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Examining Giants' early-season struggles against NL's best

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SAN FRANCISCO -- If the regular season ended today, the Giants would be the third Wild Card team in the National League, a position that wouldn't have been too difficult to predict two months ago. They're on pace for 89 wins, which certainly would be a letdown after 107, but still would be their second-most since 2012. 

It has been a solid first quarter of the season, but it's certainly hard to feel good about the way they've played in recent weeks, particularly when you think about what that Wild Card spot would mean. Teams are separating from the pack in the NL, and the Giants aren't faring well against them.

Over the weekend, the San Diego Padres handed them their first three-game sweep of the season, which, combined with a two-game sweep at Dodger Stadium and an early-April series at Oracle Park, means the Giants are 2-6 against the Padres and Dodgers, the two teams they're fighting with in the race to win the NL West. 

That's been a trend for two months. They're 15-5 against teams with losing records but just 7-13 against teams above .500. But it's too soon to worry, left-hander Alex Wood said on Sunday. 

"We were missing a lot of guys for the Dodgers series, but you catch different teams at different times of the year and we caught the Padres when they're hot right now," Wood said. "I thought we played okay throughout the weekend but I don't think we played our best baseball all-around. Usually, you look for two of the three -- pitching, defense or hitting -- and I think this weekend we didn't hit on two of three at least. We'll get on runs where we do all three really well or two of the three consistently and I think we do a good job of that. We're a pretty consistent club for the most part.


"They just came in and kicked our ass this weekend. We'll come back ready to play a tough opponent in the Mets the next three days and try to right the ship and get back trending in the right direction."

The Mets took three of four from the Giants in New York last month but they come in hobbling. With Jacob deGrom already sidelined, they watched co-ace Max Scherzer strain an oblique last week, likely costing him a couple of months. Right-hander Tylor Megill had filled in admirably for deGrom but is also on the IL.

For as much as the Giants have been banged up -- they lost Brandon Belt, LaMonte Wade Jr. and Curt Casali over the weekend -- they know they can't use injuries as much of an excuse, and they mostly haven't. The Padres arrived at Oracle Park without Fernando Tatis Jr., but it didn't matter with the way Manny Machado was playing. 

With every extra-base hit and smooth scoop at third, Machado provided a reminder that 40-man depth is great, but even in baseball it sometimes pays off to simply have the best player on the field. He had three hits on Friday and three more on Sunday, carrying a Padres lineup that looks mediocre on paper but scored 20 runs over three games. 

"When he goes, their lineup goes," Wood said. "He's hitting pitches early and hitting pitches late, grinding out (at-bats), stealing bags, he's doing it all right now. You've got to find a way to minimize that guy. When things start rolling downhill like they were today, it's hard to contain a guy like that."

In the offseason the Padres gave Machado $300 million, the Giants finished second for Bryce Harper. They have spent the years since building depth and focusing on more cost-efficient moves, but in recent weeks they've looked like a team that needs one player to say, "Hop on guys, I'm leading the way for a while."

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The closest the Giants have to that kind of talent at the plate is Belt, who had his knee drained twice in three days and never appeared against the Padres. Belt said afterward that he feels the Giants have been "flat for the past week or so," but he's not worried. "We're a good team," he added.

Manager Gabe Kapler feels the same, even if his group hasn't played well against the other good teams in the National League, the type they will see if they reach October. He said the rough May -- which has included a five-game losing streak and this current four-game skid -- is not surprising. It's something he warned the team of in spring training. 


"We knew that this was going to be a possibility, that we were going to go through some tougher stretches," he said. "We're not surprised that we're going through a tougher stretch now and that over the course of the last month we haven't played our best baseball. In particular, we haven't played our best baseball against the Padres and the Dodgers and a few other good baseball teams."

The tough part of baseball is that when you are in a stretch like this, the daily nature of games can feel like its burying you. But the beauty of it is that you're always a day away from getting a chance to bounce back. The Giants will get three this week against the Mets, who hold an eight-game lead in the NL East. 

"We haven't played our best baseball, not just in this series but for a couple of weeks now," Kapler said. "We have to right the ship. How do we do that? We do it by improving our practices and our processes, we'll go back and take a look at some of the things that we can be doing better prior to a game. That gives us our best chance to make improvements going forward."

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