San Francisco Giants Lose NL West Lead, Concerns Arise for Defending Champs

Nadia MishkinContributor IIIAugust 11, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 10:  Andrew McCutchen #22 of the Pittsburgh Pirates rounds the bases after hitting a two run home run in the third inning against Jonathan Sanchez #57 of the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on August 10, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

The San Francisco Giants lost not only their NL West lead, but also their dignity as they endured their fourth straight series loss yesterday. The defending champions dropped Game 3 of the three-game series to the Pittsburgh Pirates, 9-2.

Jonathan Sanchez made it clear that the Giants have a serious problem to address at the fifth spot in their starting rotation. Sanchez has struggled with his command historically, but also proves to be unhittable when he has his best stuff. On Wednesday afternoon he had as much trouble finding the strike zone as ever, walking four and giving up five earned runs over just 4.1 innings. 

The Pirates are just one of two teams in the majors who have scored fewer runs than San Francisco. They managed nine hits but were given scoring opportunities by their opponent as well. 

The Giants have relied so heavily on their stellar pitching that when it does not completely shut down the opponent, the frequency of wins are decreased significantly. Since the All-Star Break, they have won just two games in which the opponent scored more than two runs. 

When the staff does perform, the Giants play like the champions that they were in 2010. The team managed to shut down Pittsburgh just one night earlier when Madison Bumgarner tossed a five-hit gem and struck out 10 batters. The offense responded by scoring six runs on nine hits. Even the struggling Aubrey Huff went 3-for-4 and came just a triple away from hitting for the cycle.

Still, when a shaky Jonathan Sanchez took the mound Wednesday afternoon, he faltered, and the rest of the team followed. 

A total of seven Pirates batters walked, all of whom scored. Runs were also scored on an error and a wild pitch. 

The Giants offense has been shut out 10 times this season. Although they managed to score a couple runs in the series finale against Pittsburgh, they continued to come up empty handed in situations with runners in scoring position. A total of four Giants baserunners were stranded in the 9–2 loss. 

The loss appropriately reflected the struggles that San Francisco has sustained in August. The team has recorded just three wins in its last 12 games. 

The inability to score runs remains the team's greatest pitfall. While the Giants still boast a league-leading pitching staff, the fifth man in their starting rotation has been in flux all season, with the injuries and relative ineffectiveness of Sanchez and Barry Zito.

In the wake of recent disastrous outings for both struggling southpaws, Giants fans have growing concerns regarding the stability of the starting staff. 

Carlos Beltran has been sidelined for the past few games with wrist soreness. He is expected to return to the starting lineup on Friday, where he may be able to help relieve the offensive deficiency. 

However, it has become clear that San Francisco also must answer the uncertainty that has been established by the lack of a solid fifth starter. 

For the first time since June 25, San Francisco conceded its NL West lead to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who have now taken a half-game lead.