Next Man Up has the Giants in first place in the National League West, but there only are so many times you can watch a player go down to injury before you truly start to show some cracks. For the first time, the Giants' depth seemed to wobble Monday night.
The Giants entered the series at Dodger Stadium without Brandon Belt (knee), Evan Longoria (shoulder) and Tommy La Stella (hamstring), and they have very admirably been able to fill those holes in their starting lineup. But every time a backup becomes a full-time starter the bench gets a little weaker, and that has been exacerbated in recent days by some slumps.
The new issues on the bench were seen in the late innings of Monday's 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, particularly in two spots where manager Gabe Kapler didn't go with his normal options.
With one out and two on in the seventh, Kapler let Alex Dickerson face lefty reliever Victor Gonzalez. Dickerson has had the platoon advantage in 92 percent of his at-bats this season, the highest percentage of any active Giants hitter, but Kapler felt that if he turned to Austin Slater the Dodgers would counter with right-handed reliever Blake Treinen, who was ready to go in the home bullpen.
"Treinen was up behind (Gonzalez) so if we use Slater there for Dickerson, which would be our normal move, we'd get countered with Treinen, so it was going to be Slater vs. Treinen or Gonzalez vs. Dickerson," Kapler said. "I wanted to leave Dickerson's bat in the lineup in case (Kenley) Jansen came in the game and that was going to be Dick. I'm glad that we had Dick in there at the end."
Dickerson ended up flying out softly to center against Gonzalez. He did come up again against Jansen but he grounded out to end the game.
Kapler had another decision to make an inning later when the Giants got two runners in scoring position with only one out. He chose Curt Casali as his pinch-hitter over Slater and Mauricio Dubon.
"I thought Casali's at-bats have been strong of late," Kapler said. "With Treinen on the mound, as difficult of an at-bat as that is, I thought he had a good chance to potentially draw a walk. He's been patient for us and also has quite a bit of confidence, so that was the decision there."
Casali has been hot in limited time the last couple of weeks, but he's batting just .174 on the year and hasn't been used much as a pinch-hitter. He struck out against Treinen.
That role largely has belonged to Slater, who has been primarily used as a leadoff hitter against lefties but was having such good at-bats in the spring and early in the year that it looked like he would force his way into more time against righties. A wicked slump has changed all of that, though.
Slater is 4-for-36 in June and has five strikeouts in his last 11 at-bats. Earlier this season, Kapler surely would have found a way to get Slater a look late in this game, but right now he's a bit buried. There's a domino effect to the injuries and slumps, and it was even seen in moves that were less glaring. Kapler used Darin Ruf -- by far his best bench option on this night -- against Trevor Bauer in the sixth in a right-on-right matchup, but that left him without a right-handed first baseman when LaMonte Wade Jr., who is hitless in his career against lefties, came up against Gonzalez in the seventh. Wade was hit by a pitch and reached base, anyway.
Wade has been a revelation, but sliding him into the starting lineup in place of Belt -- who will miss several weeks at minimum -- weakens the bench. Wilmer Flores had four hits on Monday and has been valuable in place of Longoria, but Kapler misses having that option late in games, too.
The Giants have been able to piece it together, but they were a bat short against the Dodgers on Monday, and that's not a feeling they have really had this season. Given their injury situation, there aren't a lot of quick fixes. Jaylin Davis has been tearing up Triple-A during a rehab assignment and perhaps can be swapped with Slater, but that would require a 40-man move, as Davis is currently on the 60-day IL.
It's a testament to how well the Giants have accrued depth and Kapler has deployed it that there haven't been more of these nights, but they're losing flexibility with each injury. They could have further issues if Mike Yastrzemski has to miss any time, but Kapler said there was positive news there. Yastrzemski had an X-ray at Dodger Stadium that came back negative.