The San Francisco Giants lost the opener of a four-game series in San Diego on Thursday night — a rare feat these days.
The loss — which snapped a five-game winning streak — was only the Giants’ third in the last 11 games and dropped them to 15-6 over their last 21 games. It also dropped San Francisco into the No. 8 slot for the fast-approaching National League playoffs.
But earlier Thursday, it became clearer that the Giants (23-22) are in it to win it in 2020.
For the second time in this shortened season, the Giants said goodbye to a favorite son. Last month it was Hunter Pence, who was 5-for-52 with two homers and six RBIs after 17 games. On Thursday, the Giants released switch-hitting third baseman Pablo Sandoval in order to activate Justin Smoak.
Sandoval was hitting .220 with one homer and six RBIs and 82 at-bats. He was one of the Giants’ last remaining links to the glory years.
But there is a playoff berth on the line with 16 games to go, and the message is that it’s time to put production over sentiment. Still, parting with Sandoval was not easy.
“It was very difficult to deliver that news,” said Giants manager Gabe Kapler. “And it was difficult for Pablo to receive it. He was a pro and a gentleman every step of the way.”
But, like Pence, Sandoval wasn’t producing. And baseball is a game of production. The Giants are in position to play their way into the playoffs as one of two wild cards — Thursday’s loss dropped the Giants 5 1/2 games behind the Padres in the race for the automatic No. 2 playoff berth from the NL West.
The Padres, who own the second-best record in the National League, might have a better chance of overtaking the Dodgers than being caught by the Giants.
And Friday night, the 29-17 Padres will seek to join the Dodgers as the second National League team to reach 30 wins as Garrett Richards (2-2, 4.50 ERA) faces San Francisco’s Johnny Cueto (2-0, 4.56 ERA) in a pairing of right-handers at Petco Park. Both will be making their 10th start of 2020.
The Padres enter the game with a 3-1 edge on the Giants this season.
Richards did not face the Giants when the two teams met in San Francisco at the end of the first week of the season. The Padres are 5-4 in his first nine starts. Richards has allowed 21 runs on 42 hits and 14 walks with 38 strikeouts in 42 innings for a 1.333 WHIP. Richards went seven innings in his most recent start after going a total of 6 1/3 in his three previous outings.
But it’s not the starters who have been the backbone of Padres pitching recently. It is the bullpen, which ranked near the bottom earlier in the season. Padres relievers have a 1.88 ERA as the team has gone 9-2 since general manager A.J. Preller starting making trades.
“From top to bottom, the bullpen has been outstanding of late . . . showing what we thought they could do,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said earlier in the week before six relievers combined to shut out the Giants over seven innings Thursday.
Cueto has allowed 25 runs (24 earned) on 41 hits and 19 walks with 46 strikeouts in 47 1/3 innings this season for a 1.268 WHIP. He has an 8-4 career record in 16 starts against the Padres with a 3.53 ERA, a 1.204 WHIP and a .241 opponents’ batting average. But these are different Padres. These Padres scored four runs on four hits and three walks in 3 2/3 innings against Cueto on July 29.
–Field Level Media