Saturday, July 04, 2015

Fall of the Lakers

This week's NBA news has all the major free agents wooed by the Los Angeles Lakers going to other teams.  The best the Lakers can do is trade for a center (Roy Hibbert of Indiana) who is slow, has no shot and rebounds poorly.  He could bounce back from a bad year, he could suddenly click with the Lakers, but it's unlikely.

The Lakers aren't used to being snubbed.  And while the sports world likes to blame Kobe Bryant, it's pretty clear to me that its the Laker management.  The team has not been the same since baby Buss took over for his father.  The elder Buss was universally respected, loved by his players (Magic Johnson for one revered him.)  In the years that Jerry West was also in the front office, the Laker organization was the classiest, most astute and most powerful in the league.

Now that mantle has likely fallen to the San Antonio Spurs, who were able to take away free agent star power forward Aldridge.  I have my doubts that Aldridge will work out on the Spurs, but if he does, it will be another indication of that organization's skill.  He was a malcontent in Portland for no real reason, and if the Spurs can quell his jealousy of other players, it will signal to other stars that their organization and team ethic is for real.

In any case, top players making obscene amounts of money aren't necessarily following just the dollar signs or the major market endorsement possibilities.  Whatever it is they are looking for, the Lakers don't have it.  And it's not just prospects for winning, and it certainly is not playing with Kobe Bryant.  Whatever the word is among players, they are being cautious and skeptical at best.  This year's failures don't auger well, after last year's etc.  The pattern is set, and top players aren't getting on the Buss.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Limping to the Break

The Giants wasted a very impressive return performance by Jake Peavy to lose 2-1 to the Washington Nationals.  Things only get harder in Washington now.  Next game is Bumgarner v. Strasbourg.

The Giants made a number of roster moves prior to the game.  As mentioned here, depth in the outfield was really getting to be a problem, and they addressed that by bringing up Ryan Lollis, a fairly good hitter who has been on a tear in the minors recently.  He has speed and can play all three outfield positions.  He's said to be an enthusiastic player in the Hunter Pence mold.  He bats left.

The Giants really need him or someone right away, as Angel Pagan is obviously hurting and pressing.  I think he's in pain all the time, though that's just intuition.  But he needs rest, as the Giants limp to the All-Star break with potentially none of their original starting outfield.  Fortunately Blanco is hitting very well, Justin Maxwell not so much.  If Lollis can contribute right away, he might get them over the hump.

As it is the Giants are wasting Buster Posey's amazing hot streak, and it won't last forever.  But he's playing more first base and that's good for the long term.  He's not bad at that position, and Brandon Belt is improving as a left fielder.

Apparently Casey McGehee is gone--I missed that--and Tim Hudson is on 15 day DL.  The team sent down pitcher Broadway as well as outfielder Ishakawa, and brought up left handed pitcher Josh Osich, who pitched late against the Nats and had a scoreless eighth.

So for the short term at least, Cain and Peavy join the starting rotation, replacing Hudson and Lincecum.  Romo is apparently going to be the closer, and Hunter Strickland is likely to be the late innings rightie in Romo's previous role. Along with Cassia.  Osich joins Lopez as left hander relief, though manager Bochy said that Osich will pitch to right-side hitters as well, as he did today.

I was puzzled by the news that the Giants paid major money for the contract of an international player, just 18, who plays middle infield and is a contact hitter.  Don't they have a bunch of them on the squad now, all pretty young?

The Giants have lost 4 straight now, and like many losing streaks, bad luck is playing a part.  But they've been a streaky team all year, and the dynamics keep changing with injuries, as Bochy is forced to change batting order and player positions.  Still, with Aoki and Pence both out, it could even be worse.  The problem could be if they lose too much ground before the break.  They were nearly tied for first just a few days ago, and they're 3.5 out now, with the Dodgers playing tonight.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

On the Road: Woe and Flow

The Marlins swept their three game series with the visiting Giants, and the only team more surprised at that than the Giants would be the Marlins.  A bottomfeeder this year, reeling from organizational woes, the Marlins probably did not expect to even win the series at home against the world champs.

But Justin Bohr, who the rest of the league has "figured out," beat them three times with homers, two of them with two on base.  These constitute a third of his year to date total (he had six, now he has nine.)  His walk-off was the stunner.  With the Giants leading by two runs in the last of the ninth and their closer on the mound, the first two hitters reached base and he promptly homered.  It was all over in minutes.  Before that, the Marlins had committed three errors and didn't seem to be in the same league as the Giants.

Thursday Matt Cain returned to the mound, and so did the Marlin's young ace, Jose Fernandez.  Cain was reportedly pretty sharp for four innings but lost it in the fifth, when Fernandez homered and Bohr hit another three run dinger.  Fernandez had a better first outing, going a strong six, as well as homering.

What hurts the most is that these were supposed to be the gimme games.  The tough ones are ahead, with the strong Washington Nationals.  And the Giants will start off with another season debut by an injured pitcher, Jake Peavy.  The Giants kept the Marlins from scoring after the fifth mostly because of pitcher George Kontos.  But he's unlikely to be available for long relief if Peavy gets in trouble or tires early.  Apparently the Giants will also be going to a different closer, as manager Bochy diagnosed closer Casilla's problems Wednesday as arm fatigue.

Stuff like walkoff losses and a closer losing a game happen during the course of any season.  But it should also motivate being smarter.  If the rest of the league had figured out Bohr, and he hit his three homers on pretty much the same pitch in the same location, shouldn't the coaches take notice and figure out what they missed?  Same with Casilla's arm.

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Pirates went to Detroit and swept that three game series.  The first they won with grit, the other two with power.  Neil Walker hit two homers in the middle game.  They got great pitching, especially from Liriano today.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Sprinting for Midseason

An off day Monday for the Giants and the Pirates, so taking a breath to take a longer view.  One of those assessments of the season so far makes a persuasive case that neither will win their divisions.  The Dodgers and the Cardinals are dealing with more injuries than many other clubs, even the Giants at this point, but they're holding down first place--the Cards by a considerable margin.  It's true the Giants had that commanding lead at the All-Star break last year and lost it, so it isn't impossible.  But the reasoning is sound--it is more likely that the Giants and Pirates will again face each other in the Wild Card game.

As for the Pirates, since its been awhile since I've been back in the Burgh for any length of time, I read with interest this claim that the Pirates have replaced the Steelers and Penguins as the most popular sports team in the city.  The article quotes a Pittsburgh sports fan's blunt assessment: “The Steelers are thugs, and the Penguins are crybabies. The Pirates are good guys and work hard. It’s easy to root for this team.”

The piece is mostly about the supposed decline of the Steelers but what this guy says about the Pirates rings true.  They do seem like good guys that work hard.  I would attribute my own distance from the Steelers to my dismay over professional football in general.  I've been unhappy for some time with the emphasis on hard hits (fed by sports media) over other aspects of the game, and the revelations on concussions kind of sealed that deal for me.  Of course, I still secretly read everything I could find on this year's Steelers draft picks.

But as a more active fan, baseball has really become my game.  I admire the Giants team--they're good guys who work hard, too, and they are easy to root for.  So I've filled out my All-Star ballots with a combination of Giants and Pirates.  Mostly Giants I must confess--I recently switched my third baseman to Matt Duffy, how could I not after the week he's had?  But I also switched out one Giant for the Pirates' Sterling Marte in the outfield (I still have Aoki out there, though.)

How many Giants fans today would trade Matt Duffy for Pablo Sandoval?  Pretty much zero I'll bet.