The San Francisco Giants have 19 pitchers on their roster and used almost half of them Wednesday in blowing a ninth-inning lead to the Rockies.
The last of them was Joe Nathan, who will be 42 a month after the World Series ends, and has pitched a grand total of 3.1 major-league innings over the last two seasons.
Nathan was once an outstanding reliever but worn by the years and worn down by fragility, he’s as out of place in a save situation in 2016 as Barry Bonds is in the hierarchy of dugout leadership.
No surprise that light-hitting infielder Christhian Adames, who was 8 when Nathan began his major-league career and whose slugging percentage is less than Madison Bumgarner’s, won the game off Nathan with a double.
The Giants win World Series in even years, and have overcome hardships to do so: Melky Cabrera’s PED suspension in 2012 and Angel Pagan’s injury and a wild-card finish in 2014. It’s not unusual for an even year to be uneven for the Giants, but 2016 has become unsightly.
On July 10 the Giants were 24 games above .500 and 6.5 games above the Dodgers; entering play Friday the Giants are nine games above .500 and five games behind the Dodgers.
Since Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw last pitched on June 26, the Dodgers have made up 13 games on the Giants. Who knew the only thing holding the Dodgers back all these years was the best pitcher in baseball?
Sixty-five years ago the Giants provoked the Dodgers into one of the great collapses in baseball history, hounding them into a playoff with an O. Henry ending. Now the Giants are undergoing one themselves, and you have to wonder if Ralph Branca, who celebrated 90 in January, doesn’t spike his coffee with something special each morning to celebrate the latest Giants loss.
The Giants are still in control of a wild-card position, which has more to to with the National League’s ineptitude than the Giants’. Only six teams have winning records in the NL, and the Giants are a half-game better than the Mets, whose best pitcher over the last two weeks has been Seth Lugo, no relation to Julio, and a game better than the Cardinals, who are eight games under .500 at home.
If all of that, and Stephen Strasburg’s medical report, doesn’t make an opposing NL fan optimistic, it’s because they root for the Cubs.
The Giants spent $220 million on starting pitching in the last offseason, and fortified it with the trade for Matt Moore in midseason, sending away infielder Matt Duffy. The Giants-raised infield of Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford and Duffy, which was supposed to be for them what Garvey-Lopes-Russell-Cey was for the Dodgers two generations ago, didn’t endure the season let alone a decade.
It’s emblematic of what’s gone wrong with the Giants. Duffy was expendable because the Giants had added Eduardo Nunez, who was hitting .296 and had 12 homers for the Twins; with the Giants, Nunez is hitting .228 with three homers.
Buster Posey, who has twice topped 20 homers and hit 19 last year, has just 12, and none since July 16. He’s 4-for-24 in September. No wonder the Giants, 18th in runs scored for the season in MLB, are 28th since the All-Star break.
The bullpen is worse. The Giants are, according to the blog mccoveychronicles.com, 0-55 when trailing after eight innings, and just 60-6 when leading after eight. Their 24 blown saves are tied for third most in MLB. No lead is safe when the Giants have one, and no deficit surmountable.
The bullpen did preserve at least one lead — Matt Moore’s near no-hitter vs. the Dodgers on Aug. 25. The Giants won 4-0 after Moore got 26 outs and gave up the only hit on his 133rd pitch.
That’s more pitches than anyone else has thrown in a game this year by the margin of the Cubs’ lead in the NL Central. Chi Chi Gonzalez is next with 124, and Rangers manager Jeff Banister was trying to push him through the fifth inning, not the ninth.
The 133 pitches are 19 more than Moore has thrown in any other game this year; in his second season since Tommy John surgery, it’s fair to wonder if it was a good idea. In the two starts since, Moore pitched well but abruptly, and then poorly, knocked out in the third.
You can understand manager Bruce Bochy’s motive in allowing Moore to pursue the no-hitter, and it’s a testament to him that there was little criticism. There should have been, and had he not been a manager who has won three of the last five World Series, there would have been.
Rookie Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was much more widely critiqued for putting health first and pulling rookie Ross Stripling back in April with a no-hitter against Bochy’s Giants. Who’s to say what Bochy would have done.
Five months later, who could have guessed that it’s not just Moore’s health Bochy would be worried about in the season’s final month, but that of his team’s standing.