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A ricochet off the railing

The losses are piling up, and yet, San Francisco’s playoff chances still remain

MLB: San Francisco Giants at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco Giants were shutout in Sunday’s series finale against the San Diego Padres.

The loss itself—unextraordinary. 4-0 final with 3 of San Diego’s runs coming in the 1st inning. The offensive frames that followed for San Francisco had the flair of an audit.

Four Padres pitchers held them to four hits. Starter Seth Lugo gave up three over six innings. Wilmer Flores’ double in the 6th was the Giants first opportunity with a runner in scoring position—Joc Pederson subsequently flied out to end the inning. A walk and a hit by pitch would gift them another opportunity in the 7th—no dice.

Juan Soto launched a 2-run homer off Alex Cobb for his third straight 1st inning four-bagger. Xander Bogaerts rocketed a grounder past the reach of Brandon Crawford that skimmed across the outfield grass all the way to the warning track, allowing Manny Machado to score from first. The third baseman would add a solo shot in the 3rd.

After throwing 139 pitches in his complete game 1-hitter, the veteran arm tossed 59 and didn’t come out for the 4th. It took Cobb 32 pitches to get through the first frame. Five of the first six batters he faced were down to their final strike when they put the ball in play. It wasn’t until the 7th batter of the inning that Cobb earned that elusive third strike.

Over the last three games, Giants pitching has allowed 8 home runs against 17 strikeouts. Bad pitching? Great hitting? A good mix of both. Cobb’s velocity wasn’t down but sometimes its location that goes before speed when an arm starts to tire. The splitter he laid in to Soto was elevated and over the middle of the plate, and the sinker to Machado wasn’t much of a nibbler either. But even in a perfect game, the pitcher isn’t perfect. Hitters still have to punish the mistakes, and this Padres line-up, made up of some of the best hitters in baseball, have been locked in from the Star-Spangled Banner on.

Keaton Winn threw 5 innings of scoreless relief, allowing 4 hits with 1 walk while striking out 2. It was an impressive return to the Majors after his recent elbow struggles, but nobody was really in the mood to celebrate his return. To drum up too much excitement over a performance by essentially a September call-up in a team loss is generally not the vibe of contending clubs.

What made this game a true labor on this Labor Day weekend was the defense. Could Crawford have corralled that grounder in the first? With a time machine, yes. A balk advanced Fernando Tatis Jr. into scoring position. A fielding error from LaMonte Wade Jr. put runners at the corners extending an already stressful situation. All of this occurred in that decisive 1st inning. All of it feeding the miasma that had thickened over the Giants heads these last three games.

Then there was this play in the 5th.

Technically a comedy rather than a tragedy because it ended with a celebration—the out at home—but there was little to smile about. Patrick Bailey picked the ricochet up and tagged Bogaerts out with his head down, embarrassed by the turn of events. He had sailed the throw down to second, Wade Meckler sailed the throw to third, Keaton Winn botched backing up the play, and yet the ball was back in his mitt with the runner out at home. Inning over.

If I may be so brassy and bold: The Giants’ late summer wrapped up in one play.

Overly aggressive, often sloppy and self-sabotaging, and yet, still afloat. Since they’re 18-8 June, San Francisco’s record is 24-31 with a -48 run differential. But with the ricochet off the dugout railing, they’re still in the thick of the Wild Card race in a four-way tie (winning percentage wise) with Miami, Arizona and Cinnicinati.

By the good graces of the expanded playoff format and other struggling National League teams, the Giants’ postseason odds stand at 35 percent chance (according to Baseball Reference). Be warned: that number has dropped 40% in their last 30 games and 20% since Thursday’s win to open the series. The freefall is liable to continue with a three game series against the ascending Chicago Cubs.

This series loss to San Diego was certainly a spiritual defeat for San Francisco, but not a mathematical one. Given their competition, this club might trip and stumble their way into the playoffs no matter how poorly they play.