SF Giants’ series win streak snaps at nine, how expectations have shifted ahead of huge homestand

Giants starter Anthony DeSclafani exited Sunday's start with an injury.

SF Giants’ series win streak snaps at nine, how expectations have shifted ahead of huge homestand

ATLANTA — Back in spring training, even the most optimistic Giants fans had doubts the team would be able to challenge the Dodgers atop the National League West.

As Gabe Kapler’s club prepared for the season with workouts in Scottsdale, making a run at one of the league’s two wild card berths seemed like the most realistic way for the Giants to make the postseason. Yet with nearly five months of the season in the books, the Giants have forced fans to recalibrate expectations in a way that makes every loss magnified and every minor hiccup a bigger disappointment.

So after winning nine consecutive series entering a three-game set in Atlanta, the Giants’ inability to maintain their incredible pace understandably felt like a letdown to many fans who can see the Dodgers creeping up behind San Francisco in a compelling race for the division title.

The Giants still own the best record in the majors at 84-46 and still have a narrow edge over the Dodgers in the division, but a 9-0 series-clinching loss stung a club that was also bitten by the injury bug several times amid their nine-game road trip.

“We don’t look at the standings as much, we don’t worry how another teams is playing, they’re playing who they’re playing and we can’t do anything about that,” outfielder Mike Yastrzemski said. “Whatever is going to happen is going to happen and we can only play our game. We want to win every single game we can.”

After Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Kris Bryant and Curt Casali exited games with minor injuries on the team’s eastern swing, starter Anthony DeSclafani came out of Sunday’s game alongside Giants trainer Dave Groeschner.

Kapler said the Giants only checked on DeSclafani as a precautionary measure as he was slow to cover first base in the fourth inning and called his decision to put the game in rookie Sammy Long’s hands a “strategic” decision.

DeSclafani left his last start on August 18 against the Mets with right ankle inflammation that forced him to the injured list, but he was activated on Sunday with the hope he could provide quality innings and regain the form he showed in the first half of the season.

“(DeSclafani) pushed really hard to go for us today,” Kapler said. “Obviously it doesn’t work out on the scoreboard and he wasn’t able to go deep into the game for us and that’s certainly disappointing. We always want our pitchers to save as many innings for the bullpen as possible, even in games we’re down. But we did have a plan.”

The right-hander retired nine of the first 10 Braves he faced on a hot and humid day at Truist Park, but gave up a leadoff home run to Atlanta slugger Jorge Soler in the bottom of the fourth inning and never recovered. Each of the next four hitters reached base against DeSclafani including third baseman Austin Riley, who launched a two-strike slider into the left field bleachers to give the Braves a 3-0 lead.

The outing didn’t go as planned for DeSclafani, but he said it was an important step to get back on the mound before facing the Dodgers next weekend at Oracle Park.

“We’re neck and neck with the Dodgers that I think every game is super important for me getting back out there,” DeSclafani said. “Any time you get a chance to pitch, I’m just trying to build momentum and get on a roll again and hopefully I can do that against the Dodgers.”

A Giants lineup that was without several key hitters on Sunday was no match for Braves starter Ian Anderson, who tossed 5 2/3 scoreless innings and only gave up four hits. Despite going 6-3 on a road trip against the A’s, Mets and Braves, the Giants’ offense wasn’t nearly as consistent as it’s been for much of the season in part because players such as Posey and Bryant were limited.

“It’s hard to be especially excited about the road trip when we weren’t able to complete the trip with our best play,” Kapler said. “You’re always going to remember the last game of the trip, it’s always going to be the thing you taste the most.”

The Giants won two of their games on the trip with four hits and another with six hits, but with Evan Longoria on the 10-day injured list and Donovan Solano on the COVID-19 IL, the club hasn’t been able to create as many platoon advantages as it did near the beginning of the month when most contributors were healthy.

With a 19-7 record in August, the Giants have had their best month of the season and are on pace to challenge the franchise’s San Francisco-era record of 103 wins set in 1993, but many fans can’t help but notice the Dodgers entered Sunday with a 19-5 record this month.

The current concerns surrounding the Giants’ health and their starting pitching depth have some concerned that this year’s club could meet a similar fate to the 1993 team. Though Dusty Baker’s club missed the playoffs because the Braves won 104 games and the current playoff format featuring a wild card game didn’t yet exist, the advantage of winning the division in 2021 can’t be understated.

A division crown guarantees a team a berth in the NLDS, whereas the wild card race leader meets the second wild card team in a one-game, winner-take-all playoff. For all the success the Giants have enjoyed during a dream season, the fans’ fears over seeing their club ousted on the first day of the playoffs are legitimate.

Staying in front of the Dodgers and winning the NL West remains the Giants’ top priority, which is nearly every loss at this point in the schedule can look like a missed opportunity.

The reality for the Giants is they still have 33 games including three head-to-head matchups with Los Angeles at Oracle Park next weekend, and while expectations have surely changed since spring training, there’s plenty of time for the Giants to maintain their advantage or create separation in the standings.

The team’s streak of series victories came to an end against a first-place Braves club that’s likely headed for a NL East division title, and now the Giants will head back to Oracle Park to face a first-place Brewers team that’s bound to win the NL Central.

The goal at the end of the Giants’ seven-game homestand? To win enough games that they make sure the subsequent opponent, the Dodgers, don’t leave town as the first-place club in the NL West.