The first-place Dodgers have former MVP winners Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman anchoring the most feared lineup in the majors.
The second-place Padres, hot on their tails, are riding five-time All-Star and early MVP front-runner Manny Machado to an impressive start.
As for the third-place Giants? Well, their lack of star power and mounting injury concerns were on full display at Oracle Park this weekend as they capped off an embarrassing sweep against the Padres with a 10-1 defeat.
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The blowout loss dropped San Francisco 5.5 games behind Los Angeles in the National League West with nearly a quarter of the season now complete. The Giants sat 4.5 games back in the division in April of last season and were still two games back of the Dodgers following a sweep on May 23 of last season, but Buster Posey isn’t walking through those clubhouse doors again.
Immediate help isn’t on the way either, as two of the team’s top left-handed sluggers, Brandon Belt and LaMonte Wade Jr., landed on the injured list over the weekend with knee inflammation. Shortly after manager Gabe Kapler said Sunday that Wade would likely miss a few weeks with a bone bruise, the Giants placed Belt on the 10-day injured list retroactive to May 19.
A Giants team that lost four in a row just once last season has now done so twice this month.
“We just didn’t swing the bats well enough, play good enough defense, make enough pitches to be the better team in this series,” Kapler said. “They were clearly the better team in this series and we have to improve.”
For the second straight week, a blowout Sunday loss compelled Kapler to use one of the team’s most consistent left-handed hitters, rookie Luis González, on the mound as he covered the eighth and ninth innings inning to save a bullpen that had already given up five runs.
Starter Alex Wood, who gained a reputation as a “stopper” for his strong performances following losses a season ago, lasted just three innings against San Diego as the Padres pounded him for eight hits and five runs. It may not have mattered if Wood turned in his best outing of the year as the Giants’ lineup hardly offered support against Padres rookie MacKenzie Gore.
“I think (the Padres) playing up to their potential so far this year,” Wood said. “So it’ll be another good test for us the rest of the way and should make things interesting the rest of the year.”
A day after veteran right-hander Joe Musgrove fired seven shutout innings against San Francisco’s lineup, the Giants mustered just three hits and a run over six innings against Gore in the longest start of his brief career.
The 2021 Giants defied expectations en route to a record-setting 107-win season and unlikely division title, but the hill to climb might have an even steeper grade this year. Not only are the Dodgers brimming with talent, the Padres team that exited Oracle Park on Sunday with a sweep look the part of a legitimate contender thanks in large part to Machado, who bumped his average up to .374 with a 4-for-4 performance that featured three doubles and a triple.
“He’s swinging it as good as he ever has right now. He’s locked in,” Wood said of Machado. “When he goes, their lineup goes. He’s hitting pitches early, pitches late, grinding out ABs and stealing bags, he’s doing it all right now.
Machado’s four extra-base hits tied an Oracle Park record for an opposing player, set August 30, 2006 by Braves first baseman Adam LaRoche.
Entering the season, Giants fans watched the Dodgers sign Freeman to a six-year, $162 million deal to fortify a lineup that was one of the majors’ best last year. They saw the Padres, who collapsed down the stretch, trade for veteran starter Sean Manaea and closer Taylor Rogers, who leads the majors with 16 saves.
The Giants watched Buster Posey head off into retirement and watched as Kris Bryant signed a seven-year $182 million deal with the Rockies. Not every high dollar free agent signing pays off, but fans had reason to be critical of Farhan Zaidi’s approach.
A short-term contract that brought Carlos Rodón, the fifth-place finisher in American League Cy Young Award voting, appears shrewd, but a Giants’ lineup that lost two of its best bats looked overwhelmed against the Padres’ pitching staff at times this weekend.
“We expected to have challenges, we expected to have injuries, we expected to have periods of poor play,” Kapler said. “None of this is surprising.”
If the team’s worst month since the 2020 season isn’t a surprise, how do the Giants turn things around?
“We do it by improving our practices, our processes and go back and take a look at what we can do better prior to the game,” Kapler said.
At 22-18, the Giants are still one of the better teams in the National League, but a sweep against the Padres validated some of the concerns fans harbored entering the year. The Giants are a solid bunch, but World Series-caliber? With a quarter of the season down, they’re a long way from looking like a franchise ready to reclaim some even-year magic.