PHOENIX — Gabe Kapler attended his morning briefing with reporters in street clothes and a black 49ers hat.
“It’s one of my favorite hats,” he said.
Kapler isn’t the only Bay Area sports fan excited for football season.
You didn’t need to be downwind of the Giants on their road trip to Dodger Stadium and Chase Field to get a mighty foul whiff. Their defense betrayed them again in a 5-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday, Logan Webb became the latest pitcher to put his frustration on display and the Giants finished their first winless seven-game trip since their 100-loss season in 1985.
It’s dangerous to judge a team on its best or worst week in a six-month endeavor. But the Giants are putting their worst week on repeat in July, and this one might have been even more inspiring to club morale and debilitating to their viability as a postseason contender.
The Giants lost more than seven games. They lost more than Evan Longoria, whose age-36 season has become a series of blowouts. They also lost their cool.
One day after Carlos Rodón’s bat-kicking tantrum that injured Thairo Estrada, Webb looked to the Giants dugout and flapped his arms in apparent frustration in the fourth inning after David Peralta’s tying hit landed in right field and hopped the fence for an automatic double. A source confirmed what Webb appeared to say: “Why is he so far over?”
Webb was upset that the previous double in the inning, Ketel Marte’s hard grounder down the first base line, got past Brandon Belt. The longtime first baseman acknowledged that he should have positioned himself a step closer to the line when he knows that Webb will throw his changeup.
“I needed to be a step over,” Belt said. “I usually am, especially offspeed. I wasn’t on that particular pitch. Just wasn’t a good day for me.”
Belt also made the worst mistake in the Diamondbacks’ tiebreaking, three-run rally in the seventh inning, when he fielded a squeeze bunt and threw home despite having no chance at throwing out ultra-fast Jake McCarthy.
And so the Giants keep sinking into quicksand. The more they struggle against it, the worse it gets. And the longer it lasts, the more dire it becomes to turn it around lest they follow up a franchise-record 107-win season with one of the league’s all-time regressions to the mean.
“We need to come out with a little more fire right now,” Kapler said. “We’re doing everything we need to do pregame. All the preparation is sound. But we need to continue that and just come out with a ton of fire. That’s the best thing I can share right now.
“There’s a lot of pressing. They’re wanting to do too much and sometimes that creates a little tightness in the play.”
Would Belt have forced a play at the plate if the team hadn’t been 0-6 out of the All-Star break? If they had led at the conclusion of any inning at any point in Los Angeles or Arizona?
“If I’m being honest, probably not,” he said. “It’s one of those things. Stuff hasn’t been going our way, we haven’t been in a lot of ballgames, haven’t been scoring runs. I tried to make something happen right there and usually when you do that, that’s a good way to screw up. That’s what happened. I screwed up the play. It was just a bad decision.”
The Giants played from behind nearly the entire trip. They took a total of three leads over seven games but lost each one in the bottom half of the inning. Even Joc Pederson, their All-Star outfielder, hasn’t been an impact player since mid-May, hasn’t homered since June 25 and is 8 for 58 (.138) with four RBI and three runs in 21 games in July.
They got a presumptive shot in the arm when Tommy La Stella rejoined them from the 10-day IL and led off against right-hander Zac Gallen. Instead, what they got wasn’t much better than a bat to the knee. La Stella went 0 for 5 and struck out against Mark Melancon in the ninth to strand the tying run on base.
The Diamondbacks went ahead in the seventh when McCarthy beat out a bunt single that Webb battled to field when his cleats stuck in the artificial turf. They had runners at second and third after Sergio Alcantara singled and Estrada didn’t cut Austin Slater’s throw to third base, allowing the trail runner to advance. It was a damaging mistake. It eliminated any chance at a double play for one of the league’s premier ground-ball pitchers.
Belt made the wrong decision when he fielded Jose Herrera’s sacrifice bunt and he compounded it when the ball slipped out of his hand and sailed over catcher Austin Wynns as two runs scored.
You can’t win when you keep beating yourself.
“Everything needs to change,” Belt said. “We’ve got to hit better, we’ve got to play defense better, we’ve got to pitch better. I don’t think any part of our game is solid right now. We’ve just got to do better all around. I would say change the attitude a little bit, but winning will do that for you. We know how to win and we can do it, but we gotta go out there and make it happen.”
While the Giants clubhouse hasn’t devolved into active finger pointing and dissension, the frayed nerves are becoming tougher to conceal — especially for starting pitchers who have been forced to cede control to an unreliable defense all season.
“I know I was out there trying to strike out everybody because I didn’t want up a run,” Webb said. “I don’t want to lose. All those things we’re trying to do because we haven’t won in seven days. It’s pretty frustrating. Unfortunately, they’re not close games, most of them. It sucks.”
Webb slammed his glove upon returning to the dugout after the fourth inning. He declined to discuss his outburst after Peralta’s double, saying, “There were some little things I was pissed off about. I’m pissed at myself, mostly.”
The Giants knew entering this season that they would sacrifice defense to get better matchups and put together a lineup capable of putting more runs on the board. But they might have underestimated the rise of balls in play this season, and the impact a substandard defense would have on a pitching staff that is the best in the majors at suppressing home runs and getting ground balls. Simply put, the Giants have failed to leverage perhaps their greatest team strength. It’s costing them game after game. Eventually, it will cost a lot more than that.
When teamsmates stop trusting each other, nothing good can come of it.
“Those guys do their best, just like we’re doing our best,” Webb said. “It’s not like all of us (pitchers) are doing our job, either. It’s a team game. I think everything we’re doing as a whole is not great. It’s not good baseball. We all know that. We’ll hopefully figure this out before it’s too late.”
Kapler stressed that despite the visible outbursts from Rodón and Webb in this series, the frustration is not specific to starting pitchers.
“Logan’s fine,” Kapler said. “It’s probably frustrating that we’re not catching more balls but that’s always going to be the case. He didn’t express any specific frustration. Everybody’s frustrated. Everybody wants to see a better style of play. We’ve talked about defense being a major factor and I think it has been. But when people are really frustrated and throwing their hands up, it’s about many, many things.”
That just means the Giants have many, many things to fix in what is becoming a narrow slice prior to the Aug. 2 trade deadlines.
Longoria is out at least a couple of weeks because of his strained hamstring. Brandon Crawford is likely to go on a minor-league rehab assignment to put his bruised knee through its paces before he’d be activated. It’s not exactly a bugle-blowing cavalry — more like Thursday night canasta at the VFW — but their return should help stabilize the infield. And they’re still just three games behind the Phillies and Cardinals for the third and final wild-card spot. So Belt isn’t giving up on help from the outside world, too.
“I know this team can win,” Belt said. “I’ve seen it. And I know once we get everyone on the field, we’re gonna be a good ballclub. I’d love to see us make some moves to make this team better to get to the playoffs. Because that’s what I want to do. I want to go to the playoffs. I’m not ready to give up this year.”
(Photo: Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)