The late innings have become a minefield for the San Francisco Giants. On Monday, there was another explosion.

In a crucial, borderline must-win game against the archrival Los Angeles Dodgers at Chavez Ravine, the Giants carried a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning.

Ace Madison Bumgarner did his thing, twirling seven innings of no-run, one-hit, 10-strikeout ball and getting into an inevitable benches-clearing staring contest with Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig.

The Giants, meanwhile, plated a single run against Clayton Kershaw when third baseman Eduardo Nunez tapped an infield single, stole second, advanced to third on a throwing error and scored on a wild pitch.

It had the makings of a momentum-shifting win for the Giants, who came into the game trailing Los Angeles by five games in the National League West and locked in a tight battle with the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets for a wild-card slot.

Instead, an eerily familiar monster reared its ugly head. The Giants bullpen coughed up the game.

Lefty Will Smith and right-hander Derek Law combined for a scoreless eighth. But Law gave up a single to Andrew Toles to start the ninth, and southpaw specialist Javier Lopez surrendered a base hit to Corey Seager to put runners at the corners.

At that point, Giants skipper Bruce Bochy summoned Hunter Strickland, whose fastball can touch triple digits. Strickland got two strikes on Justin Turner, but he ultimately allowed a game-tying single.

By the time Adrian Gonzalez knocked in the walk-off run with a two-bagger, it all seemed a foregone conclusion.

This San Francisco pen has been a gaping liability, no two ways about it. And the club is running out of time to stop the bleeding, even year or no.

The Giants have now blown 28 saves on the season—eight in September alone—putting them in the mix with the Miami Marlins and Chicago White Sox for the MLB lead.

Former closer Santiago Casilla owns nine of those blown saves and has lost his gig to a tepid closer-by-committee approach.

So far, the committee is mired in bureaucracy.

There are pieces, including veterans such as Lopez and right-hander Sergio Romo, who have played a role in all three of the club’s recent championship runs. Strickland, with his radar-gun-singeing fastball, has closer potential. Really, the bullpen hasn’t been entirely dreadful, as it ranks exactly in the middle of the NL pack with a 3.65 ERA.

But as Monday’s loss demonstrated, the Giants don’t have the secret formula to lock down close games. They are vulnerable in the final frames, when so many pennant-race and postseason games are decided.

“It’s been the most trying season for me getting the bullpen in order,” Bochy admitted, per Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Now, he’s running out of time. Yes, the Giants (79-71) are tied with the Cardinals for the second wild-card position entering play Tuesday. But five of their remaining 12 games are against those same first-pace Dodgers, while the Cards and Mets have softer schedules.

Even if San Francisco manages to back into the postseason, its bullpen woes make the team vulnerable.

The rotation has Bumgarner, backed by co-ace Johnny Cueto, trade acquisition Matt Moore and Jeff Samardzija. The lineup has October-tested bats such as Buster Posey and Hunter Pence.

Unless the relief corps congeals quickly, however, it might not matter.

The words “dumpster fire” come to mind. Just ask Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post:

As mentioned, we’re in a year divisible by two. In 2014, the Giants won the National League Championship Series on a home run by former first base prospect-turned-emergency-outfielder Travis Ishikawa. So it’s tempting to predict some sort of out-of-nowhere turnaround.

Heck, the Giants signed 41-year-old former prospect Joe Nathan, whom they traded to the Minnesota Twins in 2003. He could capably fill the Ishikawa role.

Things don’t have to work that way, though. There isn’t any even-year magic; not really. Just ask the Tooth Fairy.

The Giants have an unsettled bullpen, to put it kindly. They have a crummy bullpen, to put it harshly. And they have two weeks to figure it out.

They’re twisting through a minefield. They could make it. But bet on more explosions.


All statistics current as of Monday and courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

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