Gabe Kapler says SF Giants ‘still in a playoff race’ but they don’t play like it in loss to Dodgers

Gabe Kapler says SF Giants ‘still in a playoff race’ but they don’t play like it in loss to Dodgers

LOS ANGELES — Before the Giants started their four-game series here against the Dodgers, Gabe Kapler wanted to make a point. A reporter had asked about the value of getting Kyle Harrison exposed to the unfriendly setting of Dodger Stadium, a venue where the 22-year-old left-hander is sure to pitch in meaningful games.

Thursday night was not that. San Francisco’s slide over the first six games of this road trip means it will take a minor miracle to make the postseason. The Giants (76-77) fell below .500 for the first time since June 4 with a 7-2 loss. Their elimination number dropped to seven.

But, Kapler said before first pitch, “Yeah, so, I just want to say this because I can kind of sense where some of these conversations are going, which is things like evaluation of young players, experience for a guy like Kyle Harrison. To me, I think we all need to be thinking that we are still in a playoff race.”

Realistically, though, the Giants are at a point in the season where it’s time to look to 2024. A team that believes it has a chance doesn’t go hitless for five innings against a rookie, nor does its right fielder forget how many outs there are, allowing the go-ahead run to score on a sac fly, nor does one of its leverage relievers bury two pitches to the backstop, leading to two more runs.

If there was any good news Thursday night, it was that the Giants’ silver linings came from their young core.

The Giants lined up Blake Sabol behind the plate; Harrison on the mound; Marco Luciano at shortstop; and Tyler Fitzgerald in center, making his major-league debut. The only up-the-middle position that didn’t feature a rookie still had an eye toward the future, with Thairo Estrada at second base and proven to be a core piece for 2024 and beyond.

Take Harrison, for example.

Against a dangerous Dodgers lineup, Harrison allowed two runs on three hits over 5⅓ innings, the third time in six major-league starts he has recorded an out in the sixth inning.

If the concerns that led to Harrison being optioned after his last start were his progressively declining fastball velocity, his predictable pitch mix and left-handed hitters’ inexplicable success against him, he did a good job of quashing those worries Thursday night, with seven days of rest since his last start.

Harrison’s 75th and final pitch was a slider that forced Freddie Freeman to roll over on an easy grounder to second base. It was Harrison’s seventh at-bat against a lefty, and all seven ended in outs. Through his first five starts, lefties had been 12-for-24 against Harrison.

He generated only three whiffs on 20 swings against his fastball but averaged 93.3 mph with the pitch, not quite his typical 94-95, but the most oomph he’s had since his third major-league start. One pitch he’d like to have back was a 93 mph heater he grooved to J.D. Martinez with two strikes, which Martinez deposited into the right field bleachers.

The three rookies occupying the bottom third of the Giants’ batting order combined to reach base five times, including back-to-back-to-back walks to force in their first run in the fifth without the benefit of a hit. Fitzgerald also roped a double down the left field line in the seventh for his first major-league hit, getting a chance to show off his elite sprint speed for the first time.

Fitzgerald threw his bat emphatically into the ground after taking ball four on the eighth pitch of his at-bat in the fifth inning, forcing in Mike Yastrzemski, who got the hitless rally started with two outs when he was hit by Sheehan. Backed into an 0-2 count, Fitzgerald worked a bases-loaded walk, which followed a nine-pitch battle won by Sabol and, before that, a six-pitch free pass to Luciano. All three times, the rookies worked their way back from two-strike counts to reach base.

Their only other run, though, came on a no-doubt solo shot from Joc Pederson in the sixth inning, his 15th of the season, measured at 430 feet, which also registered their first hit of the night. Emmet Sheehan, who no-hit the Giants for six innings in his MLB debut in June, didn’t allow a hit for all of his 4⅔ innings Thursday, either, and struck out nine, including seven of the first nine hitters he faced. In Sheehan’s 10 other appearances, he has a 6.18 ERA.

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The score was tied 2-2 in the sixth when catcher Will Smith tagged and scored from third base on a relatively shallow pop fly to right field. He had a head start because Yastrzemski took a few steps toward the dugout before realizing it was the second out. His throw home was offline and late. Smith, not a fast runner, made it to third on a triple when Fitzgerald laid out for a ball in the right-center field gap, it kicked off his glove and away from Yastrzemski, who was backing up the play.

In the eighth, the Dodgers placed runners at second and third against Luke Jackson and tacked on two insurance runs without getting another hit.

With Kike Hernández batting, after J.D. Davis bobbled a grounder from Chris Taylor and James Outman doubled to right field, Jackson threw two sliders in the dirt, three pitches apart, that allowed both runners to score, despite Hernández eventually striking out. Davis’ error was their second of the game and 112th of the season, 12 more than any other team.