With his back against the dugout wall and his team fighting to remain above .500, Gabe Kapler called out his team’s insufficient energy. He did so for nearly six minutes, speaking in macro, overarching abstractions he typically avoids.
“I don’t think that we’ve brought our best levels of energy to the ballpark over the last couple of weeks,” Kapler said. “And when that happens, I think it’s important to examine where we’re spending our energy.”
Dwelling on a blown call. Focusing on suboptimal field conditions. Complaining about the schedule.
It’s more productive for the Giants to lift up a teammate than let any of those ideas seep in, Kapler said. People only have so much energy to expend. Wasting it on uncontrollable things have added up for the Giants in the past couple weeks.
“That’s the way to turn these things around very quickly,” Kapler said. “It’s a compounded thing. It’s not one person making the commitment to invest energy into our teammates and into this team. It’s everybody making that decision. Collectively, you can really change the energy quickly. It’s one of the things that we’ve been talking about in individual conversations, one of the things we feel like we can do to change the direction, and do so quickly.”
The direction the Giants (40-37) are on is a tailspin, and that continued with Sunday’s sweep to the White Sox. San Francisco has lost eight of its last 10 games and went 2-6 on its home stand — with each game coming against a sub-.500 opponent.
Their 13-4 loss to the White Sox featured much of the same from this current funk: porous defense and lackluster hitting. SF committed another error and got out-hit 17 to seven — a gap closed by SF’s garbage time rally.
The mojo was missing from the start. Austin Slater, Joc Pederson and Evan Longoria each struck out to begin the game. The team jogged back out to their positions for the top of the second leisurely. Then to start the bottom half, Brandon Belt went down looking for a fourth straight punch out. After Wilmer Flores reached on a walk, both Mike Yastrzemski and Darin Ruf struck out.
Seven of the first eight Giants to dig in against Lucas Giolito struck out. If the energy is where it’s supposed to be, the Giants would pick each other up after the slow start, not dwell on it.
“This is really about controlling the things we can control and improving at the margins with the way we use the energy that we have on any given day,” Kapler said pregame. “It’s a lot to get through 162 games, it’s a lot to get through spring training, it’s a lot to get through the postseason. You really have to be intentional about making sure your energy’s not getting out there in a chaotic way. That it’s channeled.”
In the third, Donovan Walton sidearmed a throw to set up a double play into the outfield. Had Walton and veteran Wilmer Flores combined to make the exchange, the Giants would have been out of the inning. Instead, Walton’s error allowed the White Sox to take a 2-0 lead.
Walton and Flores manned the middle infield because Brandon Crawford (left knee) remains on the injured list, Thairo Estrada is experiencing cold-like symptoms and Tommy La Stella hasn’t been able to play the field with any consistency.
Fielding has been an issue for the Giants all year. Entering Sunday, they ranked 29th in outs above average and last in Fangraphs’ overall defensive metric. The roster tradeoffs between offensive pop and defensive liability have tipped too far in the wrong direction.
But much of the mistakes have been mental, both in nature of miscue and in allowing them to linger.
“Are we channeling and challenging ourselves with that energy?” Kapler mused. “Collectively we’re all doing that. It’s as simple as a player doesn’t make a play on defense. Rather than express frustration about it, going up to that player and reminding them how good he is. And how we depended on him in the past and how we’re going to depend on him in the future.”
In the top of the fifth, two White Sox singles didn’t leave the infield. The inability to convert balls in play into outs loaded the bases, knocked Sean Hjelle out of the game and led to three more Chicago runs.
Overcoming poor defense is tough, but the offensive pop was absent Sunday, too. It took over an hour for the Giants to put a single ball in play; before Austin Wynns’ lineout in the third inning, every hitter either struck out or walked.
By the time Chicago took a 6-0 lead, CWS had out-hit the Giants 10 to one. Six relievers pitched for the Giants on what normally would have been Anthony DeSclafani’s turn in the rotation. Before Kapler’s pointed comments about the Giants’ energy, he announced DeSclafani will undergo likely season-ending ankle surgery.
The Giants got on the board with a run in the sixth, but the White Sox ran up five more in the eighth.
Fans headed for the Oracle Park exits when Chicago batted through the order against Yunior Marte. SF officially surrendered when catcher Austin Wynns removed his pads and pitched the ninth inning to Yermín Mercedes.
The late innings were bleak, and despite four consecutive doubles in the ninth, the result was cemented after the Giants’ flat start. Seven of SF’s 11 total strikeouts came in the first three innings.
On the eight-game home stand, San Francisco dropped two of three to the last-place Reds, split two with the last-place Tigers and got swept by the White Sox — which entered having lost six of their past eight.
Kapler said San Francisco’s struggles aren’t from a lack of effort or preparation. If an energy shift is the easiest, quickest way for the Giants to ensure this skid is their season’s low point, it must arrive expediently. The message clearly didn’t resonate right away.