Giants edged by Cardinals

Marlon Byrd turned 38 today, but he looked younger and fresher than ever. He went 3-for-4 with four RBI on his birthday.

A nice happy-birthday-to-me gift.

Could it have gone better, Marlon?

“Yes, with a W.”

Sunday afternoon’s 7-5 loss to the Cardinals looked like it was headed for comeback town, especially with Byrd as a perennial threat at the plate. The Giants fell to an early 3-0 deficit, but had a few answers for the relentless Cards club.

Those answers came entirely from the lineup’s meat, Brandon Belt, Buster Posey and Byrd, went a collective 10-for-12 today with two doubles and a triple.

It looked like Byrd, who was struggling defensively with the crooked and deep right field wall yesterday, was thinking payback as he crushed two RBI doubles that hit the same, exact spot on the very far-right corner of the wall. Said Bruce Bochy:

He was putting us back in the game at every at bat…We actually swung the bats well, pitching was off a little bit.”

The Giants’ are making a postseason run and aren’t treading on very solid ground. Rotation wise, at least.

Other than Madison Bumgarner, the rotation this August has been shoddy at best. In five starts, Bumgarner’s put up a solid 37 innings.

The rest of the rotation, excluding Mike Leake, who’s only got three starts up in San Francisco, is averaging 24 innings.

Bumgarner has more wins this month (5) than Matt Cain, Jake Peavy, Ryan Vogelsong and Chris Heston have combined, four.

The hope was that Chris Heston, who was optioned to Sacramento on August 21, would return with his screws tightened after a few rough starts this month.

He would come back to his early season form to back up a potential Bumgarner, Leake punch.

Turns out it’s not that simple. Heston said pure excitement forced some sinkers to fall just a big high in the zone, and the Cardinals weren’t going to waste them.

It was pretty quick there that they were on the board. It’s something I gotta learn from, I gotta go into the first hitter ready to go instead of trying to find the strike zone.”

Before anyone in the crowd had settled down after the Pixar Day pre-game activities, Matt Carpenter had launched the second pitch of the game into left field.

Stephen Piscotty singled to follow and Jason Heyward tripled on a ball that soared beyond a confused Gregor Blanco in center to score Piscotty. Yadier Molina brought him home to give the Cards a 3-0 in the first.

He gave up another run before departing two outs into the fourth inning. The bullpen had to pick up the pieces, taking enough blows before the Cardinals pushed three more runs across the plate.

Bochy sent George Kontos, Javier Lopez, Hunter Strickland, Mike Broadway, Josh Osich and Santiago Casilla to the mound.

Mark Reynolds launched Lopez’s first pitch in the sixth deep to left. That’s the first home run Lopez has allowed all season — he hadn’t given one up since June of last season against the Padres’ Tommy Medica.

Yet, Heston was encouraged:

“I’m back in the strike zone. That’s definitely a positive. My last few outings I was walking a ton of people. That was kind of the focus, is to get back in the strike zone and be aggressive, and that I was, the ball was just up a little bit. That’s just a focus I need to focus on for the next one.”

Heston walked nine batters through his last two starts. So he’s made progress, the question is if it’s enough to slot him a start in Colorado next week — he can’t be leaving lofty sinkers up in the zone in mile-high territory.

Bochy didn’t have an answer quite yet.

The loss puts San Francisco 3-1/2 games behind the Dodgers, as the Giants set out on a 10-game road trip starting in Los Angeles tomorrow.

The team isn’t hiding it, they’re not afraid to utter the team that shall not be named, at least around here; they’re watching the Dodgers closely, they’re gunning for ’em, said Matt Duffy of the upcoming series:

“Obviously with these games being directly against the Dodgers, it’s huge. This series we can really come out of it on their tails or they will create a separation.”

And Bochy:

“This series coming up is a critical series. We know it. It’s that time of year and these guys know that too…They’re on a roll right now, they’re on a good win streak playing good baseball.”

Three of the Giants’ most solid starters this month, Jake Peavy, Madison Bumgarner and Mike Leake, will face Brett Anderson, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw.

There won’t be another Kershaw versus Bumgarner showdown, but Greinke versus Bumgarner might be an even more entertaining show at this point in the season.

Greinke’s 1.61 ERA is the lowest in the Majors…and both top the home run leaderboard for pitchers. You gotta think Bum will be swinging for the stars on Tuesday.

Looks like Brandon Crawford will be back in the lineup for that series.

NOTES

Tim Lincecum told BANG’s Andrew Baggarly before today’s game that his hip ‘locked up’ during his rehab in Arizona. Bochy said he’s not set to return anytime soon.


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