LOS ANGELES (AP) — After staggering through 26 games against playoff-contending teams with a 10-16 record, the San Francisco Giants face a slew of lesser competition.
That might just be what they need if they hope to catch the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers in the standings.
The second-place Giants lost 2-1 Wednesday night, when Clayton Kershaw struck out 15 to set a season career high with 251 and the Dodgers completed a sweep that boosted their division lead to 6 1/2 games.
San Francisco has a chance to gain ground playing also-rans Colorado, Arizona, San Diego, Cincinnati and Oakland before the Dodgers visit them Sept. 28-Oct. 1.
“If we can gain a game a week going into that last series against them, we’ll be in pretty good shape,” first baseman Brandon Belt said. “We’ve been known to go on some pretty good winning streaks and we’ve got a pretty good team here, so we’re definitely not out of it.”
The Giants’ fifth straight loss left them facing their largest division deficit of the season. All three defeats to the Dodgers were by one run and San Francisco has scored just 11 runs during its skid.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy was ejected for the second straight game. He was in the dugout after Belt struck out leading off the eighth on what Bochy said was a checked swing. He appealed to third base umpire Mike Winters, who tossed Bochy before the manager came onto the field to argue in person.
“It’s just frustrating,” Bochy said. “That’s all I’ll say.”
Kershaw (12-6) beat the Giants for the first time in four starts this season. He allowed one run and six hits and walked one on a career high-tying 132 pitches for his third complete game of the season.
The left-hander leads the National League in strikeouts, surpassing his career-best of 248 set in 2011. His 15 strikeouts tied a career high after having 14 against the Cubs in his previous start.
Kershaw became the first NL pitcher to strike out 250 batters in a season since Tim Lincecum of the Giants fanned 261 in 2009.
Mike Leake (9-7) gave up two runs and five hits in seven innings, struck out three and walked none. He is winless in five starts since the Giants acquired him from Cincinnati on July 30.
“Mikey did a really good job of giving us a chance,” Bochy said.
Kershaw created suspense for a crowd of 41,648 that was on its feet in the ninth. With two outs, the Giants put the tying and go-ahead runs on base after Matt Duffy and Buster Posey had consecutive singles. Kershaw struck out Marlon Byrd to end the game, pumping his arms.
Utley’s homer put the Dodgers ahead for good, 2-1.
The Giants tied the game 1-all in the sixth on a RBI single by Angel Pagan.
Los Angeles led 1-0 on Carl Crawford’s RBI double in the second.
Giants: RHP Matt Cain (elbow nerve irritation) will pitch a couple of rehab innings Friday at Triple A-Sacramento. ... INF Joe Panik (low back inflammation) will start his rehab stint Thursday at Sacramento. He’s likely to play three games there and possibly re-join the team for its series at Arizona next week.
Dodgers: INF Howie Kendrick, on the DL since Aug. 20 with a strained left hamstring, is still not ready to return.
The Giants have 29 games left in the regular season and the only team they face during that stretch with a winning record is the Dodgers, who visit San Francisco Sept. 28-Oct. 1. The Giants are 33-38 against opponents above .500 and 36-26 against those below .500.
Giants: RHP Ryan Vogelsong (9-10, 4.19 ERA) starts the opener of a four-game series at Colorado, where he is 3-3 with a 7.14 ERA in six career starts. He’s made it through the sixth inning just once in his last seven starts.
Dodgers: RHP Mat Latos (4-9, 4.76) starts the opener of a four-game series at San Diego. He is 0-2 in four career starts against the Padres with a 2.08 ERA while holding batters to a .189 average.