Scuffling Giants fall into Wild Card tie with Bucs

NL West title nearly out of reach after sweep by Padres

Scuffling Giants fall into Wild Card tie with Bucs

SAN DIEGO -- The Giants' three-game confrontation against Los Angeles beginning Monday won't unfold the way they had expected. Qualifying for the postseason remains the Giants' goal, but they'll be playing to clinch a Wild Card berth, not the National League West title. Moreover, the Giants could endure the sting of watching the Dodgers celebrate the division championship in front of them.

These scenarios became likely over the weekend as the Giants were swept by the San Diego Padres in a three-game series, which concluded Sunday with San Francisco's 8-2 loss. Rookie Chris Dominguez mashed a two-run homer in the seventh inning off Padres starter Ian Kennedy to avert the Giants' second shutout of the series.

The Giants' sixth loss in eight games left them tied with Pittsburgh in the Wild Card race. The Giants' magic number for clinching a postseason spot actually shrank to three, since Milwaukee lost to the Pirates. Any combination of Milwaukee defeats and San Francisco victories will guarantee the Giants the second Wild Card spot, at the very least. But they still must compete with Pittsburgh to claim home-field advantage for the one-game Wild Card showdown Oct. 1. The winner advances to the Division Series; the loser heads home.

Catching the first-place Dodgers in the West race has become a pipe dream for the Giants, now that they trail Los Angeles by 4 1/2 games. The Dodgers' magic number for clinching the division is three, which means that Los Angeles can crown itself with two victories in the upcoming series.

The Giants face an odd situation. As they approach a near-certain postseason appearance, they're playing progressively worse. Improving their overall performance has become their top priority.

The absences of Angel Pagan, Michael Morse and (mostly) Brandon Belt have eroded San Francisco's offense. In eight games since their euphoric 9-0 rout of Los Angeles on Sept. 12, the Giants are batting .201 (52-for-259) with 14 runs scored. They've mustered two runs in five of those games and have been shut out twice. Manager Bruce Bochy noted that without Matt Duffy's two-run, pinch-hit single last Wednesday at Arizona, the Giants would have scored twice in six separate games. The Giants grew so desperate to generate offense that hitting coach Hensley Meulens convened an impromptu meeting before the fourth inning.

Though the Giants' pitching has been adequate, subpar defense has besmirched their efforts. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval's throwing error on Jedd Gyorko's grounder in Sunday's sixth inning helped generate three unearned runs in a four-run inning.

"I don't want to look at where we're at [in the standings]," Bochy said. "If we don't play better baseball, it's our fault. That's what it comes down to. We have to get this offense going, execute and stay away from the mistakes."

Asked about the Wild Card possibilities facing the Giants, right-hander Ryan Vogelsong echoed Bochy by shifting the emphasis toward quality.

"Right now, the focus should be on winning baseball games," Vogelsong said. "Obviously, if [the Wild Card game is] the game we get in, we'd love to have it at home. But after this series, I think the most important thing is trying to win the next game and the next one after that."

As for the possibility of catching the Dodgers, Vogelsong addressed that subject as one would expect a Giant to do.

"It's still there until they clinch, as far as I'm concerned," he said. "Until their magic number's zero, there's still a shot."

Vogelsong (8-12) no-hit San Diego for four innings, issuing a walk, before San Diego broke a scoreless tie in the fifth on Alexi Amarista's sacrifice fly. That followed a serious yet futile scoring threat by the Giants in their half of the fifth. Amarista, displaying range at shortstop, dove to his left to smother Vogelsong's grounder up the middle with two on and two out and prevent a run from scoring. The infield hit loaded the bases, but Kennedy escaped by coaxing Gregor Blanco's fly ball to center field.

Then came the error-marred sixth. Cameron Maybin's two-out, two-run single off George Kontos after an intentional walk to Amarista was the inning's biggest hit.

Yasmani Grandal's two-run double helped San Diego add three runs in the seventh.

Chris Haft is a reporter for Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.