When things are going right, the Nickelodeon-esque neon orange that covers most of Joc Pederson’s cleats is what’s most visible. The slime-green that smothers the bottom of the spikes is merely a contrast to the outfield grass.
But the wind kicked up late Tuesday evening at Wrigley Field, and the bright green bottoms to Pederson’s cleats were all that could be seen as he fell face down in left field and let a would-be can of corn drop at the same speed as Giants’ sinking playoff chances.
Five games into September, the Giants are in free fall.
After 18 scoreless innings, their offense finally awakened Tuesday night against the Cubs, but their usually reliable bullpen blew it in an 11-8 loss, their fifth straight, dropping them just a game above .500 and ensuring that the Cubs will own the tiebreaker if they are able to catch them. But that is looking increasingly unlikely.
For now, they should be more concerned with fending off their competition for the third and final spot. The Reds (73-68) came back to beat the Mariners, the Dodgers’ dealt a blow to their archrivals by losing to the Marlins (71-67), and the D-backs (71-67) were still in progress against the Rockies. The Giants (70-69) are a full two games out of playoff position, just as close to the Padres (65-74) as the Cubs (75-64).
The pop fly to Pederson would have been the second out of the seventh inning. A batter earlier, Seiya Suzuki sent a 3-1 slider from Tyler Rogers a couple hundred feet further, almost clearing the bleachers, tying the score at 6. Christopher Morel broke it open with a three-run shot to center — a 431-foot no doubter — off Luke Jackson.
So desperate for offense, they have resigned themselves to playing Pederson in left field on most days and, for the most part, hadn’t been burned too badly until Tuesday. Yan Gomes’ double, the final blow of a four-run third inning that erased the Giants’ early 3-0 lead, got past an unsuccessful and unathletic dive by Pederson.
Pederson, however, held up his side of the bargain, going 3-for-4 while driving in a run and scoring another in the Giants’ three-run sixth inning gave them a 6-4 lead. J.D. Davis, while finishing a triple short of the cycle, drove him in and broke a 4-4 tie with a two-run shot to center field.
It was the Giants’ third home run of the game, something they hadn’t done since June 19. No team has hit fewer since the All-Star break. They had five in their previous 11 games before Tuesday night and had gone since the last game of their series in Philadelphia, Aug. 25, since hitting more than one.
After that game, not quite two weeks ago, the Giants’ playoff odds, according to FanGraphs, stood at 53.4%. They climbed to 67.1% after beating the Padres in the first game of their series Friday. But after four straight losses, the system pegged their odds at 35.5% entering Tuesday, the lowest they have stood since May 15.
After the loss Monday night, when they not only failed to score a run for the second straight game but failed to advance a runner to second base, Kapler held a meeting with two trusted veterans, Yastrzemski and Wilmer Flores. It provoked a passionate response from Yastrzemski that he relayed to reporters at his locker that night.
“It’s pretty unacceptable,” he said. “We’ve got to take a look in the mirror and decide who we want to be. Hopefully come back with some aggressive fierceness. … It’s important not just to play for ourselves but to play for the guy to the left of us, the guy to the right of us and for all the fans. The last couple of games were a disservice to them, too. We owe them and the city a lot more than we’ve given them the last couple of days. …
“I think at some point there’s definitely a conversation we can have as a group to really just hold each other accountable. … We’ve been a little lackluster and sloppy. So hopefully, we’re going to be able to fix that moving forward and show up tomorrow and really try to take it to them.”
For Kapler, the message was simple, direct and a little profane.
“We have to be more aggressive,” he told reporters after the 5-0 loss. “We have to have, and forgive my French, kind of a f— it mentality. And what that means is we’re walking up to the plate and we’re going to be on the offensive. We’re going to be the ones who are forcing the action, and right now, we’re a little defensive at the plate, and it’s hurting us.”
A night later, Tuesday evening at Wrigley Field, his club took that message to heart.
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LaMonte Wade Jr. put the first pitch of the game into bleachers behind the ivy-covered wall in right field, Yastrzemski gave the fans in left another souvenir second-pitch swinging, and the Giants jumped out to a 3-0 lead against Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks. Wade Meckler even poked a flare into left field for a rare hit with a runner in scoring position (a situation the Giants went 2-for-20 in during three losses to the Padres and didn’t get a chance at in Monday’s loss).
Flores provided a fourth homer, his team-leading 21st of the season, to lead off the ninth.
With starting catcher Blake Sabol already out of the game, Kapler pinch-hit Paul DeJong for Patrick Bailey, who had assumed duties behind the plate. But DeJong watched strike three, Davis grounded into a double play, and the Giants were right back where they were to start the night: Still searching for their first win of September, on the outside looking in, and window getting foggier.
— Kapler told reporters after the game that Patrick Bailey was being evaluated for a possible concussion. Joey Bart was pulled from Triple-A Sacramento’s game.