Kurtenbach: The SF Giants’ offense has flatlined, and it has Gabe Kapler flummoxed

Kurtenbach: The SF Giants’ offense has flatlined, and it has Gabe Kapler flummoxed

SAN FRANCISCO — Baseball has undergone a lot of changes this past year.

But even in this era of new rules, scoring runs is still vital to winning games.

And the San Francisco Giants can’t seem to do it anymore.

If this team wants to make something of this promising yet perplexing campaign — if the next six weeks are going to be anything but an excruciating journey to hang onto a Wild Card spot, followed by a quick postseason exit — that has to change right now.

This season sits on the brink, and it’s poised to be defined in the coming week, when the Giants are heading to Atlanta to play baseball’s best team, followed by a jaunt to Philadelphia to face their top rival in the Wild Card chase.

After a 2-4 home stand against the Rangers and Rays where the Giants only scored more than three runs per game once, this team is hitting the road with no momentum. The road is all they’re hitting these days.

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There’s zero juice in these Giants’ bats. This squad has negative mojo.

Over the last month, the Giants have:

• the fewest runs per game, home runs, and stolen bases in the National League

• the fewest total bases in baseball

• the most at-bats per home run in the National League

And it has manager Gabe Kapler downright flummoxed.

“I had a conversation with one of our hitting coaches during the game. We talked about a few different strategies we can work on to fix the offense,” Kapler said after Wednesday’s 6-1 loss. “We have some guys with a good track record of success on a daily basis. We should have more firepower.”

Indeed they should. At the same time, the Giants’ motto since Kapler took over has been to get more out of less. That requires proactive management. But the buttons Kapler pressed at the beginning of the season aren’t working anymore.

None of the buttons seem to work anymore.

In Monday’s game, Kapler decided to eschew the platoon approach the Giants have so heavily favored since he arrived, letting lefty rookie Wade Meckler hit against a lefty with the bases loaded and two outs.

It was a chance for the Giants to get back into a 6-1 game in the bottom of the seventh, but Meckler struck out.

Wednesday, a nearly identical situation presented itself. Giants were down 6-1 in the bottom of the seventh. The bases were loaded with a lefty on the mound. Meckler was due up. This time there was one out.

And Kapler opted to pull Meckler, pinch-hitting Austin Slater, who was 0-for-his-last-16.

Slater grounded into a double play to end the inning.

Kapler’s gut move backfired. Then his analytics-informed move backfired.

So, it wasn’t surprising that Kapler was testy when talking about the two decisions in his postgame press conference Wednesday.

Kapler defends the decision to pinch-hit Slater for Meckler in the seventh inning pic.twitter.com/BEUgLdFkZg

— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) August 16, 2023

“We’re trying to make as many decisions at the margins that will help us win baseball games as possible,” Kapler said.

But the difference between good and bad offense is well past the margins for the Giants these days.

Perhaps a day off can fix what ails this team’s bats. At this point, it’s as believable a solution as anything Kapler and “one of our hitting coaches” concocted during Wednesday’s game.

(Did Kapler just realize the offense was a problem on Wednesday?)

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The good news is that the Giants still hold a Wild Card spot after this home stand. Those margins, however, are tight.

And while the quality of the National League suggests that San Francisco can be a slightly sub-.500 team the rest of the way and still make the postseason, that kind of record will be difficult to achieve if the Giants’ bats remain limp.

Not only is it hard to win games with few runs, but this is also a team that has operated with two starting pitchers for weeks.

No team has thrown more relief innings than the Giants this season. Those innings have been quality to date (3.70 ERA, 5.6 WAR for relief pitchers), but something has to give. An anemic offense puts more pressure on those relievers — be they traitional or converted starting pitchers — to perform.

Either the bats start cracking, or the pitchers will crack.

Now, there’s no use going back and re-litigating the trade deadline — what big bat actually moved?

There’s equally little value in complaining about who is out of the Giants’ lineup these days.

The fact is that in Wednesday’s rubber match with the Rays, the Giants were outclassed by a bottom-dollar winning machine.

Now they will face two winning machines that have players people can name. Six of the next nine games are against the Braves. Behind this road trip and return series with Atlanta are series with the Reds, Padres, and Cubs — all teams capable of smacking the Giants around.

The solution ending the skid is simple: score more runs.

But if the Giants don’t start hitting soon — really soon — the futility will define this season.

How do the Giants actually do that?

That’s anyone’s — including Kapler’s — guess.