KANSAS CITY -- After a 5-0 loss Saturday to the Kansas City Royals, catcher Buster Posey said it's too early to be watching the out-of-town scoreboard. But that doesn't mean Posey and the rest of the Giants aren't aware that they remain in a decent spot despite two months of lackluster baseball.
The Giants haven't taken a series from a winning team since the first day of June, but they remain tied for the second wild-card spot and trail the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers by only 3½ games in the National League West.
"For me, personally, this year to last year is night and day," Posey said. "We still feel we're in a position to make a run."
Being in a good position this time of year is nice. But it's not enough. The rest of the National League contenders aren't going to sit on their hands for much longer, so at some point the Giants will need to start stringing series victories together. They haven't done that on the two tough stops of this three-city trip. They dropped two of three in Milwaukee and have been outscored 9-2 in two games in Kansas City. James Shields needed just 109 pitches Saturday to throw his first shutout since Sept. 9, 2012.
"We are still right there, but we've got to play better," said Tim Hudson, who gave up three earned runs in six-plus innings. "We've got to pitch better. We've got to make some things happen to start winning some ballgames."
Hudson kept the Giants even before giving up a solo homer to Alex Gordon in the fifth inning. The Royals, also in a fight to make the postseason, had six hits in the seventh inning while scoring two more runs off Hudson and putting two others on Jeremy Affeldt's line.
That was plenty for Shields, long one of the toughest pitchers in the American League. He gave up just four hits, only one of which went for extra bases.
"Tonight was a tough draw for us," Hudson said. "Shields was really good. He didn't need too many runs to win tonight."
The Giants didn't get any, but didn't lose ground. The wild-card-leading Pittsburgh Pirates lost to the San Diego Padres. The St. Louis Cardinals are percentage points ahead of the Giants for the second wild card spot, and they got blown out by the Orioles. The Dodgers fell 4-1 in Milwaukee. That was one bright spot on a night without any others. The Giants aren't playing well, but neither are the league's other contenders. The National League remains wide open.
"We know from the past, if you can get in the playoffs you never know what can happen," Posey said.
"There's some concern there," he said.
Sanchez has taken so many foul tips off his body in recent years that he was given the nickname "El Iman," which translates to "The Magnet." It was a quirk at first, but the situation has gotten more serious over time. The 24-year-old was tested for a concussion multiple times early in the season and the staff asked him to switch to a different mask. Sanchez wears the newer hockey-style mask, and said he doesn't feel comfortable with other versions. The Giants might take the decision out of his hands.
"Sometimes you've got to do what's right," said Bochy, a proponent of the old masks that come off the face when hit. "It may take a while to get used to it, but you can't keep using the same mask if it's not giving you some protection.
"For some reason, he takes more (shots off the mask) than anybody else. It's frustrating for all of us, but you've got to do something."
"(Crawford) could use a break," Bochy said. "I think sometimes in this game you start pressing, and it's best to back off."
Giants (Tim Lincecum 9-7) at Kansas City (Danny Duffy 6-10), 11:10 a.m. CSNBA
OUT OF WHACK
The Giants are a different club with center fielder Angel Pagan and/or first baseman Brandon Belt out of the lineup. Because of injury, the two haven't played together since May 9. Here's a look at the effect those players have on the Giants' success:
Giants record 62-55 (.530)
With Belt 32-19 (.627)
With Pagan 37-27 (.578)
With both 21-12 (.636)
With either/both 48-34 (.585)
With neither 14-21 (.400)