Unburdened By Previous Playoff Baggage, Capitals’ Young Players Help Carry The Load

New York Yankees third baseman Chase Headley, left, completes a double play by tagging out San Francisco Giants’ Mac Williamson at third base during the eighth inning of the baseball game at Yankee Stadium, Sunday, July 24, 2016 in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) ( Seth Wenig )

Updated from the version posted at the final out. -AB

NEW YORK – The Giants began their three-city road trip in first place. They’ll come home in first place.

There’s your silver lining. Now, about all that gray, ominous stuff in the middle…

Their 5-2 loss to the New York Yankees on Sunday brought a merciful end to a 1-7 trip in which they served up too many home runs, committed 11 errors, gave back a chunk of their advantage in the division standings and a sad trombone announced almost every clutch at-bat.

They didn’t add Aroldis Chapman’s name to their flight manifest on the return trip to San Francisco, either. Word around the team was that the Yankees had greater momentum to deal their flamethrowing closer elsewhere.

GM Bobby Evans continues to prioritize getting an impact reliever as he plumbs the trade market – names of interest include the Phillies’ Jeanmar Gomez and the Brewers’ Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith – for someone who can help protect leads.

Then again, getting those leads has proven difficult for an offense that is sorely feeling the absence of three regulars (Hunter Pence, Joe Panik and Matt Duffy) and received Brandon Belt back from his first All-Star appearances only to watch him revert into one of his classic funks he had managed to avoid until now.

Belt was 2 for 33 with 17 strikeouts on the trip and scolded himself, saying, “I can attribute a lot of these losses we had … to me. I’ve had plenty of chances to drive in runs and didn’t get the job done.”

Belt wasn’t alone. The Brexit included Brandon Crawford, who didn’t drive in a run on the trip, either. The Giants hit .125 in 72 at-bats with runners in scoring position while losing two of three in the Bronx and getting swept in San Diego and Boston.

They entered the break with the best record in baseball and a 6 1/2-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was down to 3 1/2 games, pending the Dodgers’ result later Sunday.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy was mulling lineup changes prior to the game, and he had six outs to ponder the matter some more on the flight back. He said he needed to “get Belt a break” but likely wouldn’t sit him on Monday, when All-Star Adam Duvall and the Cincinnati Reds come to town.

“We’re missing some guys and you want presence in the heart of the order,” Bochy said. “We’ve got to get Belt a break and get him going again. He’s pressing, you can tell. I mean, this guy made the All-Star team. It’s tough when you’re missing some players, and when you’ve got guys struggling, it makes it tougher.

“We had some guys cold with the bat. We’ll go as they go, and it was a tough trip for some guys.”

Their only clutch hit Sunday came on an emergency protection swing with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, when Buster Posey tapped a single down the first base line.

They are not outhitting their mistakes. Although they played just their second officially error-free game on the trip, they made a rally-killing mistake on the basepaths in the eighth inning. The Yankees threw out Mac Williamson trying to advance from first to third on a ground out in the eighth.

With the Giants trailing by three runs.

“You’ve got to play according to the scoreboard,” Bochy said. “Mac, he plays all out. You love his energy and enthusiasm. But we can’t get thrown out there. I don’t want him to back off. You’d much rather have that happen than being cautious and afraid to make a mistake. So I’ll deal with that.”

Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi threw his power stuff past the Giants’ flagging bats and they couldn’t come back against the Yankees on a day when their top relievers, including Chapman, had the day off.

The Giants rotation just isn’t pitching stern enough to win 2-1 games.

Jeff Samardzija allowed two early home runs – a cheapie and a full-price item – and dominated the middle innings with a 97 mph fastball before either fatigue or a lack of focus led to a series of mistakes in the sixth.

Samardzija allowed just five home runs over his first 11 starts. As the warm summer air has begun to rise, though, so has the ball off the bat. The right-hander has allowed 14 homers over his last nine starts, and four in his two outings on this road trip.

Carlos Beltran’s home run in the first inning was a porch shot that barely cleared the fence and sounded like it might have broken his bat. Mark Teixeira got all of his blast in the second inning, though.

The three-run sixth was the knee to the neck, and it began with one of Samardzija’s most avoidable, regrettable and all too frequent issues. He walked No.9 hitter Aaron Hicks, who advanced to third on Brett Gardner’s single. Hicks scored on a double-play grounder.

With the bases clear again, Samardzija could not snip off the rest of the inning. The right-hander said the Yankees made an adjustment on his slider while they collected four consecutive hits, capped by the ground-rule double from Didi Gregorius that knocked Samardzija from the game.

“He was pitching as well as I’ve seen him,” Bochy said. “The it just got away from him. I don’t know if he lost a little focus or dropped his guard. It was hot out there. I think that (inning) was the key to the game. It’s all about keeping your focus from pitch to pitch for as long as you’re out there.”

Despite a roaring start, the Giants are just 11-9 with Samardzija on the mound and he has a 6.32 ERA over his last 10 outings.

“I’m looking forward to getting on a normal schedule again,” said Samardzija, echoing Bochy’s opinion that the second travel day in the midst of this trip might have done the Giants a disservice. “We’re routine oriented.”

The Giants had better get comfortable quick. After seven games at home, including four with the first-place Nationals, it’s back to the muggy East Coast for a nine-game trip to Philadelphia, Washington and Miami.

As anyone who lived on the Atlantic seaboard knows, thunderclouds can form without warning here.

Belt tried so hard to avoid the kind of funk he’s in now. At least he has experience trying to break through to the surface again.

“It’s not mechanical, and that’s what I’ve got to get out of my head most of all,” he said. “Just get back to seeing the ball. … You run through a list, and you keep running through it till you find something.”

Pence went 1 for 3 with an RBI and a double-play grounder while playing seven innings in right field for Triple-A Sacramento. Pence is scheduled to take Monday off before resuming his rehab assignment on Tuesday.

For what it’s worth, Bochy said Sunday that Panik has “turned a corner” while taking batting practice and doing baseball activities with Sacramento, and could resume his rehab assignment soon. The Giants haven’t been clear about what caused Panik, who is on the concussion DL, to take a break since playing his last rehab game Wednesday. But they said he continues to pass concussion tests despite “not feeling great,” in Bochy’s parlance.

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