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In season-worst skid, Giants turn within clubhouse to find necessary ‘fight’

© Neville E. Guard | 2022 Jul 3

Gabe Kapler’s pointed comments about his team’s lack of energy during the last couple weeks was noteworthy, but not revelatory. 

It’s no secret the Giants haven’t played their best baseball. It’s clear they haven’t played well on defense. It’s painfully obvious the offense hasn’t produced at its best. 

When a team loses nine of 11 games, those oversimplified conclusions become easy to make. 

“We’re working through it,” Kapler said after Sunday’s loss. “This is a challenge I think we all take very seriously, but we’re just not going to get bent out of shape and get super low because we have all, individually and collectively, experienced adversity before. It’s just part of baseball. This is what happens in a major league season. Sometimes everything goes really really well for long stretches of time, sometimes you play shitty baseball for a long stretch of time, which has happened here. But it’s not breaking us. It’s just part of the game.”

As the Giants (40-38) fight to stay above .500, they find themselves closer to last place in the National League West than first. Fangraphs gives the Giants a coin flip chance at reaching the playoffs, and they’re still firmly in the wild card race, but prolonged uninspired play will change that. 

The players and coaches believe they’re capable of competing, but for that to happen, attitudes need adjusting. And fast. With 13 games in 13 days — two series against Arizona, one against San Diego and another with Milwaukee — before the All-Star Break, the time to turn things around is here. 

“I won’t call it a ‘coming to Jesus’ moment, but it’s time to switch it in gear,” veteran starter Alex Wood told KNBR. “The energy thing, it’s not necessarily during the game. It’s before the game. It’s the start of the game, during the game, after the game. All of it. How we’re preparing, having a sense of urgency to a degree. I think that has probably been lacking over this skid that we’re on.” 

Team meetings aren’t Kapler’s style. He prefers individual conversations. With the largest coaching staff in baseball, there’s ample opportunity to facilitate healthy dialogue. 

The Giants’ relaxed clubhouse allows players to express their personalities. To play freely. It also allows them to hold themselves and each other accountable, Wood said. 

“It’s starting to come to a head where, it’s either put up or shut up,” Wood said. “It’s one of those things where we know we’ve got to get this shit going.”

San Francisco’s defense — 29th in outs above average — has been particularly concerning during this funk. The Giants have committed nine errors (and several damaging misplays) in their eight losses, including Donovan Walton’s misfire in Sunday’s 13-4 loss to finish a sweep against Chicago. 

Players and Kapler have maintained the effort has been there, despite the lack of execution. 

“Sometimes when you get into a rut, you’re just in a rut,” veteran first baseman Brandon Belt said. “Sometimes you’ve got to get snapped out of it. Not exactly sure what that’s going to take, but we’ll figure that out as a team.” 

There haven’t been any players-only meetings yet. Belt said there can be value in team meetings “if it calls for it.” Does the team’s ongoing funk reach that point? “I don’t know, we’ll see,” Belt said. 

“I think it’s pretty obvious that the team’s energy, our play, whatever you want to call it, has not been up to our standards — up to anybody’s standards,” Belt said. “I think we need to be proactive and maybe turn that around a little bit to get things back on track.”

Being “proactive” can mean changing some attitudes. That doesn’t show in one game, but rather over the course of time. Kapler said the team needs to be better at channeling its energy into things like lifting each other up and challenging each other rather than dwelling on mistakes or uncontrollables like blown calls or field conditions.

Dialogue has ramped up in the last few days, Wood said. Conversations have been open-ended, centering on questions like where can we go from here? How can we accomplish our goals? Is there anything anyone feels needs to be addressed? 

It’s a rational, mature approach. But in adverse times like these, could there be value in having a hot-headed player storm into the clubhouse with a tantrum after a loss? In this moment, would a manager who gets ejected for a game resonate more than one who plays Kid Cudi in his office after getting blown out? Would a true, airing-of-grievances team meeting actually refocus things? 

It’s impossible to know, exactly. But the even-keeled nature of last year’s 107-win worldbeaters is evidence that there’s merit to the Giants’ current approach. Some players in the clubhouse are different — and the results sure have been, too — but there’s value in braving through storms.

At the same time, it’s much easier to stay level when the wins keep piling up. San Francisco never had a skid like this in 2021. But they played every game knowing the Dodgers were on their heels. 

Wood said he hopes to feel the same “sense of urgency” the team had during last year’s historic campaign starting on SF’s upcoming road trip in Arizona.  

That starts with getting everyone on the same page. 

“Sometimes when things are spoken out loud, guys can air things out or we can start talking about these things and realize we’re all pulling on the same rope, trying to accomplish the same things,” Wood said. “And realizing where we are in the season and where we can go and what we’re capable. I think we know what we’re capable of. It’s just a matter of going out there and doing it, fighting for it. Starting to be able to see that fight a little more than we have over the last 10 or 12 days.”

 

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