The Nationals got to Johnny Cueto early, scoring four runs in two innings.
It felt like 40. In four games and 33 innings at Nationals Park, the Giants scored three runs.
The sluggish offense slept through another shutout to finish off a series the Giants miraculously split thanks to excellent bullpen work, Sunday’s matinee a 5-0 loss in Washington that marked the merciful end of a 3-3 road trip.
The slow-moving offense has cost the Giants baseball’s best record but not the NL West’s. San Francisco (40-25) fell to 1.5 games up on the Dodgers and 3.5 up on the Padres before either had finished play Sunday.
The offense mustered five hits and was appropriately inept in a fashion that the Giants rarely have shown this year. There were not many drawn-out at-bats; there was less punch outside of doubles from Mike Yastrzemski and Mike Tauchman; there was no Evan Longoria, Tommy La Stella, Alex Dickerson or Darin Ruf. Gabe Kapler joked a day prior about needing to sugar his offense up, and yet there was no energy or life.
Washington’s Joe Ross, who entered with a 4.80 ERA, became the second opposing pitcher to complete seven innings against the Giants this year, one-upping Walker Buehler by going eight scoreless. He did so without walking a batter and while striking out nine on 108 pitches. In three of the four games in Washington, the Giants did not draw a walk.
The zero runs they scored were two fewer than their error total.
Cueto’s day was off from the start, with Kyle Schwarber hitting his second leadoff home run of the series. Wilmer Flores’ throwing error made Cueto throw seven extra pitches in the first, and his own error allowed another baserunner in the second. Victor Robles pushed a bunt toward first that Cueto tried to pounce on but couldn’t pick up cleanly, and trainer Dave Groeschner had Cueto throw warmup pitches to prove he was OK.
Perhaps he was physically, but Schwarber then launched a three-run homer to put the game already out of reach in the second inning. The fastball was more in the attic than upstairs, a pitch 4.19 feet above the ground that went for the second highest pitch to be homered off this season, according to MLB.
The Giants never crept their head up again. Cueto managed to eat 5 1/3 innings but walked the bases loaded in the sixth. Jose Alvarez, who had an excellent series, induced a double-play ball from Juan Soto to escape.
Yet, their offense would not let Garcia’s Houdini act matter. They are depleted, for sure, but even the allegedly healthy ones look tired. Brandon Belt’s 0-for-3-with-two-strikeouts day means he’s 0-for-16 with seven Ks in his past five games. Steven Duggar went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts, which pushes his slump to 0-for-9 with eight strikeouts in four games.
They now come home for seven games, beginning Monday against Arizona. For their own sake, they will hope the flight involves a lot of sleep.