Thursday, September 11, 2014

Crunch Time in the NL

Joe Panik
The San Francisco Giants begin their most important 3 game series of the year under the Friday night lights, with the Los Angeles Dodgers.  They took care of business with a sweep of Arizona, a team that at this point in the season seems barely interested enough to stand at their positions, but not enough to actually field them.  The Giants have won 9 straight at home, and 6 straight overall.

Now they face the three best Dodger pitchers at home.  The last time this scenario happened, they were swept.  This is the test of the money the Dodgers have spent precisely to have this short series pitching dominance, first to get past the Giants and then for postseason.  The Giants play the Dodgers three more games in LA, but this is the series they need to win, absent real heroics in LA--where they will face the same three starting pitchers.  Their starters will also be the same.

Whatever happens, the ups and downs of this season has solved one problem and possibly two for the Giants going forward.  They have found a solid second baseman in rookie Joe Panik, who is also a solid hitter right behind lead-off hitter Angel Pagan.  Panik went 5 for 5 in one of the games with Arizona.  In Andrew Sesak they may also have found a reliable backup catcher to Buster Posey, enabling him to play first base more often and perhaps extend his career.

Meanwhile the Pittsburgh Pirates are surging while both the Brewers and the Cards are having problems.  Like the Giants, they've been getting stellar starting pitching lately, pretty good relief, and lively bats.  But both teams have most recently beat up on inferior teams (Arizona, Philly.)

Still, they are both still in the hunt.  The Giants are just 2 games back of LA (with the third place team, San Diego, 15.5 back) in the West, while the Pirates are now in second place, 2.5 games behind St. Louis.  They don't go head to head again, but after the Cubs and Red Sox, they do have important series with current rivals for a playoff spot, the Brewers and Atlanta, finishing the season against the Reds, who are already relishing a spoiler role, having beat the Cards today 1-0.

The possible spoilers for SF are the Padres, if only for the sheer number of games left to play with them: 7, with four of those in San Diego.  But for this weekend, all eyes are on the Bay, as the Giants play the Dodgers.


Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Speaking of Sports: Wild Cards and Football Sadness

Excuse my math.  In suggesting that the Pirates are unlikely to make the playoffs without winning the division I was giving the wrong answer.  With three straight over the Cubs and the first game over the Phillies, both on the road, they're a game and a half ahead for the second Wild Card spot.  The Giants have the first in their sights.  But both are technically in play for division leads.

It turns out by this math that the Cards beating the Brewers two out of three was a good thing.  So now I've got my rooting straight--Brewers and Atlanta losing is good (well, Atlanta losing is always good.)

 Interesting new phenomenon reported--there are Pittsburgh Pirates fans in Philadelphia.  They were apparently the only ones left in the park to see the last innings of the Pirates 6-4 victory.  The Pirates play 3 more in Philly before returning home for 9 games with the Cubs, Red Sox and Brewers.  They then go to Atlanta for 4 games.  Those latter two series may very well determine whether they make the playoffs or not.  They've been looking strong, so when their pitching works they're tough to beat.

Returning from a 3-3 road trip, the Giants have 6 games at home, with Arizona and Los Angeles.  They face both teams for 3 games on the road.  The only other team they play for the rest of the season is San Diego, for 7 games.  If the Giants can hold their own with the Dodgers or even come out of those games with more wins than losses, they have a decent chance to hold on for a postseason berth. But taking the Dodger series is probably their only chance to win the division, at 3.5 games out.  They're capable but unpredictable.

The big news however was in football, and the events of Monday--the appearance of videos on the Internet of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice beating up his girlfriend on an elevator some months ago.  Within hours he was fired from the team and suspended indefinitely from the NFL.  But there are angry charges of too little too late, and calls for a range of resignations--from the top execs of the Ravens and the NFL as well as the prosecutors and judge involved.  Keith Olbermann seems to be talking about some kind of boycott.  It's interesting that this happened so quickly, as did the Sterling/Silver affair in the NBA.

There is question whether anyone on the Ravens or in the NFL saw the videos before, and there's considerable argument that it doesn't matter.  I've never liked the Ravens as a team or an organization, and their initial conduct doesn't surprise me--it jibes with my impression of them.  Maybe the NFL is finally beginning to deal with domestic violence.  But the NFL still hasn't dealt successfully or it seems even seriously with the concussion problem, and  the charge by numerous former players that their teams sent them back into action seriously hurt.

 I checked the scores of the first week, saw the Steelers highlights on ESPN online (though that site spends as much time on its commercial than the highlights) but I've got zero enthusiasm for this season.  At best I'm uncomfortable and sad.  The sport and its culture has become too violent.

So back to baseball.  I passed the local park where our semipro team plays.  Though their season was over, two uniformed teams were playing.  I was wearing my earphones and listening to music.  So even though I went into the park, sat in the bleachers and watched a couple of innings, I still don't know who was playing.  And I didn't care.  I watched the game.  There is a lot of game to watch.