How Giants' second-half road issues cratered playoff hopes

How Giants' second-half road issues cratered playoff hopes originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

LOS ANGELES -- It seems like a lifetime ago, but it has been just over three months since the Giants picked up a rare sweep at Dodger Stadium. They did so in a wildly entertaining fashion, too.

The first win back in mid-June was highlighted by a pop-up that Casey Schmitt dropped and Jakob Junis whipped into right field, kicking off one of the weirdest plays this rivalry has ever seen. A day later, the Giants backed Alex Wood's five shutout innings -- as a starter -- with 15 runs. That Sunday, Logan Webb led them to a sixth straight road win, one that looked like it would vault them to much greater heights.

That wasn't the high-water mark for the Giants in terms of their record or position in the NL West, but from a pure entertainment standpoint in 2023, that weekend can't be beaten.

It seemed to be a sign that a blend of veterans and rookies could go anywhere and beat anybody under the right circumstances, and after the final game, shortstop Brandon Crawford -- the only Giant around for the previous sweep at Dodger Stadium -- said he was encouraged by how they were doing it with "veteran guys, with young guys, good pitching, good defense, good hitting."

"We obviously just hope that we can ride this feeling and the way we're playing throughout the rest of the season," he said in June.

The Giants kept those "happy flight" vibes going for a few more weeks, but it all came crashing to earth in historic fashion. Their 3-2 loss on Sunday night was their 28th over their final 34 road games of the season. Since July 19, they have been outscored 194-109 away from Oracle Park.

July 19 was the night after the Giants swept a doubleheader in Cincinnati, and since then, they have had the worst road ERA (5.56) in the majors. At 3.21 runs per game, they also rank last offensively.

The road record since the middle of July is jarring, but it makes sense. When you have the worst pitching staff and the worst lineup -- and you play some sloppy defense, too -- you're not going to win a lot of games away from home.

After the first of three losses at Dodger Stadium, Mike Yastrzemski spoke passionately about how the Giants needed to play with more energy and be more accountable. When the road woes came up, he paused.

"That I can't really grasp," he said. "I don't know why we haven't been able to play well on the road. It's definitely not an atmosphere thing. We played really well on the road earlier in the year and for some reason, we just haven't been able to piece it together.

"I know a lot of our wins at home have been comeback wins and we just don't really have that momentum on the road, so we've got to do a better job in the early innings of being aggressive and taking it to them and hoping that the aggressiveness will play out."

There was no aggression on Sunday. With the shadows making life difficult for hitters, Thairo Estrada tried to bunt with the bases loaded and two outs in the third. He popped it up. The Giants loaded the bases again in the ninth, but Mitch Haniger struck out. With the help of the automatic runner and a misplay in center, they did it again in the 10th, but the Dodgers turned an athletic double play on a Patrick Bailey grounder up the middle.

When team officials sit down in October and try to figure out where it all went wrong, the struggles with the bases loaded will be near the top of the list. The issues on the road will be right there, too. Even a .500 road trip through Denver, Phoenix and Los Angeles could have left the Giants with some hope over the final week, but they flew home on Sunday night knowing their postseason push could end as soon as Tuesday.

The elimination number is two, meaning any combination of two Giants losses or Chicago Cubs wins will officially put a big 'E' next to San Francisco in the standings. It'll happen at some point at Oracle Park this week, thanks in large part to the way the Giants played every time they left San Francisco over the last three months.

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