When it rains, it pours. At least that seems to be the case right now for the San Francisco Giants.
After getting swept over the weekend by the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Giants’ struggles worsened Monday when Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Vance Worley allowed just four hits en route to the first complete-game shutout of his career. The Pirates won the contest, 5-0.
Giants ace Madison Bumgarner was unable to lift the team from its current funk, as he stumbled from the onset of the game, throwing 41 pitches in a four-run first inning. The left-hander lasted only four innings, allowing five runs on six hits to go along with a pair of strikeouts and walks.
Bumgarner discussed his rough outing following the game, per Antonio Gonzalez of The Associated Press, via SFGate.com.
"Just having trouble making pitches," Bumgarner said. "I didn't feel like I was so far off but was just missing enough each time, and then putting us behind in the count a lot."
The loss was San Francisco’s fifth in a row, and the team’s current slump couldn’t have come at a worse time with the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaching.
On June 1, the Giants owned a 37-20 overall record, as well as a 7.5-game lead over the Dodgers in the NL West, courtesy of a red-hot month of May in which the team went 19-9.
Since then, however, the Giants have gone 20-29, and they enter Tuesday two games behind the Dodgers in the division.
Whereas the Dodgers have cleaned up within the NL West with a 32-18 record, the Giants are only one game above .500 at 25-24. However, the season’s final month will give the Giants an opportunity to take back some of those divisional games, as they’re scheduled to play seven games against the Padres, six games apiece against the Diamondbacks and Dodgers and three against the Rockies.
Furthermore, the Giants' inability to score runs at AT&T Park continues to be a major problem. Specifically, the team is 6-20 at home since June 9, with a collective .227 batting average that has produced 2.76 runs per game, according to Baseball Reference.
In its defense, the organization has recently tried to improve its on-field product, though the moves have been more reactionary and a product of the team’s struggles, rather than an anticipatory effort to bolster its roster for the stretch run.
On Saturday, the Giants acquired veteran right-hander Jake Peavy from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for pitching prospects Edwin Escobar and Heath Hembree. Peavy represents a solid third starter for the Giants moving forward and should benefit from pitching in some of the spacious NL West ballparks.
This brings us to the Giants’ biggest weakness: second base.
Marco Scutaro, the Giants’ projected Opening Day second baseman, spent the first 94 games of the season on the 60-day disabled list with a lower-back strain before returning to action in mid-July. However, the 38-year-old appeared in only five games, collecting one hit in 11 at-bats, before returning to the DL on Friday for the same injury, according to MLB.com's Ryan Hood.
To say that the Giants have struggled to replace Scutaro this year is an enormous understatement, as they’ve employed an unproductive combination of Brandon Hicks (.585 OPS), Joe Panik (.492 OPS), Ehire Adrianza (.637 OPS), Joaquin Arias (.287 OPS) and, as of Friday, Dan Uggla.
The Atlanta Braves released Uggla earlier in the month after he hit .162 with two home runs and 10 RBI in 48 games, and the Giants took a low-risk gamble signing him to a $500,000 minor league deal. Uggla was sent to Triple-A Fresno, where he played two games before joining the Giants for Friday’s series opener against the Dodgers.
Unsurprisingly, the Uggla experiment hasn’t gone well. In three games, he is 0-for-8 with four strikeouts, and he committed two costly errors in Sunday’s 4-3 loss to the Dodgers. Simply put: He is not the Giants’ answer at the keystone—which is why the team needs to trade for Ben Zobrist.
The Rays haven’t made Zobrist openly available, but Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports reported that San Francisco is one of “multiple teams” who are “ready to act” if Zobrist hits the trading block. He also mentioned the Giants had scouts watching the Rays weekend series:
Giants remain interested in Zobrist despite giving up 2 prospects in Peavy deal. Giants had 2 scouts watching Rays this weekend.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) July 28, 2014
The switch-hitting Zobrist’s bat and on-base skills would be a huge addition to the top of the Giants batting order, as both his .341 wOBA and 122 wRC+ currently would rank third on the team behind only Hunter Pence and Michael Morse, per FanGraphs. Meanwhile, the 33-year-old’s ability to play any position on the field would immediately improve the team’s defense.
The Giants season isn’t over by any means, as they’re only two games back of the Dodgers in the NL West. However, with both teams headed in different directions, San Francisco’s chances of reaching the postseason this year will depend on the team’s activity in the days leading up to Thursday’s trade deadline.