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The Giants aren’t winning 1-run games, which is a bigger concern than Tommy Pham

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ATLANTA — Joc Pederson has spent countless hours pacing the left field grass at the Giants’ waterfront ballpark, the vast majority of the time while wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform. He understands the colorful sights and sounds that await any visiting outfielder there.

“They’re probably going to say, ‘What’s-the-matter-with-so-and-so? He’s a bum!’” Pederson said. “I got that quite a bit when I was in left field for the Dodgers.”

He expressed hope that it won’t be much worse than that Friday, when the Giants begin a home series against the Cincinnati Reds and outfielder Tommy Pham is likely to be in left field. It’ll be the first time the Giants have faced Pham since he slapped Pederson across the face over a fantasy football disagreement prior to a May 27 series opener in Cincinnati. The Giants refused to take the field until the Reds removed Pham from the lineup, which they finally did after significant prodding from Major League Baseball. Then the league suspended Pham for the remainder of that series.

Pederson’s strategy all along has been de-escalation. That continues to be his message now that Pham will stand in the batter’s box against Giants pitchers and in left field within earshot of Giants fans.

“Our fans are classy and respectable,” Pederson said. “There’s a respect level that needs to be held up. … Throwing things on the field, that’s not OK. That doesn’t help the game. It doesn’t help any situation. It turns it into something worse. Just keep it respectful and fun and game-like. Sometimes fans take it too far. That slows the game down. It’s just a distraction.”

The same is true for retaliatory pitches. Pederson said he hasn’t been approached by any of his teammates about throwing at Pham nor would he condone such an action.

“I know the old school way is, ‘Oh, you’re going to hit somebody’ or throw at them,” Pederson said. “But … we’re not in a position to be putting runners on. We’re having a tough enough time winning ballgames and we’re trailing two teams in the NL West.”

That was a message Pederson didn’t have to reinforce following the Giants’ 7-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Thursday afternoon at Truist Park. This was a series and a 3-4 road trip in which any one pitch or base runner could make the difference between a win and a loss.

The Giants lost three of four to the Braves, all of their losses were decided by one run and two ended with a walk-off. The lone game the Giants lost in the previous series at Pittsburgh was a walk-off loss, too.

Thursday’s loss might have strayed from the nip-and-tuck pattern a bit — an erratic Alex Wood faced just 11 batters, retired two of them and put the Giants in a five-run hole in the second inning — but the Giants nearly ran it down. Pederson’s towering home run in the ninth allowed the Giants to bring the tying run to the plate before Evan Longoria hit a foul pop to end it.

Giants manager Gabe Kapler usually doesn’t have much to offer when asked to dispense perspective at the end of a series or a road trip. His cognition leaves no room for broad strokes or potentially arbitrary narratives. So instead of asking him, “What did you make of this trip?” let’s try tweaking the question a bit:

Close games usually tell you more about a team. The Giants just played four close games against a very good and very hot opponent. So what does this series tell you about your team?

“It felt like we’re an inch short, you know?” Kapler said. “We just weren’t able to get the big hit. They made one more pitch, made one more play, advanced one more base than we did.”

If this seems familiar by now, that’s because the Giants have played 23 games out of 67 in which the margin of victory or defeat was one run. They are 9-14 in those games and their winning percentage in them is the eighth-worst in the major leagues. That’s quite a departure from last season, when they went 31-17 in one-run games and their .646 winning percentage was the best in the major leagues.

Of course, the Giants’ overall winning percentage last season was the best in the majors, too. But you don’t win a franchise-record 107 games without also having outlier-level success in tight contests, which probably involves a generous pinch of luck along the way.

Lucky or not, they haven’t had the same success this season. And they’re playing more one-run games this year (34 percent) than last year (29 percent). If you’re among the cadre of fans who felt the Giants didn’t spend enough money on this roster, then “day late and a dollar short” contains a literal meaning.

Another more hopeful way to look at it: if the Giants are 38-31 overall yet haven’t fared well in one-run games, that’s an indication they haven’t played over their heads. They may be a bit better than their overall record might indicate.

Except oops, that’s a handy narrative. Don’t expect Kapler to latch onto it.

“I personally don’t take a lot of satisfaction in being close in games,” he said. “I like having a chance to win them, but I’m not going to walk away feeling like, ‘Oh, we were really close to winning that series.’ That doesn’t feel right to me. What I will say is whether it’s the Dodgers or the Atlanta Braves, the world champs or the team in our division that’s playing well, or the San Diego Padres, I feel like we can play good baseball with any of them.

“We’re a good baseball team that hasn’t quite come together yet. We’re a good baseball team that hasn’t been particularly healthy yet. And we have a starting rotation that is consistently keeping us in games and a bullpen that has plenty of talent to get it done.

“I feel like we’re in a fine spot. It’s not great. It’s fine.”

The Giants didn’t get one of those consistent starts from Wood, who allowed a leadoff homer to Dansby Swanson, walked two, hit a batter and didn’t retire any of the six batters he faced in the second inning. The start dented what had been an improved June for Wood. He now has a 5.47 ERA for the month while throwing two quality starts out of five. And this is after he had a 5.32 ERA in May and a 4.19 ERA in April.

Wood hasn’t matched his effectiveness from last season and beginning in May, and neither has a bullpen that led the major leagues in ERA in 2021. Whenever you’re struggling to win one-run games, you’re probably dealing with some inconsistency among your relievers.

The bullpen wasn’t the problem on Thursday. Zack Littell, Jarlín García and Sam Long gave the Giants a chance to chase down a win. But the Giants hit a double-play grounder in each of the first four innings, and their station-to-station baserunners couldn’t maximize their 14 hits. Third base coach Mark Hallberg might as well don an orange vest and put down spike strips for as many times as he’s had to flash the stop sign.

The Giants are a flawed team. They are a slow team. They don’t have many players who could’ve tagged and stolen their way into scoring position, as the Braves did to score the tying and winning runs in the ninth inning of their victory Wednesday night. But the Giants are also a team that does some things better than nearly everyone else, including the Braves. They create opportunities. They draw walks. They get base runners. Do that often enough and the law of averages becomes your friend.

To Kapler’s point, a little more health would improve the situation. Brandon Crawford was available in an emergency but his contused knee hadn’t improved much since he injured it in a home plate collision Tuesday night. Luis González, who has the second-highest OPS on the team behind Pederson, landed on the 10-day IL after an MRI exam revealed a strain in his lower back. It’s too soon to know a timetable for his return. At least LaMonte Wade Jr. appears close to activation after he hit a home run in a rehab start for Triple-A Sacramento on Wednesday.

The Giants have so many left-handed-hitting options in their outfield they couldn’t justify carving out a 40-man roster space for another of them on Thursday when Steven Duggar’s rehab assignment reached its limit. So they traded Duggar to the Texas Rangers for outfielder Willie Calhoun, a former Dodgers top prospect whom Kapler and Giants president Farhan Zaidi know well from their time in Los Angeles. Calhoun, a left-handed hitter who had been outrighted on June 10, will report to Sacramento, where he’ll face the same daunting depth chart as he attempts to hit his way onto the major-league roster.

All of this to say the Giants will have plenty going on in-house as they size up their health and roster needs for a home series against the Reds. That leaves little bandwidth for riling up a visiting player who has demonstrated that he’ll fly off the handle at the slightest provocation.

The Pederson-Pham incident made for tremendous copy. It was the talk of clubhouses around the league. The story ensnared Mike Trout, whom Pham criticized for his weak executive skills as a fantasy football commissioner, and Alex Bregman, who was revealed to be the winner of the lucrative league. All the while, Pederson played off the incident with nonchalance. He didn’t give off any airs of being an aggrieved victim. He played it perfectly, highlighting the ridiculousness of Pham’s overreaction without expressly saying it and showing receipts in the form of text messages. “It is true, I did send a GIF making fun of the Padres, and if I hurt anyone’s feelings, I apologize for that” is the leader in the clubhouse for baseball quote of the year.

But if there’s anything that Kapler likes less than handy narratives, it’s needless distractions. And that goes for the guy who got slapped, too.

“That was my first interaction with (Pham),” said Pederson, “and I don’t really anticipate any more.”

(Photo of Joc Pederson making a sliding catch: Dale Zanine / USA Today)



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