The Giants, who separated themselves from the rest of the Major Leagues by winning 14 of 17 games before this series, matched their season high for consecutive defeats (April 17-19) because, as was the case then, they couldn't score. The team with the surprising power and penchant for two-out scoring has totaled two or fewer runs in each game during its tailspin. Somewhat predictably, the Giants' previous stretch of three losses in a row marked the only other time their offense endured a similar scoring drought.
The contrast seems stark because the Giants have maintained so much recent success. They clinched their first series loss since Pittsburgh beat them twice in three games, May 5-7. They haven't homered for five consecutive games.
The Giants haven't been stricken with collective amnesia. They've just lacked the charmed touch. Instead of waving magic wands, they're brandishing twigs. Tuesday, San Francisco brought the potential go-ahead or tying runs to the plate in the eighth and ninth innings. Wednesday, they twice left runners in scoring position when a key hit would have dialed up the game's intensity. Both nights, the Giants outhit the Nats. But the Nats have caught the Giants' winning fever, having captured 10 of their last 12 games.
Cain insisted that the Giants haven't altered the approach that has sustained them all year.
"We've been doing the same thing the past couple of nights. We just haven't been able to get a big run through, here and there," he said. "Same thing with pitching. We didn't do a good job of shutting down an inning when we needed to. But it's not a big problem. We're not worried about it."
Center fielder Angel Pagan, who endured a rare 0-for-4 game, emphasized the need for persistence.
"We're going to keep going out there like we normally do," Pagan said. "Like I've told you before, winning or losing, we have to go out there and play the way we know how to. The results are never going to be the same -- we're going to win, we're going to lose. But the attitude has got to be the same. We have to compete and play hard."
Cain (1-4) lamented that his pitching undermined the team's efforts. His four first-inning walks were the most he has issued in any inning during his nine Major League seasons. Eric Surkamp was the last Giants pitcher to walk four batters in an inning, doing so Sept. 24, 2011, at Arizona.
Cain opened the game by walking the first three hitters, alarming the AT&T Park crowd. Adam LaRoche grounded a single that delivered two runs before Ryan Zimmerman's comebacker chased home another run.
The right-hander didn't specify a source for his shaky command.
"I was just missing off the plate, and I couldn't get the ball back on the plate for some reason to the first three hitters," said Cain, who allowed four runs in five innings. "I made an OK pitch to LaRoche and he hit it up the middle. ... I was a few inches off on both sides of the plate and missed badly with some of them. I put our guys behind the eight ball. That was too much of a deficit to try to come back from."
The first inning can present a challenge to some pitchers, though most who have attained Cain's status have conquered this demon.
"That's when a pitcher is trying to get in his rhythm and get in sync, and he had a hard time," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
Nats starter Tanner Roark (5-4) experienced no such problems. He worked two batters into the seventh inning, yielding seven hits and San Francisco's lone runs. Roark's brief lapses occurred in the fourth inning, when Brandon Crawford's second triple in two nights drove in a run, and the seventh, when the right-hander departed after Brandon Hicks and Gregor Blanco both singled. Nats reliever Drew Storen coaxed Joaquin Arias' double-play grounder before Pablo Sandoval, who was scratched from the lineup due to illness, stroked a pinch-hit RBI single.