43) and entered Wednesday with just a 9.2 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to FanGraphs. While the Giants can't entirely discount their disappointing performance over the first two months of the season, the composition of their roster has seemingly evolved for the better with the arrival of sparkplugs like Alex Dickerson, Mike Yastrzemski and Austin Slater from Triple-A Sacramento.
"I would feel a little more compelled by the sample-size argument if we had had the same 25 guys all year," Zaidi said earlier this week. "But the team is fundamentally different. The roster is different. That’s why I don’t think you can just look at this team’s run differential and make an assessment of our quote-unquote true talent level."
Dickerson, in particular, has been a key catalyst for the Giants and went 2-for-5 with a double, a homer and two runs scored in Tuesday's 5-4 win, but he has a lengthy injury history and has been limited by tightness in his back and oblique area recently. He did not start Wednesday and is expected to return to the lineup Friday, but the Giants will have to monitor his workload to ensure he stays healthy enough to contribute down the stretch.
That's the question on everyone's mind, and it’s one that might come down to the wire for the Zaidi and the rest of San Francisco's front office. How the Giants play over the next week will undoubtedly influence their course of action, so these upcoming series in San Diego and Philadelphia will be pivotal games for the club.
Trading Bumgarner might be too much of an emotional blow given what the Giants have done this month, but Smith will likely be one of the most coveted arms available considering the widespread demand for bullpen help. Fellow relievers Tony Watson and Sam Dyson should also garner interest from contenders. The bullpen has been the Giants’ strength all season and a major reason why they’ve gone an MLB-best 24-10 in one-run games this season, but they’ve built up such a deep stable of arms that they could probably afford to part with a reliever or two and still stay competitive.
3) If they decide to go for it, will they add reinforcements?
The Giants’ players may have disrupted the front office’s plans by surging back into contention, but Bochy has maintained that Zaidi, too, is thrilled with the way the team has been playing recently.
“Farhan has done a great job,” Bochy said. “I can tell you this, he’s all about winning. There’s nobody more excited about these games than him. He’s going to do all he can to make this a better organization.”
Earlier this month, Zaidi didn’t rule out the possibility of trading for players who he felt could help the Giants win now. He’s already swung a couple of those deals this season by trading away younger players to acquire Kevin Pillar from the Blue Jays and Dickerson from the Padres.
“There may be some baseball deals out there that makes sense for us,” Zaidi said. “We're just going to have to kind of continue to play this out, see where we are as a team and look for potential matches on the baseball front.”