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 l.f.er 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.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Statement

Down 23-3 in the first quarter, the Golden State Warriors surged and overwhelmed the Spurs in San Antonio, in their second of a road back-to-back.  The previous night they defeated Houston.  The two nights added to a 9 game winning streak, which began immediately after their 3 losses in a row following Kevin Durant's injury.  And they won those 9 without Durant.

The victory pretty much seals the number one seed in the West for the Warriors, with a 3 game spread over the Spurs with 7 games left.  Thanks to continued losses by Cleveland in the past week or so, any of the West teams would have home court in the finals, including the Dubs.

This impressive if not incredible victory was actually a win for both the Warriors and Spurs because it pretty much settled the #1 seed.  Had the Warriors lost, they would have been ahead by a single game, and both teams would probably have felt the need to compete for the seed.  Now they both can see about resting players before the playoffs, although that will be complicated for the Dubs if Durant is ready to return for the last games of the regular season.  Coach Kerr would probably want him to play with his fellow starters.

The Warriors victory in San Antonio also has to be viewed as a statement game.  The Spurs surprised them with a rout at home to start the season, and their next meeting--also the second of a back-to-back on the road for the Warriors--resulted in Kerr resting his starters, and an easy Spurs victory.  But the Warriors outplaying the Spurs for three quarters after giving them a 22 point advantage, in the second of another back-to-back, and without Durant, has to sow some doubts in San Antonio.

No one yet knows when Durant will return, nor how he will play.  But with these nine victories against the most competitive teams in the West, the Warriors look fully capable of beating anybody with their current lineup--and Durant coming off the bench for additional defense and firepower.  All of this as it looks more and more that the winner of the West playoffs will be the favorite to win it all.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Back on Top


It took just a week or so, the end of a grueling road trip, some rest and some work on the home court.  The Golden State Warriors rattled off five straight wins, including four blowouts, the last two on back-to-back visits to competitive western teams, OKC Thunder and Dallas Mavericks.  OKC and the Milwaukee Bucks were hot, until their winning streaks were crushed by the Warriors.

And they did it without Kevin Durant in the lineup.

Curry and Thompson got their shot back but other members of the team responded to the challenge and the opportunity, particularly in the Dallas win.

Meanwhile San Antonio dropped two and are 2.5 back of the Dubs after briefly being in first for the best record.

The most challenging stretch left on the Warriors' regular schedule is next week, when they play back to backs in Houston and San Antonio, and then immediately host Houston again.  But it does not look like the home court in the playoffs will depend only on that game in San Antonio.

The Warriors now can be confident that they can compete and even dominate without Durant, though he seems to be healing on or ahead of schedule.  On these last two games with tough opponents, their defense was stifling and their 3 point shooting awesome.  They out-rebounded the Mavs.  The offensive flow was back, and so was the joy.

The big news for the San Francisco Giants is the return of Barry Bonds, in an official if advisory capacity with duties that sound pretty ad hoc but the symbolism is important.  Plus his baseball intelligence is extraordinary.

But other news not so great--after most of spring training passed without injury, there were a slew of them late: hamstring for Michael Morse, trying to return to the team; quad injury for Mac Williamson, and the worst, arm injury for pitcher Will Smith, requiring Tommy Johns surgery.

Still, pretty soon, baseball!

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Best Team in the NBA

Update 3/11: After a one point loss in MN--with Steph Curry once again failing to hit the kind of winning shot he regularly did last year--Coach Kerr elected to rest...well, nearly everybody...in San Antonio.  The Spurs were also short-handed but made easy work of the Warrior bench, which couldn't defend or score in the first half.  The victory puts the Spurs a half game behind the Dubs for top seed in the West, and their second win over the Warriors this year guarantees them the tie-breaker.  All of this could come back to haunt Golden State, as the Spurs pretty much prove they're deeper, and right now, better.

One other fascinating aspect of this game: how do you get the attention of perverse schedule-makers that try to maximize profits at the expense of the health and long-term viability of players for the prohibitive favorite of the year?  The Golden State Warriors and Coach Kerr did it very well.  No one can argue with Kerr's rationale for resting his starters, but obviously the league didn't anticipate he would dare do so in such an important game.  So fans in the arena and those who tuned into the mega-hyped broadcast were sorely disappointed, and that pretty much scuttles the NBA's too clever by half move of trying to squeeze the Warriors with a back to back middle of the night flight from MN to Texas, after a bizarre road trip with a home game sandwiched in.  It's no guarantee anything will change, but the schedule makers may think twice before doing this next year.  (Nevertheless, the Warriors will play the Spurs once more, again in San Antonio and again the second of a back-to-back.)

For most of the year the question usually asked was whether the best team in the NBA was Golden State or Cleveland.  At this point in the season, neither are.  The best team in the NBA at the moment is the San Antonio Spurs.

They are solid, well-coached and have been winning close games in the fourth quarter, and K. Leonard is this year's Steph Curry in terms of making the needed shot to win.

The Warriors are not where a team wants to be that expects to get deep into the playoffs and contend for the championship.  The injury to Kevin Durant made them beatable, but the shooting woes of the Splash Brothers have become worrisome.  They've lost three of their last five games, though they did win back to backs.

Now they fly to Minnesota for a tough game there, and then to San Antonio for only their second game with the Spurs.  Both of their remaining games with the Spurs in San Antonio are back to backs.  Tell me who put this schedule together.

The Warriors could catch fire at any time, and Durant could be back in time and in shape to a difference.  But at the moment I'd rate the Spurs as the favorites in the West and maybe for the championship.  Cleveland has built itself for the playoffs, especially against the Warriors, but is having trouble getting there.  Right now the Spurs have the mo and the mojo.

The game in San Antonio on Saturday will be a good test, but it will hardly be the last.  I expect the Dubs and the Spurs to see a lot of each other before it's over.  Neither team right now has much idea of how they match up.

The media may not take the Spurs seriously but I'll bet the Warriors do.  Cleveland better be thinking about that, too.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Drama Comes to Golden State

The Warriors were rolling, seemingly unstoppable.  They came out of the All-Star break without breaking stride.  Kevin Durant was out for a game with illness, the Dubs won.  Steph Curry couldn't make a single 3 for an entire game, the Dubs still won.  They clinched a playoff spot, either earlier than anyone ever had, or had in a long time, depending on what story you read.

Then it seemed to all come tumbling down along with Kevin Durant.  His knee injury took him out of action reportedly for the rest of the regular season, at least.
The Warriors, on their last long awkward road trip through the east and midwest, lost two games in a row for the first time since late in 2015.

Fans have to hope that the season low point was in Chicago, the first entirely Durant-less game, when Curry and Thompson and everybody else was stone cold.

The season--and the playoffs-- at best got interesting.  The Spurs (who host the Warriors at the end of this ridiculous trip) have more to play for now, as the top seed in the West is more imaginable.  Meanwhile, the Cavs got some apparently meaningful help before the trade deadline, while the Warriors seemingly got less.  How that actually plays out remains to be seen, but on paper the Cavs got a deeper bench, and nothing is more important to LeBron James than rest.

So now it's gut check, character time for the Warriors. They're still expected to beat most teams, but maybe not the elite.  For the first time in a long time, they are underdogs.

Meanwhile, spring training games for the San Francisco Giants started great but soon got messy.  But there's a lot of competition to make the team, and the Giants are learning more about who to watch for call-ups down the road.  So far, Mark Melancon is looking like a great addition as the closer.

Back to the NBA, Baby Buss and his bro tried to take the Lakers back from Jeannie Bush and Magic Johnson, but so far have failed.  A board of directors vote they are expected to lose appears to be their last chance.