Bruce Bochy AP

Brand new race in NL West, as Giants fall into first-place tie with Dodgers

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SAN FRANCISCO -– It became a meme on Twitter and beyond last summer, when the defending World Series champions took one gut shot after another and everyone in the Giants clubhouse wondered whether the most recent loss would represent #Rockbottom.

The Giants are not defending champions now. Halfway through this season, however, they are still a first place club. They’ve led the NL West at the conclusion of 79 of 90 days. They still have the second best winning percentage in the National League; the fifth best in the majors.

And yet …

“We’ve definitely seen our worst days,” Tim Hudson said. “Hopefully they’re behind us.”

Sound like a year-old echo to you?

No, the Giants did not get no-hit by the Reds’ Homer Bailey for the second consecutive year, but they came close. Three days short of the one-year anniversary of that frustrating afternoon in Cincinnati, it took Buster Posey’s two-out single in the seventh inning to keep it from happening again in a 4-0 loss.

[RELATED: Instant Replay: Giants swept by Reds, free fall continues]

That was their only achievement as the Giants were swept in a four-game series for the first time in 15 years at AT&T Park. They have lost four in a row, six of their last seven and 15 of their last 19. Over that rotten run, they’ve lost nine of their last 10 in front of their home fans at Third and King — and the lone exception was Tim Lincecum’s no-hitter against the Padres.

With 82 down and 80 to go (or a little less, actually, since they have an in-progress game to resume at Coors Field in September), the Giants are still a first place team.

With one caveat. They don’t hold sole possession of it now.

The Dodgers won to draw even atop the division. The Giants led them by 9 ½ games just 21 days ago, before drifting into the breakdown lane. And Manager Bruce Bochy spoke as if airbag had just deployed in his face.

“It’s really unbelievable,” Bochy said. “The way it’s gone these last two weeks, you’d think we’re 15 games back. But we’re in a fight now. It wasn’t going to be easy, and we knew that. Things have changed and we’ve got to come out of this, find a way to keep the line moving. We had that magic going early. We have to remember how good we were and that can happen again.

“We’ve just got to keep on believing.”

The Giants aren’t exactly propping up strawmen when they bring up their 46-36 record and their standing atop the division. Look at this year’s defending World Series champs. The Boston Red Sox are 37-44 and chasing three teams in the AL East. They have authentic reason to buck up and feel reassured.

But if those reassurances sound like hollow platitudes, that’s a reflection of how poorly they’ve fared over these last three weeks. You don’t notice how pretty the flowers are when the quicksand is taking you.

“Obviously there’s disappointment,” said Hudson, who trailed 1-0 when he walked off the mound following the Reds’ leadoff single in the ninth. “We’ve just got to try to be mentally strong and tough. We know we’re a better team than what the results are showing now. We need to put the brakes on somebody. Maybe that will get us going.”

Said shortstop Brandon Crawford: “I think we come in here with a pretty good attitude every day. I feel we come in here ready to win. It’s just not happening right now.”

[RELATED: Sergio Romo out as Giants’ closer]

They are making small mistakes and they aren’t coming close to outhitting them. Gregor Blanco, the only baserunner until Posey’s hit in the seventh, made a big one when he tried to time Bailey’s first move and ended up getting thrown out at third base.

With Posey at the plate.

(There seems to be growing fan discontent over Blanco, who has flatlined once again when asked to play every day in Angel Pagan’s absence. But any wrath shouldn’t be directed at Blanco, or even at Bochy for playing him. The Giants’ lack of depth in this area is an organizational failure. Former first-rounder Gary Brown, a leadoff hitting center fielder, was supposed to be ready by now. He isn’t. That is an issue that goes beyond Blanco and Bochy.)

What was Blanco thinking when he tried to run on Bailey?

“He was going at the same time on every pitch,” Blanco said. “He held it longer that time.”

How can the Giants hope to hold on to first place, given their current trajectory?

Well, a second wind from the rotation has to help. The five starters posted a 1.99 ERA over their last turn, but only Lincecum received a win and needed a no-hitter to do it.

Another turn like that could be what the Giants need. They hope to get Angel Pagan back on Tuesday and Brandon Belt as early as Friday. That can only help, too.

“The offense will come around and we’ll get a full deck here pretty soon,” Bochy said. “That’s going to help. Meanwhile, you’ve got to fight.

“They’re taking it hard. It’s tough to go through things like this. They’re not happy with it and I know they’re fighting, but they’re pressing a little bit. And when you press against a good pitcher, you can compound the problem.

“We ran into as hot a team as there is in baseball, and we’re as cold as any team with the bats. You deal with these things and you handle it. You put it behind us and you’re thankful you’re still in a good position, and thankful for the start we had.”

[RELATED: Sergio Romo reacts to being pulled from Giants closer role

The Reds blew through here with a rotation that posted a 3-0 record and 1.11 ERA in four games. Amid a dangerous lineup, it was No.8 hitter Zack Cozart who collected three game-winning RBI and also tied Dave Concepcion on Saturday for the most assists in a game (11) by a Cincinnati shortstop in more than 30 years.

The Cardinals are next. They can pitch a fair bit, too. They’ll face potential NL All-Star starter Adam Wainwright on Wednesday, and they’ve beaten him once already this season. That was back on May 30, when they were drinking from a bottomless stein.

Now … #Rockbottom. They can only hope, anyway. They have half a season to find out.

“You know what? Obviously I’d like to still be eight or nine games up,” Hudson said. “But that’s not the case. It’s about this moment for us from here on out. The Dodgers got on a roll and won some ballgames and we haven’t. It’ll be a race to the end.”

Matt Holliday wants to return in 2017

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 30: Manager Mike Matheny #22 of the St. Louis Cardinals congratulates Matt Holliday #7 of the St. Louis Cardinals after he hit a solo home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the seventh inning at Busch Stadium on September 30, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Matt Holliday might not have a landing spot with the Cardinals in 2017, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to hang his cleats up just yet. Prior to the Cardinals’ afternoon set against the Pirates on Saturday, the 36-year-old expressed his desire to further his career elsewhere, even if staying in St. Louis is not a possibility.

It’s been a down year for the outfielder, who batted .242/.318/.450 through 107 games before landing on the disabled list with a fractured right thumb. His 0.6 fWAR is the lowest mark of his career to date. Notwithstanding two injury-riddled seasons (he was sidelined through most of 2015 with a right quadriceps strain), he’s performed admirably for the Cardinals over the past eight years, putting up a .292/.379/.494 batting line, 156 home runs, and 26.8 fWAR with the club. With a return to full health, he might not be on the market for long.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Saturday’s action

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 24:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws a pitch in the first inning against the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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It’s the last Clayton Kershaw start of the regular season. Prepare yourselves accordingly.

The Dodgers already have the NL West in the bag, but they’re still fighting for home-field advantage against the Nationals. Should the two teams end up with the same regular season record by Monday morning, the edge will go to the Dodgers, who have a better head-to-head record this year. Kershaw has already been announced as the starter for Game 1 of the NLDS, while the Nationals have kept their lineup close to the vest for the time being.

Facing the Dodgers is Giants’ left-hander Ty Blach, who is poised to make the second major league start of his career this afternoon. The Giants are in a precarious position heading into the last two games of the year and have the potential to force a three-way tie among NL wild card contenders. A thorough breakdown of the wild card and home-field advantage possibilities has been outlined here.

You can find more from Saturday’s action below.

New York Mets (Bartolo Colon) @ Philadelphia Phillies (Phil Klein), 1:05 PM EDT

Pittsburgh Pirates (Chad Kuhl) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Michael Wacha), 1:05 PM EDT

Baltimore Orioles (Wade Miley) @ New York Yankees (Luis Severino), 4:05 PM EDT

Los Angeles Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw) @ San Francisco Giants (Ty Blach), 4:05 PM EDT

Miami Marlins (Wei-Yin Chen) @ Washington Nationals (Tanner Roark), 4:05 PM EDT

Chicago Cubs (Jon Lester) @ Cincinnati Reds (Tim Adleman), 4:10 PM EDT

Cleveland Indians (Trevor Bauer) @ Kansas City Royals (Edinson Volquez), 4:15 PM EDT

Detroit Tigers (Jordan Zimmerman) @ Atlanta Braves (Aaron Blair), 7:10 PM EDT

Minnesota Twins (Hector Santiago) @ Chicago White Sox (James Shields), 7:10 PM EDT

Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ) @ Boston Red Sox (Eduardo Rodriguez), 7:10 PM EDT

Tampa Bay Rays (Jake Odorizzi) @ Texas Rangers (Colby Lewis), 8:05 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Wily Peralta) @ Colorado Rockies (Jeff Hoffman), 8:10 PM EDT

San Diego Padres (Clayton Richard) @ Arizona Diamondbacks (Archie Bradley), 8:10 PM EDT

Houston Astros (Collin McHugh) @ Los Angeles Angels (Tyler Skaggs), 9:05 PM EDT

Oakland Athletics (Jharel Cotton) @ Seattle Mariners (Hisashi Iwakuma), 9:10 PM EDT