They might be Giants, but they're hardly invincible
National League West leaders are scuffling, bringing intrigue to 2014 season
CHICAGO -- No, it's not going to be easy for the Giants.
And like the 10-game winning steak that has catapulted the Royals ahead of the Tigers, that's a good thing for baseball, if not the fans in San Francisco and Detroit.
Baseball is not supposed to be a 162-game cruise. It's meant to be a marathon with twists and turns, hills that slow you down and downhill runs where good things happen so fast it almost scares you, challenging you to keep your foot off the brakes.
By the time you get to September, let alone October, the good teams are running on fumes and the others are exhausted. It happens that way every season, and 2014 isn't going to be any different, even if the two Bay Area teams made it look so easy this spring.
As recently as two weeks ago, they were a combined 75-43, winning at a combined .636 pace. Nothing has happened since then to cause anyone to stop thinking about a repeat of the 1989 Bay Bridge Series -- hopefully without the earthquake this time -- but the Giants have fallen into one of those slides that expose weaknesses and send fans scurrying to find the latest trade rumors.
You've probably heard a few that involve the Giants. They are checking out the Cubs' Jeff Samardzija and the White Sox's Gordon Beckham, and given the way they just lost both games of a two-game series at U.S. Cellular Field, it's easy to see why.
The Giants are on pace to win 97 games, but they have lost eight of their last nine as they head to Arizona for a weekend series. Tim Hudson, a key for a big-name rotation where performance isn't keeping up with reputations, was knocked out in the fifth inning of a 7-6 loss to the White Sox on Wednesday afternoon.
Hudson was the victim of ringing home runs by Jose Abreu and Adam Dunn, and no one following San Francisco lately could have been very surprised. But there was something unsettling about Hudson getting hit around one night after Matt Cain allowed eight runs in five innings.
"Huddy's been so good," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He had an off day today. You hope the offense picks him up, and they tried. You get down six runs, five runs, get the winning run up there, that's always a good sign. They're fighting hard."
Hudson, signed to a two-year contract in the offseason, fell to 7-3 with a 2.39 ERA. He wasn't red-faced afterward, as Cain had been on Tuesday, but the Giants had won his last five starts and he had expected that streak to reach six.
"It was frustrating, no question about it," Hudson said. "The guys played their butts off behind me, fought right there to the end. To score six runs on a day like this, we should win this game."
San Francisco's big-ticket rotation has allowed 35 runs in 52 2/3 innings since June 9. It ranks sixth in the National League with a 3.62 ERA.
You can live with that, of course. But the question that must be answered by general manager Brian Sabean and his staff is whether the recent issues are a sign that outside help must be acquired.
It was only a week ago that Sabean acknowledged that while the Giants were living large at the moment, "things can change on a dime in any given day or week."
Is that happening, or is this just one of those inevitable periods of leveling off that makes baseball so interesting? The answer there lies in the eye of the beholder, but what can't be debated is that the NL West lead over the Dodgers has shrunk from 9 1/2 games to only 4 1/2.
"I don't care how good you are, you're going to have your ups and downs, your hiccups and bumps in the road," Bochy said. "You know it. What's important is how you deal with it. These guys haven't laid down. They came back and fought hard today. We'll come out of this."
In losing three of four to the Nationals, the Giants were held to two runs or fewer three times. They scored 15 runs in a three-game series against the Rockies, but suffered three straight blown saves, including two by closer Sergio Romo. Then Cain and Hudson got banged around by the White Sox, who are intent on being a factor in the unexpectedly winnable American League Central.
"If you get in a streak, a bad streak like we got in, that's usually the case," Bochy said about the different ways of losing. "You get the pitching, and the hitting's not there. You get the hitting, the pitching has their moments.
"That's what really puts you in a losing streak. The only way you get out of it is, hey, you focus forward and keep going hard. As long as they go hard for nine innings, good things will happen. Chicago played well in this series. They swung the bats well against two good starters."
Four of San Francisco's eight losses during this slide have been by one run.
"Obviously the Colorado series was a tough one," Hudson said. "We should have swept those guys and they end up sweeping us. It's weird to say, but that series took a 180-degree turn from what should have happened."
Brandon Belt's extended absence with a broken left thumb hurts a lineup that is productive but thin -- and looked doubly so with Angel Pagan unavailable because of back issues and Bochy having to find a designated hitter.
Bochy gave shortstop Brandon Crawford a day off Wednesday, going with a lineup that had Joaquin Arias, Brandon Hicks, Ehire Adrianza and Juan Perez in the last four spots. Adrianza's .190 average was the highest in that quartet. Bochy said he and Sabean would discuss Pagan's status and internal options, but he isn't counting on reinforcements in the immediate future.
"Really, the guys you saw today, they're going to be out there," Bochy said. "Crawford had a day [off], but this is a time where you're tested and hopefully you become stronger because of it."
Or you reach into your farm system and make trades.
Sabean isn't shy about doing that. He was the architect of World Series champions in 2010 and '12, but he isn't about to rest on past success, especially not with his team leading the Dodgers.
Samardzija might be the perfect addition, assuming the Giants could put together a package of pitching prospects strong enough to get him. Another option is to land Chase Utley or another veteran second baseman, like the White Sox's Beckham, to fill the hole created by Marco Scutaro's career-threatening back injury.
Sabean is more likely to do something than nothing. The Giants are showing signs of vulnerability, but don't forget that the core guys here -- Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Tim Lincecum, Cain and Romo among them -- went 6-0 in elimination games in the 2012 playoffs.
"You hate going through [bad stretches], but it's all about being resilient," Bochy said. "This is a resilient club."
Focus forward. The story of the 2014 season is only starting to be written.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.