Thursday, May 26, 2016

Giants Way Up, Dubs Way Down

Jake Peavy didn't get the win on Wednesday afternoon but he earned it.  He gave up one run in 6 2/3 and left leading 2-1.  The Giants added another before Osich gave up an unlikely homer for the tie.  So it took a solid smash to center by Brandon Crawford to finally win it in the 10th, another walk-off, 4-3, finishing a sweep of the Padres.  The Giants are now 9-0 against them this year.

Once again the Giants did this short-handed, but with a great defensive contribution from Kelby Tomlinson playing his second game in left, who threw out a runner at home (he also drove in the first run), and a nice throw from Jarrett Parker, starting in right (Parker is going to see a lot of big league breaking pitches until he shows he can hit them.)  The lineup may be even funkier at the beginning of the upcoming ten game road trip, as Brandon Belt has a mild ankle sprain and might be out for a game or two.

And a game earlier it was yet another 1-0 pitcher's gem--this time by Jeff Samardzija against James Shields--until the Giants erupted late and won 8-2, with a very efficient offensive attack.  Again it was Crawford leading the way.

So the Giants left for Colorado having quietly tied the Cubs for the most wins in the league at 30.  They've won an amazing 13 out of 14 games, and are sitting in first place by five games.

Not such great news for the Golden State Warriors, who lost the fourth game of the Western Conference Finals, once again by a lot, in Oklahoma.  It was the first time this year they lost two games in a row. They're down 3 games to one, and can't lose another.

It's not even improbable for the Dubs to win the next three, but this latest loss can't be entirely blamed on Steph Curry's slump.  Their real problem is that the Thunder now know how to beat them, and so far the Warriors haven't had an answer.  It's too reminiscent of last year's championship finals, when the Dubs figured out how to beat Cleveland in the third game, and never lost again.

 As I mentioned before, the Thunder suddenly became a killer team in the San Antonio series, better than all season. The Warriors are now going to have to prove they are the better team. So whether this is a coaching problem, personnel match-up problem, physical or psychic energy, or all of these, there's no more time for the Warriors to get it right.  Tonight's the night.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Giants Up, Dubs Down

The San Francisco Giants lost the battle of The Two Jakes as Arrieta was his usual invincible self this year and Peavy gave up another big inning against the Cubs.  But the Giants fared much better against the Cubs' second starter, and with their fifth starter, Matt Cain.  Jon Lester had an off game--giving up more runs than in any away game this year, and became the first Cubs pitcher this season to not make it through the fifth inning.

Meanwhile Matt Cain pitched an excellent game against this dangerous lineup, for his first victory this year.  His first hit this year--actually for several years--also was big, as his double drove in two runs.

Then the rotation rotated around to Madison Bumgarner, who pitched a shutout, and the Giants won their home series against the Cubs, 2-1.  Despite not scoring a lot of runs, and even with a jiggered lineup for Cain's game (hamstring strains to Pence and Pagan put Kelby Tomlinson in left field for the first time as a pro) the Giants have won 10 out of their last 11 games.  They've increased their division lead to 4.5 games over both the Dodgers and Rockies, both of them just under .500.

The Cubs still appear to be the most dangerous team in the league over a longer series.  Last year I couldn't figure out how they were winning.  This year it's easier: they have dangerous hitters for power and percentage, an excellent defense, excellent to good starting pitching, and a pretty good bullpen.  They're young and athletic.

For the Giants over the longer haul, the scoring is going to have to pick up.  In this streak they've been saved by one homer each game (except Sunday, when MadBum not only pitched a shutout, he drove in the only run.)  The Giants are learning they can rest and move around starting position players with little or no drop-off.  But their bullpen is still an adventure.  The return of Romo should help, but the jury is out on the rookies, and on Strickland as a potential closer.  Bochy said he's sticking with Peavy--he said the same about Cain, and that's paying off.

In Pittsburgh, beloved former Giants pitcher and current Pirates pitcher Ryan Vogelsong was hit by a pitch and seriously injured.  He was batting when a fastball hit him in the eye area, apparently impacting the orbital bone.

The NBA Western Conference Finals finds the Warriors down 2 games to 1.  So winning the fourth game in Oklahoma looks pretty essential.  The first game was close, the next two were blowouts, one for each team.  That's pretty normal for playoffs.  The historically likely scenario is for the remaining games to be close, and the series to go seven.  The Thunder's advantage is that they don't have to win two games in a row, though that would mean winning two on the road.  The Dubs advantage is home court for a 7th game, but they have to win one away to make that work.

P.S. Good news Monday night for the Western winner: the East Finals will go at least six, meaning that LeBron--who needs to be rested--won't get that extra rest. (Assuming that the Cavs eventually win it, that is.) And yeah, the Giants win 1-0.  No--again.  This time 1-0 behind Cueto's 2 hitter against the Padres at home.  So make it 11 out of the last 12.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ways to Win

It's been a very good week for the San Francisco Giants.  They swept their seven game road trip, for the first time since 1913, ending it with an 8 game winning streak overall.  Meanwhile the Dodgers were losing, and the Giants go home in first place, 3.5 games ahead.

But the best news for the Giants continued to be starting pitching.  After Peavy and Cain had their best outings, the Big Three at the top of the rotation came within an inning of three complete game victories in a row over the Padres in San Diego.  Bumgarner and Cueto got them, and Samardzija got his victory with 8 strong innings pitched.  And again, the Giants scored just enough runs to win, usually on the back of a single home run: Crawford on Tuesday, Pence on Wednesday, Crawford again on Thursday.

Things may be a little different at home, though.  They host the extremely hot Cubs for three, and match up the end of their rotation with the top of Chicago's.  But Jake Peavy against one of the 2 or 3 best, if not the best pitchers this year--Jake Arieta--should provide some extra motivation for the Giants.

As suggested here last time, the Golden State Warriors went into the Western Conference Finals a little beat up, especially an ineffective Andrew Bogut, and lost a close one to the Oklahoma Thunder in the first game.  The Dubs righted the ship on Wednesday, however, with one of their patented third quarter blowouts that the bench maintained in the fourth.  Steph Curry found a new way to amaze by scoring 15 third quarter points in just over two minutes.

I don't know if it was by design, but that third quarter blitz--the great defense, the unstoppable Curry (who had an 8 point flurry late in the first half, but was relatively quiet the rest of the game)--not only added to their lead but took away the kind of run that Durant and Westbrook had in the first game's third quarter.

Bogut still looked hurt but Festus Ezeli had a very good game, and looks like a good match-up against the Thunder.  Best of all, the Warriors found ways to execute their ball movement offense despite the long-limbed defense of the Thunder.  They also found their own defense and rebounding, and the second unit played more and better--all good signs.  The series could still go 7 but the Warriors in 6 wouldn't surprise me.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Baseball Weekend, NBA Week Ahead

The San Francisco Giants went to Arizona for four games, scored a total of 14 runs including three games of four and under--- and swept the series.  That made five wins in a row, and put them in first place.

 They scattered a home run in each game (two by Panik, one by Pence and one by Trevor Brown) but the big story was starting pitching--not only excellent performances by Cueto and Samardzija but very good innings by Jake Peavy and Matt Cain, each of whom gave up only one run, though neither got a win.  They are beginning to justify Bochy's faith in them through the rough early season.

The Giants still weren't hitting much, and even less with runners on base.  Their defense improved, and despite giving up leads, the relief pitchers ultimately got wins and saves.  But the nature of these games--low-scoring, not many hits---in Arizona's hitter-friendly park was pretty strange.

Meanwhile the Pirates salvaged one game of their 3 game series with the Cubs, the hottest team in baseball.  They spoiled a no-hitter by Lester and won 2-1 behind Cole.

So the Western Conference NBA finals begin Monday, with a different matchup than expected: it's Golden State against the Oklahoma Thunder (and so San Antonio's stellar regular season, largely unnoticed anyway, goes into the forgotten bin.)  In some ways it's tougher for the Dubs, with two monsters to contend with, Westbrook and Durant, both playing at a high level in the playoffs.  The Warriors may also lack a key player, Andrew Bogut, at least for the first game.  With Draymond Green a bit banged up and Steph Curry not 100%, the start could be rocky.  This series could easily go six or seven.   But the Warriors have the upper hand.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Steph V P!

It looked bad.  With Steph Curry peddling a stationary bike on the sideline, the Portland Trailblazers ran out to a huge lead in the opening minutes.  Curry came off the bench and added some points, but the threes weren't falling and the Warriors were down 10 or more.  To make matters worse, Shaun Livingston--who started in Steph's spot--protested an uncalled foul, got a hairtrigger two technicals and was out of the game (his first ejection ever.)  Now there was no prime Steph substitute to spell him if, after two weeks of inaction, he got tired.

Instead Steph got stronger.  With Draymond Green leading a ferocious defense, the Dubs came back, and Steph dropped his first 3 late in the fourth--which became the first of many. The teams traded leads and ended tied.

Curry probably had played more than the coaches had planned for in regulation.  But he'd found his rhythm and took over overtime.  He scored 17 points in OT--the most points any player had ever scored in an overtime period, playoffs or regular season, in NBA history.  

The Dubs go home with a 3-1 series lead...and Curry's second MVP award ceremony in a row.  And it was revealed Tuesday--Curry is the first player in NBA history to be voted MVP unanimously.

Across the Bay the SF Giants managed only one run against Toronto, and spoiled a pretty good Jake Peavy start, to lose 3-1.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Shaky

Lots of MLB teams that ultimately make it to the playoffs and beyond have bad Aprils.  But while the Chicago Cubs are looking like the Golden State Warriors of baseball, the SF Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates aren't looking like playoff teams...yet.

I haven't followed the Pirates closely but their record is just 3 games above .500.  The Cubs are in first place by 7.5 games with the Pirates in second in the NL Central.  The only consolation is that the Cardinals are doing slightly worse, at .500 and in third place.  The Pirates were in good form Sunday, beating the Cards with their old formula of pitching and power, Andrew McCutchen is a notoriously slow starter and they've got key players returning from injuries, so they are still well positioned.

The Giants aren't in bad position either, in their familiar second spot just percentage points behind the Dodgers in the NL West.  But that's mostly because LA has started poorly, and the West is probably the weakest conference in the NL. The Giants too are barely above .500 and it's not because of overpowering competition.  They just aren't playing all that well.

The latest series is an example.  At home against Colorado, with the Rockies' main weapon of home park power hitters somewhat neutralized, they barely managed a split.  In the offseason they concentrated on bolstering their starting rotation, and their two big acquisitions are acquitting themselves well.  But after Bumgarner, Cueto and the Shark, the rotation falls apart.  And the relief corps remains unstable.

So the Giants tied a club record by giving up 12 runs in one inning, and about a weak later actually broke it by giving up 13 runs in one inning.  In their last two games with Colorado they scored a total of 2 runs, and it took until the 13th inning to get that second run.  They ran into some good starting pitching but they also did zilch against a statistically weak Rockies' bullpen.  In Sunday's game they also hobbled themselves by very questionable base-running.  Joe Panik saved the game with a lifetime-highlight play on Saturday, but the defense has been uncharacteristically uneven.  The team also paid for perhaps trying to be a little too smart in overshifts.

It's a long season but so far it's been annoying.  Losses are one thing, but even with flashes of brilliance, the team seems ragged, out of synch.  And, hey, it's May.

Meanwhile the Golden State Warriors won their first two second-round playoff games over Portland without Steph Curry.  Klay Thompson outscored the entire Blazers team in one quarter, very Stephlike.  But in the third game (in Portland) they lost the last three quarters and the game.

 Now fans wait with abated breath to see if Steph returns tonight in Portland, which seems likely, even though he's still listed as doubtful.  They could win the series just by winning at home, and there's a little less pressure now that the Spurs-Thunder series is tied 2-2.  But getting that third win tonight would make things so much easier.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Curry or Not, Here We Come (Continued)

The Warriors led from beginning to end and beat up on the Houston Rockets 114-81 with Steph Curry on the bench, to take the first round of the playoffs 4 games to sort of 1.

Now the Dubs wait for Portland, the likely winner of their series against the LA Clippers.  The Blazers won by ten on Wednesday and lead 3-2, despite the Clips being at home.  Losing their two stars was too much.

It's one thing to close out a first round series without the league's MVP.  To do it by more than 30 points--well, you have to like their chances in the next series, especially since they'll be starting at home in the games most likely to be without Steph.

There were lots of heroes in the Giants 13-9 victory over the Padres to sweep the series and salvage a .500 homestand.  Brandon Belt was a puff of wind short of being the first Giant to hit for the cycle at AT&T Park.  But my player is Gregor Blanco, who came off the bench to hit and especially make a play in the outfield--he actually launched himself horizontally to make the catch.  He's been the guy off the bench for years who saved the Giants time and time again, in the World Series and throughout the seasons.