LOS ANGELES, CA – MAY 01: Buster Posey #28 of the San Francisco Giants celebrates his solo homerun in the dugout to take a 3-2 lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers during the third inning at Dodger Stadium on May 1, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO – The All-Star Game is not conveniently located for Buster Posey.
The Giants ended the unofficial first half at home on Sunday with a 10-8, 11-inning loss to the Marlins. They’ll resume the season on Friday in San Diego. The All-Star fanfare in Miami couldn’t be further from the California coast unless seismographs begin to scratch.
But Posey is hitting .324 to contend for another NL batting crown, and he is the lone worthy representative for a team that enters the break with a 34-56 record – matching their worst after 90 games in the franchise’s San Francisco era.
The Giants’ 27-game deficit to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West is their largest ever at the break. They haven’t been this deeply buried at any point in July since 1902.
The part that makes this all so shocking: at this point a year ago, the Giants had the best record in the major leagues, and Johnny Cueto started the All-Star Game for the National League.
They are 64-98 since the break last season. And Cueto has a 4.51 ERA after struggling to contain a power-laden Marlins lineup that slugged its way to a three-game sweep here.
It wasn’t all gloom on Sunday, as the Giants rallied with three runs on five hits in the eighth inning – the last of them belonging to rookie Miguel Gomez, whose tying single was the first hit of his career.
But shortstop Brandon Crawford committed a throwing error in the 11th and George Kontos served up a pinch home run to A.J. Ellis. Then Giancarlo Stanton got an early start on the Home Run Derby he is favored to win in his home park, hitting his second of the afternoon.
The Giants will spend their entire second half attempting to enjoy small moments, fight for pride and ignore the standings.
It’s impossible to summarize all that has gone wrong since last year’s All-Star Game, or how it can possibly be fixed in time for a competitive 2018 season. Posey will be asked, though. He’ll have a lectern all set up for the occasion during the All-Star media availability session.
We’ll save the scribes and microphone holders some time: Posey is as flummoxed as everyone else why the Giants were 57-33 at the break last season, went 30-42 after it, and then plunged to unthinkable depths this season.
“Honestly, it’s weird,” Posey said prior to Sunday’s game. “With the talent we do have, we should do better and be winning more games. If you asked anyone in the clubhouse, coming into spring training, there wasn’t any … it wasn’t, `Oh man, we played poorly in the second half.’ Ultimately we were happy to make the playoffs, even if we didn’t finish it the way we wanted to. But I don’t think anyone expected us to be where we are at this point.”
Ty Blach, who replaced Bumgarner in the rotation, is 6-5 and is the only starting pitcher who holds a winning record. The Giants had bigger problems the other four days out of five; Matt Moore (6.04) and Matt Cain (5.58) have the two highest ERAs among all National League starters, and Moore appears particularly lost.
Cueto dealt with blisters in April and hasn’t had the look of a frontline rotation presence that any contender would gut their farm to acquire. Yet his ERA is the lowest among the Giants’ five pitchers to make at least a dozen starts – a list that doesn’t include Madison Bumgarner, who separated his shoulder when he fell off a dirt bike on April 20.
Samardzija’s “here it is, hit it if you can, and let’s go home” philosophy is making for a historic strikeout-to-walk ratio, but also is resulting in too many home runs and shaded losses.
The Giants have scored the third fewest runs in the National League. It’s more surprising that they also have allowed the third most.
But getting Bumgarner back will help, Posey said. If the left-hander’s 90-pitch rehab start Monday in San Jose goes as planned, he could rejoin the rotation on Saturday in San Diego.
“His start days are obviously important, but so will having his presence back,” Posey said. “When other teams come into a series knowing they have to face him one day, it just lengthens the rotation so much.
“It’s similar to the Dodgers if they’re missing Kershaw. If you knew going into that series you wouldn’t have to face him, mentally as a group of hitters, you’re able to … relax isn’t the right word, but you know you’re not going be in for the same fight as you would be if you have him or a Bumgarner in there.”
The Giants are not fighting for a pennant any longer. So the fight turns to winning hearts and minds of their season-ticket holders, while also showing the front office that this core, much of which is locked up to long-term contracts, should not be ripped apart.
What is Posey’s hope for the direction that the front office will take at the July 31 trade deadline?
“I’m not going down that path,” he said.
Posey mentioned the 2013 season, which was a disappointment but ended with a 16-10 record in September, as an example of how ending on a high note can carry over to the following season.
“The goal, I think, is to try to win as many games as we can,” Posey said. “That’s No.1. For all of us, it’ll be a good test of character to see when things aren’t going well, to show up and do your job the right way like you would if you were winning a bunch of games.”
It wasn’t all malaise in front of another announced sellout crowd Sunday afternoon. Nick Hundley became the first Giants right-handed hitter in three seasons (Hunter Pence did it previously) to deposit a home run into the right field arcade. Crawford interrupted a difficult first half by scalding his eighth home run of the season.
The Marlins received a 443-foot home run in the fifth inning from Stanton, then they snapped a tie when they scored four runs in the seventh inning.
Cueto loaded the bases on a double and two walks, and Bruce Bochy’s birthday gift to Steven Okert was to bring him into the game with nobody out. Justin Bour lined a two-run single, and from there, it appeared the most pressing matter would be ending the game to ensure players could make their commercial flights home for the break. Matt Cain even tried to help those efforts with a rare relief appearance.
But the Giants did not drift off to the golf course or trout pond. They collected five singles in a six-batter stretch off Kyle Barraclough in the eighth. Only Posey, who came off the bench and grounded out on a 3-0 pitch, interrupted the stretch. Hundley followed with an RBI hit, and then Gomez waved through a slider before serving a liner to right field that scored Crawford to tie it.
Sam Dyson, who is the closer with Mark Melancon on the disabled list, contributed two scoreless innings. But the Giants offense couldn’t claim a walk-off win. It took a sun ball from Kelby Tomlinson to score a run in the 11th. Pence, representing the tying run, flied out to end it.
Posey didn’t hitch a ride to Miami with the Marlins. He’s bringing his family to the All-Star festivities, so he arranged a private plane. He will arrive to a National League clubhouse that includes players like Kershaw and Dodgers rookie Cody Bellinger – lockers adjacent to one another, and yet a mere speck to them in the standings.
“There’s no way to sugarcoat it,” Posey said. “It hasn’t been a fun first half. We’ve had a lot of success here, which makes it tough, but it doesn’t matter if you’re playing Little League or high school or college ball. We’re all innately competitive people, especially at this level, so it’s not fun to lose like this.”