SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco Giants' 2013 season exemplifies the volatile nature of success in baseball.
Ten months removed from sweeping the Detroit Tigers for their second World Series title in three years, the Giants entered their series against the Pirates Thursday night at AT&T Park with a 56-70 record and in last place in the National League West Division.
"I think it's just part of the cycle that the game can go right now," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "As I talk with [Giants manager] Bruce [Bochy], even when he felt this was going to be a challenge, they could fight their way through and maybe hold on for a while until they made a push, but that hasn't really come into play."
The Giants' pitching, exceptional a year ago, dropped off this season. Their 3.68 team ERA ranked fifth in the National League in their championship season. This year, they rank 12th with a 4.15 ERA. Starters Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong regressed this season.
Pirates vs. San Francisco Giants, 10:15 p.m., AT&T Park, San Francisco.
- TV, Radio:
Root Sports, KDKA-FM (93.7).
- Probable starters:
RHP Charlie Morton (4-3, 3.67 ERA) vs. LHP Madison Bumgarner (11-7, 2.82).
- Key Matchup:
Morton vs. run support: The Pirates have lost his previous two starts, in which he allowed two runs in each.
- Hidden stat:
Morton has not allowed a home run in his past five starts.
Angel Pagan has missed a good portion of the season because of a serious hamstring injury that required surgery, and Pablo Sandoval has spent time on the disabled list as well.
"There's challenges that every season brings, and this season has brought them some different challenges," Hurdle said. "To set the bar that high, it's hard to keep a bar that high with the parity that can be in the league."
It's not just happening to the Giants. The Washington Nationals, whose 98 wins led the major leagues in 2012, entered Thursday two games under .500. The Milwaukee Brewers, who were 83-79, were 55-72 entering Thursday.
"We don't give enough credit to the league," Hurdle said. "You see a team's record and because that's their record, they're not any good. When you got to go out and play every night, depending on the pitcher they're sending out that night, the league's good, and it catches up to you."
The fluctuations work in both directions. The Boston Red Sox, who beat the Giants, 12-1, Wednesday, are 75-54 after finishing 69-93 and in last place in the AL East in 2012. The Los Angeles Dodgers finished a respectable 86-76 in 2012. This year, a 27-5 run took a team that was .500 at the All-Star break into an 81/2-game lead in their division.
"You look at the Dodgers, the punches they threw over the winter to accumulate talent and to reconstruct the starting pitching staff and on-field playing personnel," Hurdle said.
"Some of your pieces that are internal, they grow and get more experience.
"There are a lot of different ways to get it done."
Grilli's progress continues
Jason Grilli (flexor strain) threw a 25-pitch side session Thursday, including fastballs and sliders, without pain. He said he hopes to be game-ready by the end of August.
"I'm not trying to push the envelope but I know how it feels, and you go on feel, not on necessarily a certain protocol," Grilli said.
Marte still out
Left fielder Starling Marte did not start his fourth consecutive game Thursday night because of an injury to his right hand, but Hurdle said a trip to the disabled list is unlikely.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published August 23, 2013 4:00 AM