Giants' lack of roster flexibility on display in latest loss to Padres

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Giants' lack of roster flexibility on display as skid continues originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO -- Before the start of a big three-game series with the San Diego Padres, Giants manager Gabe Kapler disagreed with the notion that the Giants had hurt themselves by flailing through the easiest part of their second-half schedule. Kapler pointed out that even an easy stretch on paper can be markedly different when you account for when and where you catch a team.

There's a lot of truth in that, and the Giants are an example. Any team seeing them now is not facing a World Series contender, but instead one of the worst teams in baseball over the last two months.

But in the ninth inning Wednesday, the Giants did face an easier path. Josh Hader is one of the best relievers of the last decade and still throws 98 mph from the left side, but since giving up a walk-off grand slam to Mike Yastrzemski in July, he has been one of the worst relievers in baseball.

Hader entered the day with a 13.35 ERA since the Yaz Slam, with six of those runs coming over the weekend when he recorded just one out against the lowly Royals. He has lost his closer role and hasn't even been pitching in high-leverage spots for most of his time as a Padre. If you take his reputation and past out of it, he would look like a DFA candidate.

But there Hader was, taking the mound in the ninth inning of a one-run game because the Padres had used Nick Martinez back-to-back days and were out of fresh arms. They gave him a chance, and a Giants team built to exploit juicy matchups had absolutely no cards to play.

En route to 107 wins, Kapler made the "line change" a thing at Oracle Park. He always had multiple right-handed options waiting for someone like Hader, but after Thairo Estrada singled to lead off the ninth, this is how it went: Left-handed hitter with a .280 on-base percentage, left-handed hitter who recently returned from Triple-A because of an injury, backup catcher playing a third straight game because of an injury.

The eighth-inning combo was even wilder. With one out, Evan Longoria pinch-hit for Mike Yastrzemski against lefty Adrian Morejon. Longoria's hamstring is so compromised that he can't play third base right now, but he jogged into second when he lined a ball into the left field corner. He was replaced by Austin Slater, who can't hit because he dislocated a finger on Tuesday, but can run and play defense.

After Wilmer Flores flied out, Kapler had no choice but to stick with Joc Pederson against a lefty he tried to bunt off of in an 0-2 count earlier in the series. This time, Pederson dumped a single into center, one of the few highlights for the Giants in a 5-4 loss.

This is all to say, the Giants don't have options. And that's frightening because this team was not built around star power, but around having options.

The Giants do not have a set one-through-nine every day. They did not build this team to have everyday players or superstars leading the way. They planned to take you down slice by slice, pinch-hitting and platooning and always finding the right edge.

It worked beautifully in 2021. In 2022, the Giants are 61-68 heading into September.

Kapler started nodding when asked about the lack of maneuverability after Wednesday's loss, the seventh straight. He always had a roster without day-to-day consistency, and he liked it that way. Now, with Brandon Belt and Joey Bart hurt, Longoria and Slater hurting, and so many others slumping, there's nowhere to turn in the late innings. Hader made it through the ninth for his first save as a Padre.

"We've talked about the cascading effect of one issue and we've seen the evidence of that throughout the season," Kapler said. "In today's game, we have a number of occasions where it would have been optimal to have one of our guys healthy to be able to make multiple moves or several of our guys healthy to make multiple moves. We weren't in that position.

"Those don't always guarantee that the outcome you want is going to happen. It doesn't mean that it leads to base hits or runs scored, but that's sort of who we are as a team and we just haven't been able to do that. But we also pride ourselves on being able to perform in suboptimal situations and we haven't been able to do that successfully, so that's just something that we have to keep grinding towards."

Kapler credited his group for continuing to fight, noting that Longoria and Slater showed toughness and others were ready to step up. Had one of the final three hitters reached off Hader, LaMonte Wade Jr. -- who, like Tommy La Stella and Luis González is not supposed to face many lefties -- would have hit.

The next man up was Slater, and because he can't swing, Andrew Knapp, called up earlier in the day, would have taken that spot. If the game got to extra innings, Knapp, the new backup catcher, was going to play first base.

None of this is what the Giants expected, and that's part of what makes the last few weeks so disappointing. They have been hit by injuries, but they have not been decimated. Injuries are part of the game, and the Giants simply have not been able to find proper replacements as they've churned their roster in a dizzying way.

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At some point, the Giants will need more everyday players. On some level, they will need to match what the Padres have done with Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Josh Bell and others, and what the Dodgers have done with their entire lineup. It's nice to exploit matchups, but it's better to not even have to worry about it because your players are so good.

The Giants all of a sudden seem a long way off from reaching that day. Kapler projects optimism on a daily basis, but after Wednesday's loss, he came as close as he ever will to admitting the Giants just don't have the talent on this roster to get this done.

"We're demonstrating the fight that we need, we're demonstrating the effort that we need, we're demonstrating the pre-game routine that we need," he said. "It's not enough right now. We're not winning baseball games and that's all that matters."

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