Pitching lacks dance partner as lineup falters

Pitching lacks dance partner as lineup falters

SAN FRANCISCO -- All season long, the Giants have leaned on their deep and talented pitching staff, and that staff has stood as solid as a rock while the offense has been maddeningly inconsistent, providing runs in fits and starts.

The first two games of what's by its very nature the most important series of the year, the Majors' best pitching staff -- with a 3.38 ERA that's one tiny point lower than the Giants' NL West showdown opponent, the Padres -- twice has needed to lean on the offense to help get through a rare rough start.

And, twice, San Francisco's offense hasn't been able to pick up the pitching in this series. Twice, the Giants have gone down to tough losses to the Padres -- the latest, a 4-2 setback on Saturday.

So it comes down to the final game of the regular season in which the Giants hope they continue to get the best out of their pitching in left-hander Jonathan Sanchez, who has been remarkable in September. But even if he deals zeroes, they'll need to score some runs off Mat Latos and Co. to win, and they'll need to somehow break the spell the Padres' pitching staff has cast upon them -- not that the Giants are the only team under that spell.

"This club pitches well," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of the Padres after Saturday's loss that sets up a Sunday showdown. "We've had our tough times against them. That's why they're where they're at. They pitched very well today [and] yesterday. It's a good team and a good pitching staff."

How good have the Padres been against the Giants? Well, the Giants are batting just .232 as a team against them this season and putting up only about 2.5 runs a game. San Francisco's overall season averages are .257 and 4.3.

For these first two games against the Padres, the Giants' offense has performed much like it has most of this season -- offering spurts of support, but in both cases too little of it and too late.

It's not too late now, of course. The Giants remain in the driver's seat, up a game in the NL West standings with one more home game to play.

And, as Bochy alluded to, the Padres have pitching that they've leaned on -- and hard -- all season, too. Certainly, San Diego's pitching has had something to do with the Giants' inability to complete comebacks each game, and Tim Stauffer's 6 1/3 innings of high-quality pitching qualifies there.

By the time the Giants had a 4-0 deficit Saturday and starter Barry Zito had exited the game, they had just an infield single by Mike Fontenot to their credit. Before Juan Uribe's homer got them on the board with one out in the seventh, they'd had only two other baserunners -- one reached on an error, the other on a hit-by-pitch.

By the time clutch hits in the ninth inning by Pat Burrell, Uribe and Pablo Sandoval brought Jose Guillen to the plate with the winning run, all it took was Guillen's double-play grounder to end the game.

So while Zito becomes an easy scapegoat for digging the hole in the first place, the offense didn't exactly respond by filling it up with runs of its own, despite the Giants' bullpen throwing up only zeroes in relief of Matt Cain on Friday and Zito on Saturday.

As much as the Giants' hitters would love to be regifting the support that the pitching staff has delivered all season long, it's just not that easy -- especially against the Padres.

And, really, no one should be surprised at all that it's tough to hit -- and perhaps especially tough to mount a comeback -- against either one of these pitching staffs.

"You're looking at two of the best pitching staffs in the Major Leagues," outfielder Cody Ross said in a quiet Giants clubhouse after Saturday's loss. "For us, it just seems like they've gotten off to significant leads and it almost seems like we're waiting -- I mean, we're not really waiting -- but it's not until the last part of the game that we get something going, and it's tough to make something happen late like that.

"What we really want to do in those situations is chip away, get a run here or there and keep within striking distance."

Of course, Ross is new to the club, having been acquired Aug. 23 on a waiver claim -- and there was a reason for that, aside from blocking the Padres from getting a veteran bat. The reason: The Giants still needed some help offensively, even after bringing Burrell and Guillen into the fold as well.

All season long, the Giants have tried to get in a groove on offense, and while they have shined at times, they haven't been able to get out of slumps punctuated by first-pitch swinging and hits not stringing together into rallies.

Bochy gathered the hitters for a meeting Sept. 23 at Wrigley Field -- "The gist of it was, 'We're better than this and it's going to take everybody being focused. Trust the guy behind you,'" he said then -- and they went out and racked up 13 runs against the Cubs. They've continued to show sparks of power -- blasting 18 homers in their last eight games, including Uribe's 24th of the season Saturday. And they certainly respond well with a lead, having gone 17-2 in their last 19 games in which they scored first, and 62-19 overall -- second only to the Phillies (64-12) in that situation.

But up against their biggest challenge -- their own starting pitching's hiccups and the opposition dealing peas in an all-important series -- the Giants' offense is 0-for-2 in trying to pick up their mound teammates.

Heading into Sunday, no offense, but ... the Giants can't really afford to have no offense or at least not enough offense to win.

"I don't think guys are pressing too much," said rookie catcher and cleanup man Buster Posey. "We just have to go out there and do the job."

John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.