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Rocky start docks Giants' case in NL races

Hudson struggles as SF's lead for top Wild Card takes hit

SAN DIEGO -- With four losses in their last six games, including Friday's 5-0 setback administered by the Padres, the Giants resemble anything but a likely postseason qualifier.

San Francisco's magic number for clinching a National League Wild Card spot shrank to four with Milwaukee's 4-2 loss to Pittsburgh. But that same result trimmed the Giants' edge against Pittsburgh in the Wild Card standings to one game. San Francisco also fell to 3 1/2 games behind first-place Los Angeles in the NL West.

Should San Francisco continue slumping and the Pirates keep surging, the Giants likely would squander home-field advantage in the Wild Card Game. That would force them to travel to Pittsburgh for an Oct. 1 showdown, with the opportunity to advance to the Division Series at stake.

The Giants have nine games remaining to tighten up their collective performance. Their list of shortcomings is short, yet substantial.

Tim Hudson's nagging vulnerability is one issue. Is he the Cy Young Award candidate who posted a 7-2 record with a 1.81 ERA in his first 13 starts? Or does he fit the profile of a fading veteran, having gone 2-10 with a 5.13 ERA in 17 outings since?

Hudson has particularly struggled in his last four performances, a span in which he's 0-3 with a 9.92 ERA. Coming off the worst outing of his otherwise excellent career -- six runs and eight hits allowed over one-plus innings in last Saturday's infamous 17-0 loss to the Dodgers -- Hudson improved marginally against the Padres. He yielded four first-inning runs on Alexi Amarista's two-run double and Cameron Maybin's two-run single, both with two outs. The right-hander ultimately lasted 4 1/3 innings, surrendering five runs (four earned) and seven hits.

"Obviously I'm not making the kind of pitches that I need to make to get out of some jams," Hudson said. "Innings are not going the way I want them to, especially early. You have to grind it out and try to make some adjustments and make some better pitches."

Hudson (9-12) maintained that his confidence isn't lacking, though he admitted that he has a "little bit of a delivery thing" to address before his next scheduled start, Wednesday against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers.

Whether Hudson will make that start could be up for discussion among the Giants' braintrust. Deposed starter Tim Lincecum threw two perfect innings of relief, providing a bright spot. Asked if Lincecum could replace Hudson, manager Bruce Bochy said, "We'll talk about it. I'm not going to talk about it now." Later, asked whether Lincecum could be another starting option, Bochy said, "Sure, Timmy always is an alternative to that."

The Giants' subpar pitching has obscured their problems at the plate. They're batting .207 with 10 runs scored in this uninspiring six-game stretch. "We're sputtering," Bochy said. "There's no question about it."

San Francisco remained helpless against Padres right-hander Odrisamer Despaigne, who limited them to two hits in seven innings. Despaigne, who's 4-7 with a 3.36 ERA overall, is 2-0, 0.45 in three starts against the Giants. who have scored one run in 20 innings against him.

Interestingly, Padres manager Bud Black critiqued Despaigne harshly. "There were a lot of 3-2 and 2-0 counts and the ball-strike ratio wasn't great [59 strikes, 39 balls]. You can tell they [Giants] were off-balanced. He did enough to keep them thinking all the time."

Injuries again hampered the Giants, though center fielder Angel Pagan and first baseman Brandon Belt rejoined the lineup and first baseman-left fielder Michael Morse came off the bench. Pagan's back, which forced him to miss San Francisco's previous series at Arizona, stiffened during the game and prompted his departure in the sixth inning. Belt played the entire game but went 0-for-3. Morse pinch-hit and stayed in the game, but increasing soreness in his left oblique limited his activity to two innings.

Chris Haft is a reporter for Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat.
Read More: San Francisco Giants, Brandon Belt, Michael Morse, Tim Lincecum, Angel Pagan, Tim Hudson