July 14, 2024
San Francisco Giants have lost four consecutive series going into a three-game set with the MLB-leading Atlanta Braves.

SAN FRANCISCO – After scoring just 18 runs and earning just two wins in six games at their China Basin ballpark, maybe it’s a good time for the San Francisco Giants to hit the road – even if they are set to face two of the National League’s best teams.

Right-hander Ross Stripling struggled and the Giants were unable to find a timely hit – with a key decision backfiring — in a 6-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday as they closed out a challenging six-game homestand with a 2-4 record.

San Francisco, which has lost four consecutive series and is dangerously close to falling out of a playoff spot, now starts a six-game road trip on Friday with a three-game set with the MLB-leading Atlanta Braves. That’s followed by three games with the Philadelphia Phillies, who lead the NL Wild Card race.

It’s all the Giants can look forward to after an at-times humbling six-game homestand in which they lost three games by five or more runs, including a 9-3 thrashing by the American League-West leading Texas Rangers on Saturday.

“We just have to go play better after the off day,” Thursday, Giants manager Gabe Kapler said. “So, it probably makes sense to get on the plane and turn our attention to Atlanta.”

Certainly, the Giants will have to do a better job of cashing in runs if they hope to compete with Atlanta and Philadelphia and stay above the postseason cutline.

After falling behind 6-0 after six innings Wednesday, the Giants loaded the bases with one out in the seventh. After the Rays brought in lefty Colin Poche to replace ineffective right-hander Hector Perez, who walked LaMonte Wade Jr. to bring in a run, Kapler sent Austin Slater – and not Heliot Ramos — to pinch hit for Wade Meckler.

Slater, hitting just 7-for-58 in 29 games since the start of July, then grounded to third base to start an inning-ending double-play. Ramos, while much less experienced, is 4-for-10 this month, with two doubles, a homer, and four strikeouts.

Asked postgame about going with Slater instead of Ramos, Kapler got somewhat defensive and fired back with his own question, saying, “Would you agree that (Slater is) one of the five best right-handed pinch hitters over the course of the last three or four years?” After the reporter agreed, Kapler said, “Do you think that creates a distinction between him and a guy (Ramos) that has four career pinch-hit at-bats?”

“So in that situation, we trust that (Slater is) going to go up there and have a good at-bat. He didn’t. He grounded into a double play. But I had him go up there because he’s really, really good at that. It’s just a stretch where he hasn’t had a lot of success.”

The Giants went 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position Wednesday and as a team, have a MLB-worst .211 batting average and .625 OPS since the start of July.  The Braves, by contrast, are leading the majors in batting average (.281), homers (78), and OPS (.874) in that same time frame.

“We’re going to keep working on it,” Kapler said. “There are no switches to flip. It’s not how baseball works. But we’ll keep trying to improve our process every single day.”

Striping allowed three home runs, including a two-run homer to Brandon Lowe in the fifth inning and an inside-the-park one to Luke Raley in the sixth. Raley’s shot went off the brick wall in right field, then bounced off the top of the wall in right-center and past center fielder Wade Meckler, allowing Raley to trot home.

It was the 11th regular season inside-the-park home run in Oracle Park history — Ichiro Suzuki had one in the 2007 All-Star Game. Former Chicago Cub Javier Báez was the last opposing player to have an inside-the-park homer when he hit one on Aug. 7, 2017.

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Stripling fought through some back stiffness as he ate up six innings to help keep the bullpen fresh for the start of the road trip. But he has now allowed 19 earned runs and nine home runs in his last 41 innings since July 7.

Stripling’s next outing figures to come during the Giants-Phillies series from Monday through Wednesday next week.

“We’ve been grinding all year as far as being streaky,” Stripling said. “We know what’s in front of us as far as the schedule and how big of a road trip this is, and the homestand when we get back. We control our own destiny, so no panic. Understand that if we win games, we’ll be in good shape.”