SAN FRANCISCO – Bruce Bochy remembers all too well his club's August struggles of a year ago.
Ace Tim Lincecum lost a career-worst five straight starts. The Giants lacked timely hits. On Aug. 25, they were 6½ games out of first place.
One sensational September — aided by the downward spirals of Colorado and San Diego — and San Francisco wound up winning the NL West and going on to capture an improbable World Series title.
Bochy could use a little bit of that late-season magic right about now.
The Giants dropped their third straight series at AT&T Park in a 9-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday, wrapping up a disappointing 3-7 homestand in which several of those reliable faces from 2010 downright flopped.
Yet San Francisco still sat in first place to start the day.
"We're in a much better position (this year)," Bochy said. "They're not complacent. They're frustrated. It's just not happening. Any time you get in this kind of rut, you're doing everything to get out of it. Right now, their confidence is shaken."
Andrew McCutchen hit a two-run homer, Jeff Karstens bounced back from his worst start of the season and the Pirates won their first series in three weeks on the heels of a 10-game losing streak.
Pablo Sandoval homered for the Giants, who fell a half-game behind Arizona in the NL West. San Francisco had led the division since June 25.
"We've got a lot of baseball left," outfielder Cody Ross said. "We've got to go out and play like champions. We're not doing it. We're kind of all in a rut and it seems like we can't dig ourselves out. We've got to do something."
Jonathan Sanchez (4-7), the Giants' most reliable starter down the stretch last year, walked McCutchen on four pitches and threw five straight balls to start the game. Sandoval came in from third and catcher Eli Whiteside hustled to the mound to chat with the left-hander, who was roughed up again in his second start since coming off the disabled list with biceps tendinitis. Sanchez was done after 4 1-3 innings and hasn't won since June 2 at St. Louis.
"I've got to step up and start doing my job," Sanchez said. "It's tough to get people out when you're behind in the count."
McCutchen went 1 for 1 with three walks and a hit by pitch. He stole two bases and scored four runs — most by a Pirate in a game this year. His 16th clout of the year put Pittsburgh ahead 3-1 in the third. The Pirates have homered in four of their last five games and eight of 12.
McCutchen was hit by a pitch leading off the seventh. Brandon Wood drove in a run that inning and Matt Diaz hit two run-scoring singles. Pittsburgh's Nos. 1-5 hitters went a combined 7 for 17 with six RBIs, eight runs scored, seven walks and a hit batter. Jones is batting .389 (14 for 36) with five doubles, three homers and seven RBIs this month.
With a power show on offense of late, Bucs pitchers also have allowed 18 homers over the last nine games. Sandoval connected in the bottom of the first to tie the game at 1.
The Giants have hit 19 straight solo home runs, matching the 1914 Phillies' major league mark. Their last homer to score more than one run was a two-run drive by Nate Schierholtz on July 6 against San Diego.
San Francisco lost for the 10th time in 13 games. The Giants have dropped three straight series at AT&T Park for the first time since losing six consecutive home series from May 12-June 18, 2008.
Bochy said the front office would discuss whether to stick with Sanchez. Lefty Barry Zito had been unimpressive in the fifth starter role and went back on the disabled list Aug. 1, but he could come off when San Francisco needs that pitcher again Aug. 16 in Atlanta.
"It has me a little concerned," Bochy said of the No. 5 spot. "We need that guy to help us win a ballgame, too. We haven't had a good start there in I don't know how many now."
Pirates first baseman Derrek Lee was a late scratch from the lineup with a recurring left hand injury.
NOTES: Giants RF Carlos Beltran missed his third straight game nursing a strained right hand and wrist. Schierholtz was held out with a right hip flexor. ... Zito will make another rehab outing Saturday for Triple-A Fresno then fly out to join the Giants on the road. ... San Francisco INF Miguel Tejada (lower abdominal strain) isn't quite ready to begin a rehab outing in the minors, Bochy said. Tejada will travel on the road trip. ... All-Star RHP Matt Cain goes for the Giants on Friday at Florida, trying to improve to 4-1 for his career vs. the Marlins. He lost to Florida on May 24.