Thursday, May 25, 2017

Two Finals Set

Now it's certain: The Warriors and the Cavs meet in the NBA finals, starting in a week.  There's been a lot of noise about the Warriors sweeping but I'm not listening to it.  I will not be surprised if the series goes the full seven.  I do expect the Warriors to win it.

Congratulations to Stanley Cup champs the Pittsburgh Penguins who tonight made it back to the finals.  I don't follow hockey at all but it was always electric in Pittsburgh when the Penguins were in the finals.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Here They Come

Congratulations to the Golden State Warriors, who won the Western Conference championship, going 12-0 in the playoffs, to be the first team to qualify for the  NBA championship finals.

They did it with a very active Stephen Curry and a deadly Kevin Durant on both ends, over an injury-depleted San Antonio Spurs.  But even though they might not have swept the Spurs at full strength,  they likely would have won in 6 or fewer games.

The only shock of the playoffs this week was the collapse of Cleveland in their third game, overcome by a depleted Celtics team that made up a 20 point deficit in the fourth quarter.  The disappearance of LeBron James in the quarter suggests how dependent they are on him having great games in the finals.

The Warriors may worry about the continuing shooting woes of Klay Thompson, an unusual pattern for this streak shooter who rarely has even two bad games in a row.  They will need a spry Iguodala and the canny Zaza to keep giving the Cavs a different look at the rim.  And protecting the ball better is also essential.  But the Cavs caving like that certainly diluted the intimidation factor, assuming they emerge (as they probably will, in five or six.)  It won't be till June but here come the Dubs.

And all of a sudden here come the Giants.  More home runs provide another victory, this time over the WC Cubs.  Winning on the road is a good complement to winning at home.

Meanwhile the Pittsburgh Pirates, also with a disappointing start, have shown signs of getting back on track, especially as injured stars come back.  Both teams have a ways to go, but at least their season may not be lost after all.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Big Wins on Both Sides of the Bay

The San Francisco Giants won their fifth straight behind strong pitching from their youngest starter Ty Blach and their second over the visiting LA Dodgers.

They've won with new and improvised lineups due to injuries but now some of the hurt players are nearly ready to come back.  The problem becomes damaging team chemistry during the best streak of the year, which may not be the worst problem to have but is a delicate one.

Improved hitting, especially the home run streaks that both Buster Posey and Brandon Belt are on has made the difference, but some of the starting pitching has been surprisingly good.  Johnny Cueuto you expect, but how about the youngest (Blach) and the oldest, Matt Cain, who beat the Dodgers the other night and is 3-1.  He just broke into the top three of Giants pitchers in history in terms of innings pitched over the years.  He's kept the faith, kept his confidence in these last rough years and the Giants stuck with him for what was likely his last chance.  Now with Bumgarner out for several more months, they need both the young and the old guys.

Meanwhile the Golden State Warriors blew out the Spurs by the largest margin they've ever recorded in the playoffs, 136-100, to extend their playoff streak to 10-0.

Klay Thompson did have a better game, though not a breakout one.  And indeed there seemed to be an attempt by the Spurs' Aldridge to undercut Kevin Durant on a shot, but without effect.  The Warriors did come out with a very strong first quarter, led by Steph Curry with 4 threes in the period alone.  Otherwise it was a big game up and down the lineup.

Andre Iguodala was out with a knee contusion but McCaw had a good game, scoring 18 with his increased minutes.  Zaza went out early with a heel contusion.  No word yet on whether they will be available for the third game, though it seems likely both will (assuming Zaza's x-rays are ok.)  Likewise it's not known if the Spurs main man Leonard whose absense was keenly felt in this game will be back when play resumes in San Antonio.

Pre-Games Notes

Just before game time, the Giants are on a sudden winning streak facing the Dodgers, and the Warriors prepare for the second game after coming back from 25 down to win the first game of the western conference finals over the Spurs.

The most promising aspect of the Giants' lately is better and more effective hitting.  They are scoring runs in bunches.

The Warriors look to have a much better first quarter tonight.  A conspicuous weakness in the first game was the play of Klay Thompson on both ends.  Unless there's something really wrong--which could be a real problem going forward--expect him to have a great game tonight.

What else to worry about?  Steph Curry's right wrist which gave him problems in the fourth quarter.  And retaliation by the Spurs to injure one of the Warriors stars.  When Popovich pops off about a dirty play, the rest of the team gets the message.

A plus for the Warriors--coach Kerr is more active and involved each game.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Giant Problems

It was a strong suspicion after the All-Star break last year, but now it seems inevitable: the days of the San Francisco Giants we've known this decade are numbered.  There will be big changes by next season.

Not just the patched-together and sometimes desperate lineups of this current race to the bottom, caused in many cases by injuries but also by the hard facts that this team is losing.  It can't seem to score runs or get anybody out anymore.

Many observers point out to left field but the Giants won World Championships without a stellar left fielder--and failed to win one when they had their biggest offensive force in decades out there: Barry Bonds.

No, the problem place is third base.  The Giants probably could not have won its last championship without Pablo Sandoval in the playoffs.  Apart from their perennial MVP Buster Posey, it was the pesky hitting of Sandoval and Pence that generated just enough offence to keep them in close games, and sparked other hitters in routs.  

Sandoval's eventual replacement Matt Duffy was a key to keep them competitive in the regular season, both in the field and as a hitter, although devastating injuries ruined their 2015 season.  And the attrition of the championship pitching staff began.

But with a healthy start, 2016 looked more than promising.  The infield of Duffy, Crawford, Panik and Belt was arguably the best in baseball.  But when the second half nosedive began, the Giants traded Duffy for a starting pitcher.  I felt at the time--and a case can still be made--that the Giants' chemistry collapsed without Duffy, and it's been pretty much downhill since.

On paper it may have seemed that all the Giants lacked was a big time closer, since that was the conspicuous cause for their failure in the playoffs.  It turns out not to have been so simple.

Another incredible raft of injuries has turned a bad situation into chaos.  The Giants are in last place for a good reason--they are playing like a last place team.

Is it possible that they reverse 2016, with a terrible first half but a great second half?  Possible, yes.  But not likely. It's gone past the point of individual changes--it seems like a group thing now.  Big changes are probably coming.  Giants fans should brace themselves.

Meanwhile, the Warriors are undefeated in the playoffs.  They've shown some resilience and adaptability, based on their wisely revived slogan of "strength in numbers."  If they stay healthy (and Cleveland does), a rematch of last year's finals looks all but inevitable.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Bad Luck Giants, the Dubs Await, and Baseball History in Pittsburgh

The San Francisco Giants must have had a lot of very good luck in their championship years because their run of bad luck over the last two seasons and so far this season has been extraordinary.

On Thursday, the Giants started exactly one of their opening day starters in his regular position.  Catcher Posey played first, first baseman Belt played left field and third baseman Nunez played shortstop.  Only Pence played his usual position of right field.

Reserve Hundley was catching. The rest of the team wasn't even on the team: Arroyo at third, Tomlinson at second, Hernandez in center.  Although the Giants' dearth of hitting might suggest starters were benched, it was actually injury.  After their left-fielder Parker crashed into the wall and hurt his shoulder, their center fielder Span crashed into the wall and hurt his shoulder.  Could this actually be happening?

The new blood helped--Arroyo and Tomlinson got two hits apiece--but not enough.  Once again the Giants could manage only one run, ruining a fine outing by starter Matt Moore.  And once again, the bullpen lost it, this time in the 10th, allowing 4 runs.

Splitting a low scoring four game series with the Dodgers was however a kind of improvement.  Still, the ESPN story noted that it was another sellout in San Francisco but empty seats were visible.  It might not be much longer before that string of sellout games comes to an unlucky end.

Meanwhile, the Warriors have swept Portland in the first round and await the winner of the Utah/LA Clippers series.  Kevin Durant helped them to a record-setting first quarter in the fourth game, but there's still no word on when Coach Kerr will return.

 In Pittsburgh, a player born in Africa played in a US Major League baseball game for the first time on Wednesday. He's an infielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and in his first at bat he hit a single. He has a great baseball name, too: Gift Ngoepe.

It may seem weird since it took until 2017 for the first African to play while so many African Americans have played the game. In fact, the first all-black starting lineup also belonged to the Pittsburgh Pirates back in the 1970s. But the lack of African players has not been due to racial discrimination, at least not since Jackie Robinson. Baseball is apparently not a major sport in any African country, and to be born and raised in South Africa presents fewer opportunities to learn and play the game.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Two Sides of the Bay: Warriors Up, Giants Down

With the first game in the bank, the Golden State Warriors hit the home floor against Portland in the first round of the playoffs without Kevin Durant and two other injured players.  They dressed 11 guys, 5 of them centers.  Then during the game, both Steph Curry and Klay Thompson had off nights shooting, especially the 3s.

So game 2 was a loss, right?  Not exactly.  The Dubs won by 29 points.

High octane defense, especially in the third quarter, and other players more than rising to the occasion, especially rookie Patrick McCaw (starting for Durant) and tall flying man JaVale McGee.  McGee changed the game in limited minutes, and while McCaw made some big momentum-changing shots (banking a fearless 3 pointer, followed by a fearless layup in traffic) he was credited with defensive intensity throughout the game.

Even with lots of misses, both Curry and Thompson had some exciting moments, including some deadly Steph deep threes, and a Thompson sequence beginning with a soaring block at one end and a catch-and-shoot three at the other.  A fun game of highlights, especially the third quarter, when the Dubs held Portland to 12 total points.

While the Warriors keep looking better (and a final collision with Cleveland looking even more likely), the San Francisco Giants continued their woeful April.  Like the end of last season, every time it seems they've hit the low point, they go lower.  After surviving extra innings in Kansas City with a 2-1 win, their bats were again silent in support of Madison Bumgarner, leading to a scandalous fourth loss in his first four starts.

As bad as things were in terms of hitting percentage for left fielders, it got worse with the injury to J. Parker, who will be out awhile.  Two other potential left fielders are also injured, though former Michael Morse is playing himself back in shape in the minors.

The only difference is that the bullpen pitching has been pretty good lately.  It's mostly a lack of hitting, especially run-producing hits.  Everyone expects that to begin happening, but for the sake of the season, it really should happen soon.

Update 4/21: First the Pittsburgh Pirates saw their season devastated by the suspension of star Marte.  Today an off the field injury to Madison Bumgarner that will keep him off the mound for several months pretty much devastates the Giants' season, which is already in bad shape.  MadBum started strong, hitting two homers and taking a perfect game into the sixth inning on opening day, and pitching very well since, despite absent run support.  But a pretty dumb dirt bike accident has wrecked the Giants' rotation, and who knows what it will do to his pitching future.  A  very sad turn of events.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

NBA winding down, MLB starting up

The Lakers beat the Spurs, after which Stephen Curry and the Warriors outgunned the Suns, and just like that, the race for the Western Division championship was over.  The Warriors have clinched it, as well as the best record in the NBA for the third straight season.

This gives them home court throughout the playoffs; they'd already earned it for the Finals if they get there.  With Kevin Durant officially slated to return to action Saturday, the Dubs are strong favorites to win it all.

As the NBA season winds down and playoffs begin, MLB has started.  Unfortunately the SF Giants began by reenacting the same nightmare that ended last season and haunted them ever since: bullpen failure in the 8th and 9th to blow the save and lose the game, marring a dominant performance by MadBum, taking a perfect game into the sixth and becoming the first pitcher in MLB history to hit two home runs on opening day--and they were whoppers.

The Giants continued to blow leads throughout their first series.  On the bright side, they are hitting.  Usually hitters or pitchers dominate across the board at the beginning of the season.  Let's hope that's it.