ATLANTA — Well, throw out that theory.
Gabe Kapler was not the Giants’ bad luck charm, nor the source of their offensive trouble.
Absent his presence in the dugout Friday night, suspended for one game for returning to the dugout after he was ejected Tuesday, the Giants’ offense was absent as ever in a 4-0 loss to the Atlanta Braves to begin a three-game series against the best team in the sport.
When Alex Cobb threw his arms up in disgust after the first pitch out of his hand snuck through the infield for a hit, it could have been the start of a very bad night against the best lineup in baseball. Instead, it was simply just another bad night for what has been the majors’ worst lineup for the better part of two months, now.
The loss was the Giants’ ninth in their past 12 games, sending them closer to .500 (64-58) than any point since the All-Star break.
“I think obviously we’re all down right now, and then you show up the next day and you see that you’re still in control of your own destiny and you get really excited and confident and expect to go out there and win the game,” Cobb said. “It seems of late that you’ll lose the game and you just kind of go through that cycle.
“It’s not fun to ride that wave, but I think everybody believes that if you get just that one, good week of crisp winning baseball, it can turn everything around. We do show up everyday thinking that’s going to happen. It just hasn’t. It’s frustrating.”
Taking an 8.04 ERA in August into his start, Cobb gave the Giants what they needed, holding the powerful Braves offense largely in check. But their bats were neutered once again, on Friday by arguably baseball’s best strikeout artist, Spencer Strider, who could have been using Crayolas and still sawed through San Francisco’s batters.
Strider racked up 10 strikeouts over seven shutout innings — eight of the first 15 batters he faced — and a couple relievers added another trifecta, increasing the swing-and-miss Giants’ season total to 1,146, overtaking the Rockies for the third-most in the majors.
Wilmer Flores connected on a 3-2 fastball for a single into left field in the fourth inning, providing the Giants their first and only hit off Strider, and also reached on hit-by-pitch to lead off the sixth. But a walk drawn by LaMonte Wade Jr. preceding Flores’ fourth-inning single was their only other base runner against the Braves’ starter, who had struggled in his two previous times facing San Francisco (0-1, 8.31 ERA).
The Giants mounted a minor rally after forcing Strider from the game after seven innings and 96 pitches, putting the first two batters Jimenez faced on base, but once again came up empty as Brandon Crawford struck out, Thairo Estrada lined out and Austin Slater, entering as a pinch-hitter, extended his hitless streak to his past 18 at-bats.
Crawford struck out in all three of his trips to the plate and is stuck in a 1-for-28 slump, lowering his batting average to .194. The 36-year-old also made a crucial misplay at shortstop in the first inning, bobbling a possible inning-ending double play ball that would have allowed Cobb to escape the first unscathed.
“They did a good job of hitting some balls hard, but we didn’t play great defense, myself included,” Crawford said. “It was just a little bit not sharp, where we bobble a couple balls, not get a double play and (Cobb) has to throw extra pitches and they end up scoring runs. And then we didn’t hit at all, so ultimately it didn’t matter.”
Ronald Acuña Jr., who led off with a single, scored the first run on the play and Matt Olson, who hit the screaming 109.9 mph grounder at Crawford, eventually came around to score, too, after two more hits before Cobb induced another ground ball for the third out.
Issuing his first two walks of the night to begin the sixth, Cobb wasn’t able to complete the inning after J.D. Davis flubbed another potential inning-ended double play.
Cobb had to settle for four earned runs over 5⅔ innings but could have easily completed six innings of one-run ball.
“I think the best way to describe it was he gave us a chance, right?” said bench coach Kai Correa, filling in for Kapler during his suspension. “He had two innings that potentially end on double plays our guys have made this season. … I’m not sure if you could say you expect to win (when you limit the Braves to four runs), but I would say you accomplished the goal of giving yourself a chance.”
But, like so many of the Giants’ chances this season, usually with runners in scoring position, they weren’t able to capitalize.
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After Flores was hit to lead off the seventh, he was erased about as quickly as the 96-mph heater reached his shoulder blades. Joc Pederson popped up, and Michael Conforto grounded into an easy double play. In the fourth, Flores’ single gave the Giants runners at the corner and one out but the scoring chance was quashed in similar manner: a popout from Pederson and, shaking things up a bit, a strikeout from Conforto.
The Giants will hand the ball to Logan Webb on Saturday and will have Kapler back in the dugout.
As for his absence Friday? “Oh, it’s really interesting,” Correa said.
“Obviously he’s a significant presence. The overwhelming thing he does is direct traffic and empower people and ask the right questions and look at the people who are in charge of different areas in different circumstances, so that’s a big figure to replace. All I tried to do was (try to) mimic him.”