Whether because of his hip or because of a forced marriage with Joey Bart, Johnny Cueto didn’t have it.
Whether because of a lineup that no longer includes Mike Yastrzemski and Austin Slater or because of German Marquez’s excellence, the Giants’ offense didn’t have it.
Because of their own shortcoming, the Giants at the moment do not have a playoff spot. And with seven games to play, they will need to find answers quickly if they want to have one.
Cueto’s worst start as a Giant could not have been poorer-timed, the Giants’ powerful offense took its third game off in its last four and they sunk below .500, a mark from which they keep bobbing, in a dreary 7-2 loss to the Rockies at Oracle Park on Monday, the start of a season-ending homestand that the club hopes will not fully end its season.
The Giants (26-27) have three more with the Rockies before four against the Padres, whom they hope will be too far from the Dodgers to be going all-out. Fortunately for the Giants, they didn’t lose much ground. The Reds (28-27) beat the Brewers to sit in playoff position by themselves, while the Phillies (27-27) and Cardinals (26-25) lost to make the path a little wider for the Giants. But they’re still on the outside, half a game back of Gabe Kapler’s exes in Philadelphia.
The Giants have gotten into the race by beating losing teams, which they could not do against a Rockies club that placed Nolan Arenado on the IL before the game.
It may have been the Giants’ scratch who loomed largest, though. Chadwick Tromp has been Cueto’s personal catcher for most of this season, and Bart’s lack of chemistry with Cueto has been evident, as it was again Monday. The Giants had pushed Cueto’s start back because of hip pain that he’s been experiencing, and the Cueto who took the mound was not the same who rolled through most of August.
Cueto, whose average fastball was 91.3 mph entering the start, averaged 90.3 with 25 four-seamers. His changeup, which has been so devastating all season, induced just one swing and miss. He had a few visits with Bart and appeared frustrated at the game’s biggest moment, asking for more signs while facing Elias Diaz with the bases loaded in the fifth. He stepped off the mound three times in the at-bat before Diaz hit a long single, just out of the reach of Alex Dickerson in left, that became the sixth run charged to Cueto and ushered in Wandy Peralta with two on.
In all, Cueto surrendered seven runs on eight hits with three walks in 4 1/3 innings, the most he’s given up in his San Francisco tenure. Nothing went right, even his trademark evolving windups, getting called for a balk to gift the Rockies one of their runs. Bart, meanwhile, had been earmarked for a pair of off days because of his struggles with the bat, which extended in going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. Kapler pinch-hit Wilmer Flores for Bart in the eighth with two on, and Flores popped out. Tromp was healthy enough to catch the ninth.
The Giants left 11 on base, putting together a few opportunities but never cashing in. In his first game off the paternity list, Alex Dickerson (Dickerfather?) was a triple short of the cycle and homered in the seventh, his ninth of the year. But his three hits were half of the club’s six. Marquez went six strong innings and four Colorado relievers combined to let up one run in the last three innings.
The Giants put two on in the seventh, but Darin Ruf grounded out to end the threat. Ruf also had halted a two-on threat in the fifth, when Ryan McMahon made a smooth, bare-handed play to end a rally. Even without Arenado, the Rockies’ third-base position killed the Giants.
As did Kevin Pillar, whose defense and offense the Giants could have used in the past few weeks. The center fielder homered and doubled and looked at home at Oracle Park one more time.
The Giants will need to as well if they have any shot going into the Padres series. Monday was not a killer because of the help they got around the NL, but it was a poor first step.