The San Francisco Giants appeared to hit rock bottom when they were no-hit by Homer Bailey last week. The Giants have not only hit that bottom, but they've continued to dig a deeper hole.
They've lost six of seven since getting no-hit. After getting swept at home by the lowly New York Mets, the Giants have now lost 14 of their last 16 games.
The finale of the series against the Mets was particularly devastating, as former Giants top prospect Zack Wheeler threw seven strong innings to defeat Matt Cain by the score of 7-2. Cain continued his rough season by failing to get out of the first inning. His ERA shot up to 5.06.
The starting rotation has been the biggest culprit for the demise of the Giants in 2013. After winning 94 games and their second World Series title in three years last season, the Giants are currently 40-50. They're in last place in the National League West, and they have the third-worst record in the NL.
After going 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA last year, Cain is 5-6 with a 5.06 ERA through his first 19 starts this season. He's gone from pitching like an ace to a fifth starter.
The Giants could ill afford for Cain to struggle given that former ace Tim Lincecum suffered a similar fate in 2012. Lincecum has improved slightly from last year, but his ERA is still an unsightly 4.61.
After going 14-9 with a 3.37 ERA in 2012, Ryan Vogelsong put up a 7.19 ERA over nine starts to begin 2013 before landing on the disabled list with a hand injury. Vogelsong was a solid No. 2 starter for the Giants the past two seasons. Before getting injured, he was pitching like someone who didn't belong in a big league rotation.
The Giants posted the game's second-best rotation ERA during their run to two titles in three seasons from 2010 through 2012. The Giants rotation currently ranks 24th in ERA due to the struggles of Cain, Lincecum and Vogelsong. Unfortunately, the Giants also rank just 23rd in runs scored.
The offense was able to carry the team during the first two months of the season. Then Angel Pagan and Pablo Sandoval got hurt, the Giants stopped scoring and the season fell apart.
Pagan hit .288/.338/.440 last season to earn a four-year, $40 million contract during the winter. His slash line slipped down to .262/.314/.374 through the season's first two months before he suffered a hamstring injury that will cost him most of the year.
The Giants are also getting far less production in left field than they received during their most recent title run. Melky Cabrera hit .346/.390/.516 before getting suspended for the remainder of 2012 in mid-August. The Giants had a very good fourth outfielder to replace Cabrera in Gregor Blanco.
General manager Brian Sabean decided to open this season with a platoon of Blanco and Andres Torres in left field. When Pagan went down, the Giants didn't have the depth to replace him. Blanco had to move to center, and Torres has been badly exposed since having to become the starter in left. The Giants have the third-worst OPS from their left fielders in baseball this season.
Pablo Sandoval was expected to be a force in the middle of the order. He hit .333/.366/.495 in April before things went downhill. He slumped to .243/.291/.374 during May and .194/.237/.194 in June. Since returning from a foot injury, he's been mired in an 8-for-57 funk.
The loss of Pagan, the inability to replicate Cabrera's production in left and the decline of Sandoval have combined to cripple the Giants offense. It's slipped from 12th in the league in runs scored last year to 23rd thus far in 2013.
Not even the bullpen has been immune from decline. Jeremy Affeldt earned a three-year, $18 million contract this winter after putting up a 2.70 ERA in 2012. Affeldt has blown four saves this year, and his ERA is nearly a full run higher at 3.66.
Santiago Casilla earned a three-year contract extension this winter as well, but he's only thrown 19 innings due to a knee injury. George Kontos' ERA has gone from 2.47 last year to 4.65 so far this season.
The Giants are only 6.5 games out of first place despite being 10 games below .500. The mediocrity of the NL West is the only thing that has kept them alive. Other than that, this team has nothing going for it. It ranks 23rd in runs scored, 20th in ERA and 21st in defensive efficiency.
Sabean's recent assessment of the team was blunt and deadly accurate. He told Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News:
If we don’t start playing better—the team at hand especially the lineup itself—there’s not enough help in the world that’s going to turn us around from this...We’ve been miserable in scoring runs obviously; we’ve been miserable on the road. So there’s no possible way you can get as much help as you actually need from the outside world. It’s just not going to happen.
Even if Cain, Lincecum, Vogelsong, Sandoval, Affeldt and others suddenly turn their seasons around, the Giants still might not have enough talent on hand to get back into the race.
The Giants went from being World Series champions to one of the worst teams in baseball seemingly overnight. It's been a sudden and dramatic turn of events. Injuries, performance declines and a poor plan in left field have led to this team getting badly exposed.
The Giants' title defense is seemingly already over before the All-Star break. The rest of this season isn't going to be about getting back into the playoffs to repeat as champions. Instead, the Giants need to figure out how to reload for 2014.
For that to happen, they need to get core pieces like Cain and Sandoval performing as they once did during the club's glory days.