Giants facing crucial hit-or-go-home series vs. Rockies

Giants facing crucial hit-or-go-home series vs. Rockies originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

Since the start of July, the Giants have a wRC+ of 77 as a team, which -- if you're looking for some frame of reference -- is a bit worse than what Tommy La Stella did in 2022, a disappointing season that led to the Giants eating the final year on his contract.

Over that span, which includes 58 games, they rank 29th in the big leagues in the metric, which is all-encompassing and accounts for ballparks. That's the bad news. The good news is that the team ranked 30th is coming into town this weekend.

When ESPN picked up Sunday night's game against the Colorado Rockies, even some on the Giants roster snickered. It was a bad matchup on paper and it hasn't gotten any better in the week since ESPN decided to make it the national game of the week on the first Sunday of the NFL season.

But the game is now a crucial one for the Giants, and this weekend looks like it could potentially be their last stand.

It's not hyperbole to suggest that the Giants need to at minimum take two out of three from the last-place Rockies, and given that seven of their final 10 games are against the Dodgers, a sweep is much more advisable. The same will hold true next weekend when the Giants visit Coors Field.

This is not what they expected in mid-September, but they're limping home after a 1-6 road trip through San Diego and Chicago. The Giants are .500 for the first time since June 10, and it's not hard to find the culprit.

The defense has been 2022-esque lately and the pitching staff has wobbled, with some strange decisions coming from the team's decision-makers over the last couple of weeks. But the second-half struggles can mostly be placed on a lineup that was supposed to be greater than the sum of its parts.

The Giants don't have a Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Max Muncy combination, or a Ronald Acuña, Matt Olson and Austin Riley core. They couldn't even stand toe-to-toe with the trio of Seiya Suzuki, Cody Bellinger and Dansby Swanson, which had to sting given that Suzuki and Bellinger were past free agency targets for the front office and Swanson signed at around the same time that the Giants were going through the Carlos Correa experience.

The Giants have instead built their lineup to wear you down one-through-nine for nine innings, but over the last two-plus months, they often have been Wilmer Or Bust. Flores has been one of the best players in baseball in the second half, but he's one of just three Giants who rates as being above league-average as a hitter since the start of July. The others are Michael Conforto, who is on the IL, and Heliot Ramos, who is back in Triple-A and has had to watch other prospects -- as well as the since-released A.J. Pollock -- get better opportunities.

It's not a surprise that some of the rookies have slowed, but the Giants have watched just about every veteran take a step back in the second half, including the trio of LaMonte Wade Jr., J.D. Davis and Thairo Estrada, three infielders who played like All-Stars over the first three months. They hoped Mitch Haniger would provide a September boost, but he's 2-for-20 since coming off the IL.

Since the start of July, the Giants are hitting .219 as a team and rank last in the Majors in on-base percentage and slugging. They're the only big league team without 200 runs over that stretch, trailing the 29th-ranked A's by 24, and they're last in homers. At seven stolen bases over the last nine weeks, they're well behind the 29th-ranked Marlins, who have 15.

The prolonged team-wide slump led to manager Gabe Kapler asking for a different approach after Monday's shutout at Wrigley Field. Kapler told reporters in Chicago that he wanted to see his hitters be more aggressive.

"We have to have, and forgive my French, kind of a f--k it mentality," he said.

A day later, the Giants scored eight runs but blew a lead, in part because of a mistake by Joc Pederson, who was signed to be a DH but has been regularly thrown in left field because the Giants are so desperate to have Flores' bat in the lineup on a daily basis. On Wednesday they had 10 hits, but they failed to draw a walk for the first time in two months and also went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

As the Giants flew back home, they sat 2 1/2 games out of the final postseason spot and six behind the Cubs, who are pulling away with the second Wild Card spot and used the series against the Giants as a springboard to get back into the NL Central race.

This is certainly the low point of the season for the Giants, but the schedule has finally cleared, and they do have a golden opportunity to jump back into the mix. The next 10 are against the Rockies (51-88) and Cleveland Guardians (67-73), with six of those games at home and the other four at Coors Field, where they are 8-2 over the last two seasons.

While the Guardians generally pitch well, the Rockies have the worst staff in the big leagues. If there's any juice left in the Giants' bats, this is the time to show it. Otherwise, they'll be booking tee times for October.

"This is where you keep fighting back," Kapler said on Wednesday. "The season is 162 games for a reason and there are a lot of teams that have withstood this kind of punishment and continued to keep fighting. There's a big reward if you're able to keep getting up and going back after it the next day.

"That's where we are with it. There's a lot of time, we're still within striking distance, and this is a time where your toughness is tested but you keep getting back up and going back for more."

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