CHICAGO -- Consistency is a virtue, but not the kind that the Giants have achieved.
Their starting pitchers lasted just four innings in the first three games of their series against the Chicago Cubs. Predictably, San Francisco lost each one, including Saturday's 8-6 setback at Wrigley Field that dropped the Giants 2 1/2 games behind the Cubs in the race for the National League's second Wild Card spot.
That deficit could lengthen unless the Giants starters' stamina does the same. Abbreviated outings from the rotation inevitably force relievers to work overtime and waste outstanding individual efforts such as the one that shortstop Brandon Crawford delivered.
"You have to be a little concerned," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, abandoning his imperturbable calm ever so slightly.
When the starters struggle to this extent, the club repeatedly plays from behind, which is stressful. The manager can't assign relievers to their proper roles, because so many games force all hands on deck.
"We're at a point where we can't use who's available," Bochy said.
The latest starter to fall short was Matt Cain, who could be relied upon to sustain the sort of performance the Giants currently need until injuries began nagging him last year. Cain insisted he felt strong and had good stuff, assertions Bochy supported. Cain (2-3) nevertheless surrendered five runs and six hits in four-plus innings. In his last three starts, Cain has allowed 13 runs and 24 hits in 15 innings.
"It's just [a matter of] making more pitches when I need to," Cain said.
The 0-2 curveball Cain dangled in the third inning for Kris Bryant, who clobbered a two-run homer that erased San Francisco's 2-1 lead, didn't fit that description.
"I'm definitely not trying to throw a curveball down the middle," Cain said.
Crawford offered a candid assessment of Cain: "He doesn't look the same as he has in the past. He's just not quite as sharp with all his pitches. He's had a few outings this year where all of his stuff looked good. It's just a matter of finding that and going out there every game with it."
Bryant was wise to smack the ball out of the park, having learned in his initial plate appearance what happens when he hits one anywhere near Crawford. Bryant smashed a low line drive that appeared destined for left field, but Crawford lunged to his left, snared the ball on one hop and flipped it to second baseman Ehire Adrianza for a forceout. Even by Crawford's lofty defensive standards, it was likely one of the finest plays he has made in his five Major League seasons.
Crawford also made a deft tag on Kyle Schwarber to foil a sixth-inning stolen-base attempt. Additionally, the 2015 All-Star doubled home the tying run in the fourth inning before singling and scoring during the Giants' feverish three-run rally in the ninth that made the score deceptively close.