As Giants slump, Gabe Kapler still confident better days are coming

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Kapler still confident better days are coming despite slump originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO -- Gabe Kapler sat down in the dugout on Friday afternoon with a big smile on his face. He had spent the off day with his son, who is interning in the city this summer, and also got in some time on his bike. He had a plate of ribs that he reviewed as "incredible."

Six hours later, Kapler sat in a chair in his office and answered a lot of questions that he has answered multiple times over the last two months.

What's going on with the Giants offense? How come they so often go silent for five or six straight innings after threatening in the first? When will the late-inning pinch-hits return? When will they stop losing so many one-run games?

This is all new in a way. Kapler's first season in San Francisco ended up being a shortened one, and most of the attention that year was paid to staying healthy during a pandemic, anyway. Last year he managed all 162, but just about everything went right. In his time in orange and black, he simply hasn't been through something like this.

The Giants, who lost 1-0 to the White Sox on Friday, aren't a very good baseball team right now. They also have a long way to go, and they've banked enough wins that they're currently only one game out of a playoff spot.

Kapler is patient and process-driven by nature, and while this stretch has led to more introspection, it hasn't shaken his core beliefs or his faith in his roster.

"I think we're a pretty calm group," he said. "The players that aren't performing up to their standards so far, they just have long, long track records of doing that. It just doesn't feel like there's any need to be like, 'Oh, we have to completely change course with our approach and our strategy.' Meanwhile, I think we have to be responsive to what we're seeing."

If you look closely, the Giants have made subtle adjustments. The "line changes" that were so destructive last season aren't working as well, so the Giants are being more careful about using them early in games. The late-innings plan has been altered a bit, with Dom Leone and John Brebbia taking on more responsibility after inconsistent stretches from Tyler Rogers and Jake McGee.

But for the most part, this is the team, and it's one Kapler still believes in, no matter how rough things have been over the last week and how generally mediocre they have been since the start of May. When he sends Austin Slater and Darin Ruf out to hit against a lefty in the eighth inning, he still has all the confidence in the world in them.

Asked on Friday afternoon about the lack of pinch-hitting production thus far, Kapler ticked off the players he thinks have better days ahead. Ruf was at the top of the list.

"Darin Ruf, he's going to be fine," Kapler said.

Hours later, Ruf hit for Joc Pederson against lefty Tanner Banks and bounced into a crushing double play, but if that opportunity comes around again on Saturday, there's a pretty good chance he gets it. The same holds true for the other veterans.

"I think it's going to turn," Kapler said.

It can be hard to have that kind of optimism when you're 2-4 on a homestand against three teams under .500, including two that might lose 100 games. But there was a glimmer of hope Friday, one provided by Alex Cobb.

The veteran right-hander has had perhaps the worst luck in baseball this season. He entered the game with a 5.09 ERA despite having advanced metrics that might have you thinking Cobb's an All-Star. His expected ERA coming into the night was 2.34, and Cobb finally had a scoreless outing.

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The fifth inning was Cobb's last, but it brought a smile to his face because it was so unusual in what has been a nightmare first season in San Francisco. Cobb gave up a missile to the left-center gap to lead off the inning and found himself wondering if it would be a double or a triple.

"How am I going to weasel out of this?" he asked himself.

But Mike Yastrzemski ran nearly 100 feet to chase it down. Cobb had an unexpected out, a rare bit of good fortune, and he put another zero on the board. The play helped get him back on solid footing, and he sees the same happening for the other struggling veterans in the clubhouse.

"It'll start clicking," he said. "It will. The guys in this locker room are too good for it not to. You've just got to stay afloat until that moment happens."