Cubs sweep Giants into NL West cellar

AT&T PARK — The last time this writer covered a Sunday game Tim Lincecum started, it was Mother’s Day. The Freak went seven innings with seven strikeouts in 111 pitches in a 5-1 Giants victory over the Atlanta Braves.

On Sunday against the Cubs, No. 55 went seven innings with ten strikeouts throwing 115 pitches.

But Lincecum (5-11, 4.61 ERA) also gave up two solo homers, and the Giants’ continued struggles with runners in scoring position — 2-for-8, nine men left on base — sealed their demise against the visiting Chicago Cubs 2-1.

Since Mother’s Day — when the Giants were in first place in the NL West with a 23-15 record — San Francisco has gone 23-35 and once again has sunk into last place in their division.

With the loss, San Francisco finishes 3-7 on their 10-game homestand. And to rub salt in the wound, it was the first time that the Cubs had swept the Giants since September of 1993.

The difference is that in 1993, the Giants went on to win 103 games, falling just short of the Atlanta Braves for the NL West crown.

After the game, manager Bruce Bochy summed up his team’s troubles not just in Sunday’s game, but for their whole homestand:

Giants Manager Bruce Bochy

“In all my years, I haven’t seen a team play through such a hard time getting runs in like we’re having right now. And it’s a shame, because we’ve had great pitching. … To get that kind of pitching, and not only not win a game, but get swept. That shouldn’t happen.”

After a 32-pitch first inning, Lincecum settled down and held Chicago to four hits in seven innings. He even went two-for-two at the plate with two singles. Bochy was very complimentary of the 29-year-old starter’s performance:

“He really competed, very well today. I was very very proud of Timmy, and how he pitched today. It’s a shame we couldn’t get him a win.”

Sunday’s matinee started off much like the Giants’ previous game, with neither team putting any runs on the board early on. It also repeated the Giants stranding runners on base in the first three innings.
Lincecum notched seven strikeouts through four innings, keeping Chicago scoreless until Chicago starter Travis Wood (7-7, 2.79 ERA) smashed a solo homer clear over the left field fence to put the Cubs on top 1-0. Bochy said of the homer:

“Their pitcher can hit. That wasn’t a fluke today. He’s hit a few home runs. … Timmy just made a mistake there with the fastball.”

The Giants answered back in dramatic fashion in their half of the fifth inning. Lincecum led off with a single, his second of the afternoon.
Cubs third baseman Luis Valbuena lost his grip on a ground ball hit by Andres Torres, putting men on first and second with no outs. Marco Scutaro then got a base hit, loading the bases for Buster Posey.

It began to look like another inning that would get away from San Francisco as Posey hit into a double play and seemed to cut the Giants’ chances of scoring short.

But Pablo Sandoval came to the plate next and smacked the ball into left center for an RBI double, tying the score 1-1.

Torres slid on his knees to rob Valbuena of a lead-off single in the top of the seventh inning. But on the next at-bat, Wellington Castillo hit a solo shot well over the 382 marker, putting the Cubs ahead 2-1. Neither team scored for the rest of the game.

San Francisco mounted a two-out threat in the bottom of the ninth inning, with Kensuke Tanaka and Gregor Blanco coming off the bench. Tanaka would reach third base on a steal, but a subsequent out kept him from being brought home.

Bochy wrapped up his post-game talk with a final comment on all the players stranded on base:

“If you don’t get ’em in, you probably aren’t going to win the ballgame.”

The Giants hit the road next week, sending Barry Zito (4-7, 4.92 ERA) to the mound in Philadelphia Tuesday night to take on John Lannan (2-4, 4.13 ERA) and the Phillies. First pitch is scheduled for 4:05 p.m.

But before Philadelphia, the Giants will stop over in Washington D.C. to visit President Barack Obama, who will be the last person to congratulate the squad for their 2012 World Series championship.

NOTES

This weekend’s sweep marked the second time San Francisco has been swept in a series at home this season. … Tim Lincecum has now recorded 10 or more strikeouts in three of his last four starts. It also marked his 35th career game with 10 or more strikeouts. … Pablo Sandoval has hit safely in 13 of his last 17 games, going 20-for-63 with 12 RBIs. … Hunter Pence has hit safely in his past seven games, going 13-for-27. … Cubs pitcher Travis Wood went 2-for-3 with a home run, his third multi-hit game of the season, and the fifth of his career. He leads all pitchers with three home runs and is tied for the most RBIs by a pitcher with eight this season. … The Giants have now gone eight straight games without recording a home run. … The Giants lost each of their last three games by one run. They are are 15-16 in one-run games this season.