SF Giants lose third straight, rotation a major concern after a rough night for Cueto

SAN FRANCISCO — Over a marathon 162-game season, even the best teams hit rough patches, struggle to play consistent baseball and lose a few games in a row.

Losing is a reality in the major leagues, but the manner in which the Giants have lost over the last three days? It’s red-flag worthy.

For the second time this year, the Giants have lost three consecutive games as their 6-2 defeat to the Milwaukee Brewers marked the club’s first three-game skid since the Dodgers rolled into Oracle Park and swept San Francisco in late May.

A Giants loss coupled with a Dodgers win brought Los Angeles within 0.5 games of first place, the tightest the National League West race has been since July 6.

For a first-place Giants team that’s determined to end a four-year playoff drought, even a minor letdown is cause for concern, so one that’s as ugly as what fans have seen while the club has been outscored 18-3 over its last 27 innings has the potential to be unsettling for all involved.

“It hasn’t been our best baseball and we have to play better,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We just haven’t played good all-around baseball and we’ve gotten it handed to us by some good pitching.”

A second non-competitive loss in three days and a third straight game in which the team’s lineup produced miserable results will provide yet another test of resilience for a team that’s been defined by its ability to bounce back this season.

The Giants had justifiable concerns about Tuesday’s game before Monday’s series opener against Milwaukee was even played as probable starter Alex Wood was placed on the COVID-19 injured list after testing positive for the coronavirus. The club also placed right-hander Johnny Cueto on the COVID-19 IL Monday, but Cueto tested negative twice and was healthy enough to lace up his spikes and make a start on Tuesday.

The outing went about as well as you might expect for a pitcher who apparently needed IV fluids a day ago.

“I don’t feel so great, but that’s not an excuse,” said Cueto, who began experiencing body aches on Sunday’s flight home from Atlanta.

Over 3 2/3 innings, Cueto allowed six earned runs on 10 hits including a solo home run to Lorenzo Cain and a RBI triple to Rowdy Tellez. The Brewers benefitted from some early soft contact and a handful of embarrassing defensive miscues from the Giants’ defense, but Cueto made too many mistakes over the heart of the plate to be competitive on Tuesday.

A Giants lineup that was shut out on Sunday in Atlanta and scored one run in Monday’s defeat to Brewers right-hander Corbin Burnes showed almost no life against Milwaukee’s leading Cy Young contender, Brandon Woodruff. After leadoff man LaMonte Wade Jr. launched a double off the right field wall to open the bottom of the first, the Giants went 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position and didn’t record another hit until reliever José Quintana, who was claimed off waivers Monday, yanked a single into right field in the fifth inning.

The Giants finally scored off Woodruff in the sixth when first baseman Brandon Belt launched an 0-2 pitch into the visiting bullpen for his career-high 20th home run of the year. The solo shot only made the decision Belt made to bunt in a two-strike count with no one on base against Woodruff more puzzling, as the veteran slugger pushed a pitch into foul territory for an out.

The two-strike bunt wasn’t even the worst moment of the game for the Giants.

The sequence that best summarizes the team’s performance on Tuesday came in the fourth inning, when Brewers catcher Omar Narváez lofted a blooper down the left field line that left fielder Alex Dickerson couldn’t reach. The two-out hit was seemingly playable for Dickerson and potentially even third baseman Kris Bryant, but the ball fell to the ground before the Giants relayed the ball back into Cueto.

With Narváez drifting away from first base, Cueto threw toward Belt but misfired, sending the ball down the right field line to allow the Brewers catcher to take second.

“Tonight’s defensive effort wasn’t strong enough,” Kapler said. “I think we all know that and in particular I think Johnny needed us to play really good defense tonight to give him a chance to go deeper into the game and we weren’t able to do that.”

The silver lining for the Giants in Tuesday’s loss was the 3 1/3 scoreless innings the club received from Quintana in relief of Cueto. After arriving in San Francisco with a 6.75 ERA in 24 games with the Angels, Quintana struck out six Brewers and only allowed two baserunners while helping Kapler give several of his best relievers a night off.

Quintana joined a bullpen that was excellent for most of August and played a significant role in leading the Giants to a 19-9 record this month, but the group of relievers had to cover for a rotation that’s leaking oil.

With Cueto ineffective, Wood out with COVID-19 and Anthony DeSclafani pitching through an ankle injury, the Giants are depending on Kevin Gausman and Logan Webb to carry the rotation. That’s a big ask, but the duo will have to deliver over the next two days to salvage the Giants’ series against the Brewers.

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Author: Kerry Crowley

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