Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Early December

The San Francisco Giants made a deal to address their biggest need by signing former Pittsburgh Pirate closer Mark Melancon.  Reportedly, ex-Giant and a Pirate last year Ryan Vogelsong was instrumental in praising the Giants team culture, and Melancon--like Durant to the Warriors--really wanted to play for them.

Another Pirates to Giants move is still possible but looks less likely now--the Pirates are less than quietly shopping around their star, Andrew McCutchen.  I was surprised to see what a bad year he had last year, even defensively.  But he played center well enough to beat the Giants (with Vogelsong on the mound) when I saw them play each other in August.

  Cutch would be a huge loss to Pittsburgh--he's always said he wanted to play there forever, and he was a star there on bad teams before they got good.  Now they may be on the wane again, and Pittsburgh has to watch its payroll still it seems.  He would fit in well in SF, though it poses questions for who plays where in the outfield.  But Giants officials are playing that possibility down, expressing faith in farm system grads Parker and Williamson to share left. And probably figuring a healthy Hunter Pence and better years by one or two others will add to the long ball totals.

Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors are rolling.  Their top four have all set some sort of record already in this young season, including Steph Curry's record 13 treys in a game and last night, Klay Thompson dropped 60 points in less than 30 minutes of playing time--for the first time in the shot clock era.  It's also the highest point total by anyone this season.

The offense is fast, sharing and joyful--breaking records for assists, and putting up lots of points.  The defense is a work in progress but there are brilliant plays every game, most often by Durant and especially Draymond.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Congratulations Chicago

Congratulations to the Chicago Cubs for winning the World Series, their first in 108 years, the longest period without a championship in American sports.

They were also the first team since the 1979 Pirates to be down 3 games to 1 and win the Series on the road.  I sure remember the feelings from that series--I watched every minute of it (except when I was pacing around in the next room) and I recall the feeling when it was over.  It was the third Pirates world championship in my lifetime, and so far the last.  But Pittsburgh also had a long drought--before 1960 they hadn't won it since 1925.

I loved the stories of the Chicago fans, sacrificing seeing the game to gather together outside Wrigley Field.  And the stories about the memories of absent fans, family and friends who didn't live to see this.  Getting into the Series seemed to reawakened memories of them.

As for this seventh game, the Cubs had it won until the 8th inning, just as the Giants had their last game won until the 9th.  Like the Giants in that game, the Cubs saw their closer fail--only they have one of the top closers in the game, who was just gassed from recent appearances.  But they didn't lose it, they were tied, and went to extra innings.

But before the 10th started, there was a rain delay, something like 17 minutes.  I can't imagine what that was like for the teams.  Maybe it settled the Cubs down, who knows?

But in the 10th they scored the go-ahead runs exactly as they came back against the Giants, with opportune hitting: going with the pitches, finding the holes.  Of course, earlier homers helped, as did terrific base running.  Both teams made big mistakes, and big plays.  Cleveland got closer but couldn't prevail.  It ended with the tying run on first, 8-7.

I admit that once the Series started I was rooting for the Cubs.  I went to college in Illinois and I thought about all my classmates from Chicago.  John Podesta being one.  But then Hillary and Barack are also Chicago people.

On the other hand, being from the Pittsburgh area, hating Cleveland teams is second nature, and I particularly hate the racist name and logo of their baseball team. So I sure wasn't rooting for them.

The Cubs are a young team, and they'll probably be a factor for years to come.  Right now they're world champs, and there's going to be some joy for awhile in Chicago.

The NBA season has started.  The Warriors ended all suspense about how many games they would win in a row to start the season.  Turned out: none.  But they've won three games since, starting to get it together against Portland the other night. Thursday they face the Thunder, and all eyes will be on Durant and Westbrook playing against each other.  Plus Durant has to score 20 to keep his streak going, to match Michael Jordan for second most consecutive number of games with 20 or more points.

Durant looks great but it's Curry who is a big relief--after his injuries hampered him in the finals, he looks like his old self, moving, shedding defenders, hitting lightning-quick release and otherwise impossible 3s.

It's probably too early to tell, but I get the sense that there's a lot more parity in the NBA than sport writers said.  It's supposed to be a boring year, but I don't think so. Some teams look better than they're supposed to.  Could be a more competitive year than the experts think.


Friday, October 21, 2016

NFL Violence Over Skill

Network ratings for NFL games are down considerably, and lots of folks are spouting off on why that should be.  Everything from the Internet to political protests are offered as the reasons.

What almost nobody is taking seriously is that a growing number of people may just be fed up with the NFL's wanton violence.  The NFL can minimize the concussion issue, and the vested sports interests including sports media can ignore it, but lots of parents have to take it seriously.  They have to make decisions for their boys on whether football is worth the risk.

Parental concerns may be having some influence on the rules and how the game is played at the school level, maybe even the college level, though for the big schools, football is an addictive big business of enormous profit--especially since there are few paid employees.

But in the NFL nothing meaningful has been done, and the violence increases.  The Pittsburgh Steelers are charging that the knee injury to their star quarterback was intentional, though the NFL refused to even fine the miscreant.  He is one of several players who are known to deliberately injure opposing players.

Who wants to see that?  Who wants to see a team with its best players injured, because the NFL values violence over skill?

I don't.  And I wonder how many others are turned off as well, and are turning off the NFL.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Post Giants Season

As the postseason develops, a couple of things are apparent: relief pitching is proving crucial to winning teams, and with a better bullpen, the San Francisco Giants could beat anybody still playing.  And if the Dodgers make it to the Series, the Giants will really be kicking themselves harder.

Though the Giants immediately fired both first and third base coaches, the words out of the club have emphasized no panic, but yes, we're going into next season knowing who our closer is.

It won't be Casilla or Romo, as it's pretty likely they won't be with the team.  It's sad because they both contributed so much to World Series seasons.  The story of Casilla in tears after the horrendous 9th inning meltdown that ended the Giants season, because he was even asked to warm up, is heart-breaking.

Other absences are likely to be free agents Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco.  Pagan's contributions--heroics, even--are pretty well known, but there were stretches in several years when Blanco carried the club. When healthy he was a real asset.

Management signals that it will concentrate on getting that big time closer, with several available through free agency.  That had better work, because big money is their best option.  They can't afford to lose position players through trades.

Otherwise it seems they're looking to keep young arms in the bullpen, and look at others to compete for the fifth starter.  They could use another bat with some pop. The infield is interesting, with now two possible starters at third, and Kelby Tomlinson becoming a reliable pinch hitter as well as utility infielder.  If a power hitting left fielder suddenly presented himself they might jump at it, but otherwise it seems they'll be content to platoon with young players.

Bruce Bochy seems itching to come back, so that's a plus.  We'll see what happens in the Hot Stove League (do they still call it that?)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Done, Done In

Two things about this final game of the SF Giants' season.  First, if you're a team of destiny, you get hits like the Cubs got in the 9th inning.  Derek Law induced a double play ball, except there was an overshift and nobody was at home in the usual shortstop area.  And the hit that tied the game was a slow hit ground ball that just happened to be perfectly placed, also due to the defensive alignment.

Second is that if you have a bullpen that can't hold a 3 run lead in the 9th, you probably don't deserve to get very far in the playoffs.  The Giants were that team.

Had the Giants won this game, they would have felt good about this season even if they'd lost in Chicago.  They got two magnificent starting pitching performances in the first and fourth games by Johnny Queto and today by Matt Moore, they had their surprising hitting star in Conor Gillaspe, solid hitting by Joe Panik and Brandon Crawford, with signs that the bats of Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt were coming around.  They were resilient.

But for all that, the total bullpen meltdown in this game has once again given this season a bad taste.  There are few things in baseball more dispiriting than a bullpen loss in the 9th, and the Giants went through that way too many times.  It's going to make a difference in who is on the field in 2017, probably beyond the bullpen.  

Well, at least here come the Warriors.

We Had 'Em All The Way

The Chicago Cubs came into the division series a confident team, and it showed.  They risked starting a pitcher the Giants had gotten to earlier in the season instead of their ace for the first game, and it worked.  They got to the Shark in game two, stifled the Giants and left Chicago looking for the sweep in San Francisco.

The Cubs took the lead on an improbable home run by ace pitcher Arrieta off Bumgarner.  Neither of the starters made it out of the sixth due to high pitch counts, although it was just a 3-2 game.

The Giants started giving the Cubs some doubt in the 8th.  They put two on and the Cubs tried to restore order with their flame-throwing closer Chapman.  But Conor Gillaspe, long ball hero of the wild card game, smoked a 101 fastball into triples alley and therefore got a triple (the first Chapman has given up to a left handed batter) and drove in the tying and lead runs.  The Giants got one more to go to the 9th ahead 5-3.

But of course the 9th has been the Giants' Waterloo since July, and new/old closer Romo walked the leadoff hitter and hung a slider for home run hitter Kris Bryant, who barely got it over the wall to tie the game.

There would be more drama, especially some amazing defensive plays by both teams, as both teams were rapidly running out of players.  Until the bottom of the 13th, a Brandon Crawford double and a Joe Panik triple, and the Giants won their 10th straight postseason elimination game, the longest streak in MLB history.

Now both teams come back barely 17 hours after this game concluded, to go at it again.  The Cubs may not be quite so confident, but they sure don't want to take it to a 5th game, not with Johnny Cueto on the mound.  And they know the Giants have done this before--come back to win a 5 game series after losing the first two. They'll face Matt Moore on Tuesday.  

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Wild Night

Mike Krukow's foolproof formula for how a pitcher wins: pitch a shutout, hit a home run.  Madison Bumgarner did the first.  Conor Gillaspe did the second--with two men on in the ninth inning.  SF Giants won their wild card game, defeating the Mets 3-0.

The Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard was, the Giants said, virtually unhittable. Brandon Belt got into one in the 6th, and only a great running catch by Granderson in center kept the game scoreless.

But the Giants kept after Syndergaard all game, extending their at-bats, until a high pitch count ended his night after seven innings.

The Giants had their best chance in the eighth.  They faced Reed in the eighth and loaded the bases.  But they didn't score.  They then got the Mets closer Familia in the 9th.

 Brandon Crawford led off with a double.  Pagan couldn't advance him and struck out.  Then Joe Panik came to bat, in what the Mets' manager described as the key at-bat of the game.  If they got Panik out, they would walk the next batter--Gillaspe--to get to the pitcher's spot, and get Bumgarner out of the game.  And it might have worked, because Jarrett Parker was on deck behind Gillaspe.

But fouling off good pitches, Panik worked a walk.  Familia had to pitch to Gillaspe, who has been on a streak at the end of the season, when he's been playing more.  The infield was set up for a double play.  But Gillaspe hit it a little farther--into the Mets' bullpen.  It was only the second homer Familia had given up all season.

 The scoreless tie was broken, the Giants were ahead 3-0.  And Parker was called back to the dugout.

Bumgarner had used high fast balls all game to get Mets swinging, and he got three fly balls in the 9th off high fast balls.  It was his second complete game shutout in a wild card game.  In Pittsburgh in 2014 he pitched much of the game with a lead.  This one was a little different.

Johnny Cueto gets the ball on Friday for the first of a five game series with the Chicago Cubs, owners of the best record in baseball and consensus favorite to win it all.  This is when lining up those killer starters can pay off.  Especially when they throw complete games.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Wild Finish


It does seem a little like 2014, doesn't it?  The Giants fade badly towards the end of the season and barely make it into the playoffs as the second wild card team.  But there were also signs in the last few games of a resurgence, especially in hitting.  And then...

Well, this year the Giants finished the regular season doing something they haven't done since before the All-Star break: win four games in a row.  They got the wild card with a 7-1 win over LA on Sunday, behind yet another masterful 3-hit pitching performance, this time by Matt Moore.

And they needed to win all these games, because St. Louis matched them.  Sunday they came back to batter the Pirates, but before that game was over, it was all over for their season.

Now it's on to New York to play the Mets in the wild card game on Wednesday.  I expect the Mets will be favored.  Besides MadBum's big game experience, the Giants have a better defense and a suddenly hot Brandon Belt and Buster Posey.  Romo's resurgence as closer--he was the official closer in their 2012 championship season--has steadied the bullpen and injected some confidence in the team that if they get a lead, they'll keep it.  That was key in 2014 as well.

If the Giants get into a series, their starting pitching gives them a real chance.  But they have to get past the Mets first, and especially show that their second half inability to hit superior pitching is also a thing of the past. And Mets starter Noah Syndergaard (100 mph fastballs, 94 mph sliders) is one of the best.

Update: I guess I was wrong about the Mets being favored in the wild card game, at least by ESPN "experts."  About twice as many picked the Giants.  However only one--David Schoenfeld--picked them to take the series with the Cubs, and only he picked them to win the World Series, with Brandon Belt as the projected MVP.

I should add for the record that this game was the last broadcast by Vin Scully, who did the Dodgers games for 67 years--roughly half the time MLB has been around. Which means if I had been a Dodgers fan, he would have been their voice for my whole life (assuming I waited until age 3 to start listening.)  It was also 80 years to the day that (as he recalls) he first became a baseball fan--and specifically a Giants fan.  Now that famous voice is gone, except when Jon Miller does his eerily exact imitation.

Also retiring this year is Lee Jones, the producer of Giants radio broadcasts.  I've recently become acquainted with the way retiring people can be completely ignored by their employers.  But the Giants have more class than that--they put the ball in Lee Jones' hand for a ceremonial first pitch.  Good for him.  


A Ty for the Win


Friday night's SF Giants win over the visiting Dodgers was solid, but the 9-3 score could be seen as chiefly due to the Dodgers auditioning a possible starting pitcher for the playoffs, and leaving him in too long in the sixth inning, when the Giants scored 7 quick runs, including a three-run homer by Brandon Belt.  Though he had two bad stretches, Madison Bumgarner was dominant, finally winning his 100th career game.

But Saturday's win was classic.  It pitted one of the great pitchers now in baseball and the Dodger's ace, against a rookie with one previous start, and he didn't get past the third inning in that.

Clayton Kershaw was sharp, but Ty Blach was better.  He pitched a three-hit shutout for eight complete.  The Giants' new closer--who was also their old closer before Casilla--Sergio Romo made quick work of the ninth.  Angel Pagan's homer off Kershaw (Pagan is the club leader for the tragic after the All Star season) was enough, as the Giants won 3-0.  Ty Blach also got two hits.  He's only the second pitcher to ever get two hits off Kershaw in a game.

Unfortunately the Pirates haven't contributed, as the Cards beat them easily on Friday, but had to come from behind to win Saturday 3-2.  So the Giants have held on to their one game lead for the second wild card spot.  If they win on Sunday or the Cards lose, they're in.  If they lose and the Cards win, these two teams are tied and play one game in St. Louis on Monday to break it.

The Cards had won their game on Saturday while the Giants-Dodgers were still scoreless.  But Sunday, the last day of the regular season, all MLB games will start at the same time, high noon in SF.  The Giants will again be working against the stats--Dodger pitcher Maeda hasn't lost at AT&T Park this season.

Announcer Mike Krukow made an excellent point about Saturday's game: a lot of credit should go to catcher Buster Posey for his work with the rookie pitcher, pacing the game, calling the pitches, keeping him focused and confident.  Nobody in baseball is better at this, Mike said.  

Looking forward, I'm not sure if Blach is eligible for the playoffs, but if he is, the Giants suddenly have five starters with the proven capability of shutting down a quality opponent. It's still hard to see anybody getting past the Cubs this year, but it's one game at a time for the Giants from here to wherever.  

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Three to Get There

Three more games in the SF Giants regular season, all with the Dodgers in San Francisco.  They go into these games with a one game lead for the second wild card over St. Louis, who kept pace thanks to a blown call to end their game with Cinncy.

So absent a Mets crash--not likely since they are playing Philadelphia--it comes down to staying ahead of the Cards.  St. Louis is also at home, hosting the Pittsburgh Pirates.  So this weekend I get to root hard for both my teams.

 The Pirates are out of the playoff picture but they can help the Giants.  Who are going all out to win these games, with no thought of rotation consequences beyond it.  Except for Bumgarner, who will start Friday and will likely start the wild card game, if any.

The Giants kept their ultra-slim lead with a win against the Rockies on Thursday.  They still aren't hitting, though--the 7 runs were mostly due to errors and the luck they haven't had for months.  Only Johnny Cueto was impressive--after missing one start due to a groin injury, he pitched seven innings, struck out 11, gave up only two runs--and by running hard on a bunt and forcing an error, drove in two runs.  On a bunt!  Cueto has won 18 games, leading the team.

The Dodgers theoretically have something to play for, besides keeping the Giants out of the playoffs (not an inconsiderable goal.)  Though they've won the division, the home field is still to be decided.  But Washington is ahead two games so it's unlikely but it is still there.

Being this close with the last regular season series starting may help to keep this team more or less intact for next year, even if they don't make the postseason.  But how they play these last three games may be very consequential, beyond this season.



Sunday, September 18, 2016

A New Sound That May Echo For Awhile

As shocking as the SF Giants fall has been, it reached a particular inflection point on Saturday night that might have consequences beyond this season.

The Giants had won two games in a row against St. Louis, improving their wild card position while gaining on the Dodgers.  On Saturday they were leading 2-1 going into the ninth, in the game that would put them 4 games up on St. Louis for the wild card.

That manager Bruce Bochy turned to Casilla to save the game was a surprise.  Casilla's reception in his home ball park was the shock.  He was booed.  When he gave up the tying run, he was booed again.  When he left the game after giving up the lead run, he was booed once more.  The Giants lost 3-2, and went down with barely a whimper on Sunday afternoon.  They split the series, but to play even at this point in their season is to lose ground, and they did.

Writers so far are saying that no Giant has been booed in their home park in this century.  (The good-natured booing that greeted Bochy's visit to the mound to take his own son out of the game--which he then decided against--doesn't count.)

It's a big deal.  And it can mean a great deal.  It probably means that Casilla will not be booed again this season, because his season in his home park is probably over, certainly in the ninth inning.  He probably won't be in an SF uniform next year.

But if this trajectory continues and the Giants fail to make the playoffs, he may not be the only one. There could be a very different team in San Francisco next season.  Conceivably with a different manager.

The Giants made a mid-season correction to better their chances in the playoffs.  But they weakened themselves for getting to the playoffs by lacerating team chemistry with the Duffy trade.  They gambled on stacking their starting pitching and their starters have been excellent lately.  But they don't have a closer, and they don't have much time to find one.  They'll try Derek Law, who is probably not even at full strength after his injury.  But that's their last play this year.

Bochy has 15 relief pitchers on the payroll, and still his bullpen is weaker than it was last year and certainly in 2014.  All those roster spots mean fewer hitters, fewer pitch hit possibilities in those last of the ninth matchups when the bullpen blew the lead.  Fewer ways to spell starters and keep them fresh.

The lineup may start changing even before this season ends.  Meanwhile it's hard to watch.  And if things keep going down like this, there's not much more to say.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Giant Nightmare

If the trajectory of the SF Giants season continues as it's going now (which is down, down, down),  there might be a moment remembered as both causal and indicative.  It happened Tuesday night in the ninth inning.

SF went into the ninth leading San Diego 4-1.  Hunter Strickland was in his second audition recently as Closer; he'd done well the last time, inducing a game ending double play.

He got the first out.  Then things started dinking and dunking badly and he started losing it.  But..there came a moment when the Giants still led that he induced a double play ball that would have ended the game, heading towards the sure glove of Joe Panik--and Strickland stuck out his glove just enough to deflect the ball.

 Even at that Panik was able to get one out.  But not the two that would have saved the victory, and boosted the Giants one game closer to LA.

But it didn't happen and agonizing minutes later,a rookie reliever gave up a 3-run homer on a two-strike pitch.  The Giants went meekly in the bottom of the 9th (losing 6-4), and apparently were so disheartened the next afternoon that they could manage but one run to support their ace Bumgarner, and lost 3-1.

A crucial tuneup against a weaker team turned into a sweep for San Diego.  Someone has figured out that if the Giants second half won-lost record were extrapolated for the whole season, this would be the worst team in Giants history.

The Giants conceivably could still make the playoffs (the division title is now pretty much gone) and advancing is within the realm of possibility.  But the latter is very unlikely, and so the former might be worse.

When a series or maybe even a season definitively and finally goes south, there might be a moment in which (at least in retrospect) the story was told.  That just might be the moment the ball deflected off Strickland's glove on Tuesday night.

Monday, September 12, 2016

How Sweep It Is

The SF Giants return home after sweeping the three game series at Arizona.  Matt Moore pitched a strong, confident game, and Hunter Pence was the all out star of the series, blasting the winning runs in this one with an opposite field double.

With the wind at their back they take on San Diego before upcoming and potentially fateful series with St. Louis and six of their last 20 games with LA.  Apart from those games, the Giants' schedule is easier than the Dodgers.  The Dodgers lead by 3 games.

 Sunday's win at last felt like the first half Giants.  They weren't overpowering but they were determined and clutch.  Except for Moore, who was at times overpowering.

The other day I saw an evaluation of their second half troubles by somebody who writes about the Giants professionally.  He notes the disruption caused by the Matt Duffy trade, which is exactly what I was afraid of when it happened.  The team chemistry got thrown. It left a bad taste.

Now maybe they're overcoming it (and Duffy would probably be unavailable to them anyway, as he is out for the season requiring surgery.)  It's hard to complain about the guy they got for Duffy, Matt Moore, with a very near no-hitter and his performance Sunday.

Hunter Strickland saved Sunday's game and so may be trusted as a closer.  High hopes in that role as well for Derek Law when he returns.  Casilla and Romo may have had their day, though they can still have their excellent outings.  But Casilla can't be trusted to pitch the ninth.

A big finish is really important to this particular team.  Now it actually seems possible.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

No Longer A Sport

I've approached the NFL season warily, reading a few stories, especially about the Steelers.  But my worst fears were confirmed in accounts of the Carolina-Denver game, in which Carolina quarterback Cam Newton was hit repeatedly in the head by Denver's thug head-hunters.  In the later very weak judgment of the NFL, one merited a penalty.  Denver's thuggery lost them nothing.  Newton, visibly hurting, was not lifted or the concussion protocols followed by his own team.

From all this I conclude that the officials who didn't call the penalties should be fired,  the Carolina officials who did not invoke the concussion protocols should be fired, members of the Denver team defense and their coach should be suspended and fined or better yet, arrested, and the game should be forfeit.  And the NFL should fine itself.

None of that happened or will happen.  And I won't be watching an NFL game until this scandal is rectified.  It's not a sport anymore. It's criminal assault, and probably slow motion manslaughter.

At the moment, the SF Giants have won two games in a row on the road for the first time in this second half.  They cling to playoff possibilities but must keep winning at a first-half rate.  We'll see.  Starting pitching and Hunter Pence are carrying them at the moment, with some other bats coming around.  But even one of these games involved a blown save and a torturous 5.5 hours of 13 innings against a team on a losing streak.

The bullpen is their Achilles heel.  They won in 2014 with less than a stellar starting rotation but a supple, strong and reliable bullpen.  They fixed the rotation pretty much this year, but the bullpen --and the absence of a closer--is a significant deficiency, in the playoffs even if they get there, which is not at all certain.

The Pirates also seem to be fading from the playoff hunt though neither team is out of it yet.  Only the Dodgers seem to be getting stronger, especially with the return of Kershaw.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The Great One

Major League Baseball celebrates the career of Roberto Clemente today.

I saw Clemente play at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, and as a kid went down on the field on a meet the players day and shook his hand.  He was the player I sought out.

Here's my favorite Clemente story, which I've probably told you before.  It was a night game at Forbes Field.  I don't know if beer was sold there by the can or people just brought it in, but I remember hearing the sound of many cans opening and seeing the spray in the lights.

It was a long game.  The score was tied in the bottom of the ninth, or it may have been the 10th.  I was excited but getting sleepy.  Concentrating on a ball game is tiring.  But one of the Pirates got a hit, a double. Everybody stood up for that.

Clemente was coming up. People were sitting down, settling in for a typical Clemente at-bat.  This almost always meant he let the first pitch go by.  He might swing at a pitch so hard that his helmet and his regular cap he wore underneath it would both fly off.  And then he would get serious.

Except not this time. People were still sitting down when he swung at the first pitch and hit it so hard, that when it hit the right field fence right on the foul line, it seemed to knock the paint or the chalk right off of it.  It sounded like a cannon shot and left nothing to see but smoke.  The game was over.

The last time I saw him was more than a decade later, in 1972, playing against the Mets at Shea Stadium.  I was in an upper deck on the first base side, so I watched him on first base after he hit a single.

It turned out to be one of the last times anyone saw him.  It was the last away series before the Pirates returned home and Clemente got the 3,000 hit of his career, against the Mets.  That's his official number.  He actually got several more hits in a playoff series, but the Pirates didn't advance.

And then that winter he was lost in the sea, trying to get supplies to earthquake victims in a little country not his own.

He was the Great One.

He played right field like a gazelle, and had a cannon of a throwing arm.  He complained it was never the same after early in his career he threw from the deepest part of right field on a line to home plate.  He had style--his own form of the basket catch, his batting stance and base running.

The deepest part of right field, by the way, was the Exit Gate, not always used as I recall but once we did leave Forbes Field that way--walking across the grass that Clemente patrolled every game.

He played in the World Series twice.  In 1960 he hit safely in all 7 games.  In 1971 he hit over .400 and won the series MVP.  The Pirates won both championships.  The one in 1960 against the Yankees was their first since 1927.

He overcame racial hostility and misunderstanding to become a beloved player in Pittsburgh.  When the Pirates left Forbes Field for Three Rivers he was bereft--he'd played that right field half his life, he said.

Pirates announcer Bob Prince would pronounce his full name with correct pronunciation--Ro-buer-to Clem-en-tay the first time, and then refer to him as Bob or Bobby "Clemeney."  He also gave him the nickname of "Arriba" as in "Vamos arriba," let's rise up, let's go.

He battled injuries but had a career of remarkably consistent excellence as a hitter and a fielder, and longevity as a player of 18 seasons with the Pirates. Considering that he'd won that MVP one season before he died, his career wasn't nearly over.  We sure weren't ready to say goodbye.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

There's Always '018

The San Francisco Giants played four games in Chicago decided by one run each, and lost three of them.  The one that hurt the most was the last one, on Sunday, when they led 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth.  Casilla blew another save when the Cubs tied at 2-2, and then the Giants failed to cash in on several chances in extra innings.  They lost 3-2 after 13.

The one bright spot was Saturday, when the Giants combined a very strong performance by Madison Bumgarner with opportunistic baseball, taking full advantage of a couple of Cubs mistakes.  This game suggested that the Giants still have some postseason moxie left in them.

They can console themselves that they lost to the team that is clearly the best in baseball at the moment, and must be the heavy favorite to win all the marbles this year.  On the other hand, the Giants had everything to play for and the Cubs essentially had nothing, and it was the Cubs that came through in the crucial moments to win three one-run games.

The Giants are a mess, carrying way too many pitchers and not getting enough hits.  At least one of their risky moves last month has come back to haunt them, as I suspected it might: they got rid of catcher Andrew Susak, their backup catcher last year who would have been a strong third option now.  With backup Trevor Brown ailing, Buster Posey has been playing way too much, adding exhaustion to several minor ailments that aren't getting rest to heal.  Posey's hitting is predictably way down.

The Giants have been lucky in one regard--the Dodgers haven't been a lot better.  But today's combination of Giants' loss and Dodgers victory drops SF three games back, which right now looks like a very steep climb.  With the Cards and Mets surging, and the Pirates staying around, even a Wild Card berth is questionable.

Bumgarner on Saturday pointed out that the Giants are actually in better shape in the standings now than they were at this time in 2014.  I don't know how much consolation that is, however.  The Giants had a more reliable closer then, and a more experienced bullpen.  And there wasn't anybody who looked as strong as the Cubs do now.  Even if the Giants limp into postseason, it's hard to see them getting past the Cubs in a series.

Still, it's baseball.  And there's enough of it left to offer big surprises.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Historic

On September 1, 1971, the Pittsburgh Pirates fielded the first major league baseball team in history comprised completely of African American and Latino players.  This team would go on to make similar World Series history.  It included several All-Stars and two future Hall of Fame players in Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell.  Also starting were Rennie Stennent, who was back in the news this year when Brandon Crawford matched his 7 hits in one game record, All-Star catcher Manny Sanguillen and pitcher Dock Ellis.

This was also the Pirates era of longevity.  Clemente and Bill Mazeroski were among the players who had starred 11 years before on the 1960 World Champion Pirates, and would again with this team.  Their manager was also the same: Danny Murtaugh.  Bill Virdon, center fielder for the 1960 champs, was a  Pirates coach in 1971.

This was the Pirates' 90th season, and their first away from Forbes Field--they'd inaugurated Three Rivers Stadium the previous July.  They beat the San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship series and the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.  Roberto Clemente would be named the World Series MVP.

Fateful

The San Francisco Giants begin their most important road trip of the season tonight in Chicago.  They begin 1.5 games out of first place, and only barely ahead in the Wild Card.  They split their home series with Arizona by winning Wednesday 4-2.

As beset by injuries as the Giants have been, the Dodgers have their continuing woes, especially among starting pitchers.  After losing the first game of their doubleheader at Colorado 7-0 on Wednesday, they were forced to string together bullpen pitchers for the second game when their announced starter continued to have blister issues.  Only a late offensive flurry saved them from losing both games, but the split kept them 1.5 games ahead of the Giants instead of .5.

The Giants are going to have to show such resilience in Chicago, Arizona and Colorado before they finish mostly at home.  The Cubs are one of the hottest second half teams, running away with their division.  The Giants...well, you know.

A bunch of roster additions today, including the return of Kelby Tomlinson from the DL.  Giants get a look at young phenom Ty Blach, left handed reliever.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Panik Attack

You buys your ticket, you takes your chances.  Folks who spent this Sunday at the ball park (as I did two weeks ago), got a really great day, and an historic one.

It was the San Francisco Giants biggest offensive game in the park's history.  They broke a record with three triples in one inning.  The Giants haven't had a game with four triples and four homers since 1900, and their opponents, the Atlanta club, haven't given up four triples in a game since the club was the Baltimore Bees.  One of those triples belonged to Brandon Crawford, his 21st, the most in SF Giants history.

Joe Panik led the way with two homers, his first multi-homer game.  Jarrett Parker had 4 RBIs, Nunez and Span homered.  With an 8 run outburst in the 7th inning, the Giants won 13-3, and most importantly, won the series against Atlanta--their first series win at home since the break.  Madison Bumgarner went 7 and got the win.  The Dodgers also won, so SF remains 2 back.

If that wasn't fun enough, it was Mike Krukow bobblehead day at the park--the popular Giants on-air commentator and a 20-game winner.  Before the game, the National Anthem was sung by three of his kids, in 3-part harmony.

Panik's return to form is a big booster.  And his home run rivalry with former third baseman Matt Duffy continues, as Duff went deep for his new club in Tampa Bay.

Nunez homered and made a spectacular play at third, and another damn good one to end the game.  People are still talking about Matt Moore's near no-hitter, and how calm he was when he lost it. That these new guys are showing character as well as contributing is a big boost, too. If the Giants truly recover this year, that win and today's will look like the start of something big.

But the Giants continue to deal with injuries.  Their brightest new addition to the bullpen, Derek Law, is on the 15-day DL with elbow strain, though it's not expected to need anything but rest.  Matt Cain is rehabbing, but that starting spot is still up in the air.  Fortunately Arizona comes in Tuesday, and once again the Giants have to take advantage of a lesser team before they head to Chicago.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Almost September

Are the post-All Star game San Francisco Giants (with the worst record in MLB) the real 2016 Giants, or are the first half Giants (with the best record in MLB)?  Those who lean towards the second proposition--or at least to the Giants as division winners--have been waiting for the team to finally turn the corner.

It looked like they might when they won the first two games of the Mets series at home.  But then they lost the next two, and the first two in LA against the Dodgers, scoring five runs in the first game but giving up 9, and then losing 1-0.  They fell 3 games back.  A Dodger sweep might finish them.

But then they got an electric almost no-hit performance by Matt Moore and won 4-0.  Moore threw 133 pitches, and had a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth.  Spoiled by a bloop single to right (and if Hunter Pence hadn't left the game with the injury that's keeping him out of the lineup until maybe Tuesday, he might have gone for the catch.)

Then back home to dominate the Braves 7-0 with all facets of their game: Jeff S.'s stingy pitching (gave up 7 hits but no runs; the Giants had 10 hits and 7 runs), solid relief work, timely hitting in multiple innings, a homer by Pagan, superior fielding--especially by Brandon Crawford.  The Dodgers lost to the Cubs and so suddenly the Giants are just one game out.

But the team is still dogged by injuries.  They lost another starting pitcher--Jake Peavy--who was back in the rotation to replace injured Matt Cain.  (Suarez takes his start tonight.)  And Pence out of the lineup again.  The Giants still have to feast on the clumsy Braves (3 errors last night) with a trip to the Cubs looming.  And the Dodgers won today, so the Giants have to win just to stay 1 back.

It's a long season, August was never a great month for the Giants or for players like Bumgarner, but they are going to have to regain their confidence over a stretch of winning--at least more than they lose, which would be a second half change. September's coming, and it's then or never.

Friday, August 19, 2016

At the Ball Park

The Giants beat the Mets on Thursday night 10-7, behind Madison Bumgarner who also homered to put SF into the lead.  It broke a 4 game home losing streak.

I was there for two of those games: the 8-7 loss to the Orioles, another Casilla blown save after the Giants were leading 7-1; and Monday night's loss to the Pirates 8-5, which they also led 2-0 early.

The Pirates-Giants game was double loyalty for more than me.  The Pirates starting pitcher was Ryan Vogelsong, a Giant until this season.  He got a warm ovation before the game and an even warmer one when he left, despite getting the victory over his old team.  At an on-field event celebrating the retirement of another pitcher late last season, Vogelsong famously said, "I don't know where I'll be next year, but I'll always be a Giant."  At the game Monday I was close enough (thanks Cameron!) to see how moved he was when he tipped his cap to acknowledge the SF applause from the dugout, after he'd been lifted.

There were a surprising number of Pirates fans at that game, attending in team regalia as elaborate as the Giants fans in theirs.  I talked to one, another exile of the steeltown diaspora, who was transferred to SF in 1986, but is still a Pirates fan.

Despite the Giants losses, which I find really hard to take at home, I enjoyed being at the games.  The Giants played well--fine fielding by Brandon Crawford, Hunter Pence and Nunez, who got knocked to his can by a hot grounder and threw out the runner from that position, then hit the deck again to spear the next hot grounder but this time got to his feet to throw him out. And a Crawford-Panik-Belt double play which I've long wanted to see.  Some big hits, including homers by Pence, Nunez and Span.  On the Pirates side in that game, a homer by Polanco and the deciding moment of the game--a fantastic catch by Andrew McCutchen in center that saved at least two runs.

But the Giants couldn't put it together--the Achilles heel of relief pitching against Baltimore (it will be awhile before I can erase the image of Pagan climbing the wall in vain for the 3-run homer that won the game), and some crucial baserunning mistakes against Pittsburgh.  Giving up too many home runs, which continued for the Pirates series, which they swept, enhancing their playoff chances as the second wild card.

Meanwhile the Giants finally fell out of first, and have to be thinking about the wild card now themselves.  They have a crucial series upcoming against the Dodgers in Los Angeles which will determine a lot.

Thursday offers another Pittsburgh connection--it tied Bruce Bochy with Jim Leyland on the career win list for managers.  Leyland was the manager of the last Pirates team before the current one to get into the playoffs, during the early 90s. When the Pirates essentially sold off that team (and Barry Bonds went to San Francisco), Leyland went on to Florida where he finally got his much-deserved World Series ring.  Then he went to Detroit and won another pennant.

Leyland finally retired--to Pittsburgh.  Between jobs he was often seen in the stands at PNC Park, in the company of Chuck Tanner (who managed the last Pirates world championship team in 1979.) Leyland had succeeded Tanner as Pirates manager, and the two became close friends. I saw a bunch of games at Three Rivers Stadium when those two managed the Pirates.

" Jim is somebody I've always revered," Bochy said. "What an unbelievable career. I'm humbled to reach this milestone with somebody who's done so much for the game and is one of the best managers ever in the game. I've said this so many times: I'm fortunate to have been doing this as long as I've been doing it."

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Schzoid Giants

For the past four games the SF Giants are schzoid, and I'm afraid it might go on like that for awhile.

Two of those games were gutcheck victories.  Two of them the Giants were shut out, while their starting pitchers gave up just one and two runs respectively.

At the moment they are likely to be tied for first with L.A., but a continued drop down the division is not out of the question.  Both the Dodgers and the Rockies have played better than the Giants since the All-Star break.

The first of these four games looked like a sure loser--their fifth starter, Matt Cain, against the nearly perfect Steven Strasburg. But the Giants got to him and to the Nationals bull pen, with three extras by Eduardo Nunez (plus some much improved fielding) and three hits by Brandon Belt, including a homer.  Cain pitched strong though not very deep into the game.  The Giants won 7-1 and suddenly it looked like the bad days were over.  The game by Nunez made the Giants GM look good.

Then the next game in Washington, Madison Bumgarner pitched 8 innings, and gave up one run on a dinky homer that only would be a homer in Washington.  The Giants squandered chances and got nothing.  They lost 1-0 and the effort made some commentators question the team.

Then came the 14 inning, 5 plus hour game in Miami.  Cueuto wasn't sharp again, gave up back to back homers, the Giants fell behind but came roaring back, went ahead, fell behind, tied the game at 7.  And squandered chance after chance, runner on third less than two outs, bases loaded, whatever.  Until Brandon Crawford got his seventh hit of the night in the 14th.  The bull pen pitched magnificently, and Crawford's bat went to the Hall of Fame--he was only the 2nd National Leaguer in the modern era to get seven hits in a game.  The other was Pirates Rennie Stennet in a blowout in the 70s.  Crawford's hits came in a closely fought game in pressure situations.

So that had to be the game that turned it around, right?  It was just hours later than the Giants took the field again and squandered a three hitter by new Giants starter Matt Moore, his second quality start since becoming a Giant.  The Marlins got 7 innings of quality pitching from Koehler, their best starter recently, and their big star Stanton came through with a clutch if unusual hit in the first inning.  The bull pen, which after 14 innings would seem likely to be a weakness, performed well (including its latest addition, Jake Peavy)--the Marlins didn't score after the first.  But SF didn't score at all, again.  2-0.

It's a long season, and it's probably going to seem longer if it remains an inconsistent team that can't get all the elements of winning baseball together at the same time.

Things aren't any better for the Pirates--and it looks like one of the games I'm going to see in SF pits my two teams against each other--Giants v. Pirates.  It would be a lot more fun to anticipate if they were both going great.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Touching Bottom

The Giants touched bottom in Philadelphia, leading 4-0 on a Cueto 3-hitter in the 7th, losing in 12 innings 5-4.  With a day game tomorrow.

Cueto gave up--what else?--two homers and once again Duffy's third base replacement's error ultimately cost them the game.

And yet, the Dodgers got blown out, and the Giants are unaccountably still in first place.

 I say they touched bottom instead of hit bottom because they didn't hit much of anything after the fourth inning, against a losing team's losing bullpen.

The only question now is whether, having touched bottom, they stay there.  This is looking like a discouraged team in disarray, a team that is not a team anymore.  Even through the radio it seemed once the game was tied they didn't believe they'd win it.

You have to feel for Cueto, who seemed near tears after the game.  Nobody can figure out what's going on.  They keep saying, it happens, it's baseball, but they don't sound like they believe it anymore.

The last place Phillies beat their two top starters.  Sound familiar?

Apart from being haunted by giving up their best third base glove, the guy they traded Duffy for is making his first start tomorrow.  No pressure or anything.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Here Comes the Grump

Infield of Dreams
The problem of what's been happening to the Giants is what's been happening to the Giants.  Their pitching giving up tons of homers, two homers by the same hitter more than once, and a hitter with three homers in one game--pretty much unheard of in recent Giants seasons.  Their hitting wilting with runners in scoring position.  Managing to avoid being no-hit by one to a journeyman pitcher up from the minors that morning.  And the baserunning indignity of a triple play against them--and a particular triple play that no one can remember seeing before.

Add to that the uncharacteristic errors--or at least, they used to be uncharacteristic.  And the kind of bullpen failures, especially in the 8th and 9th, that just didn't used to happen to the Giants, not so regularly for sure.

So how does the front office respond?  By trading away the linchpin of the best defensive infield in at least the division, for an iffy starting pitcher, and depleting future choices (and a solid third string catcher) for an iffy left handed reliever, who in Bochy's scheme, is usually a specialist who faces one or two batters.

It all came back to bite them on the first day of the rest of their season in Philadelphia, when Duffy's replacement made a costly error at third that led to four unearned runs, and the reliever put the tying and winning runs on base in the 8th inning, after the hitters had come back from a six run deficit.  To eventually lose the thing by five runs anyway, to the Phillies, about as bad as the Reds, who swept the Giants quite recently.

The announcing team and the pr people and the bleacher site all paint a rosy picture of these trades, but I do not.  I do not like them.  I would like to be proven wrong.  But that hasn't begun to happen yet.

I admit that part of this disappointment is personal.  I'm going to be in the Bay Area in a couple of weeks and plan to catch at least one game.  I'd recently calculated the injury rehab schedule to tell me  that I would quite possibly see the starting infield I love and longed to see in person--Duffy, Crawford, Panik and Belt, plus Posey.  I'm crushed that I never will have that chance.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Trade

It's been a long time since the San Francisco Giants traded away a fan favorite.  The highest profile position player they've lost was the Panda, and he left them.  They've traded some pitchers and failed to sign Tim Lincecum.  But mostly they managed to acquire players through their farm system and by trading minor league prospects.

That changed today, when they traded one of the mainstays of their popular infield, third baseman Matt Duffy.  It's a risky move, beyond the sour taste it leaves.  They traded for pitcher Matt Moore, another in the line of pitchers with past potential but recent troubles.  That was the pattern before the season started, and arguably Johnny Cueto is the proof that it can work, while Jeff S. is still a question mark.

Both Moore and the other new pitching acquisition, reliever Will Smith, have shown talent but are under-performing this year.  In dealing a solid everyday player--one who fit perfectly in that infield, on and off the field--the Giants take a tremendous risk, and in that trade and the trade for Smith, are fast depleting the young talent in their farm system, which has served them so well recently--including giving them Matt Duffy.

The Giants had earlier acquired infielder Eduardo Nunez, whose bat made an immediate impact.  But he too is something of a reclamation project going forward.  He looks to be the starting third baseman now, perhaps alternating with rookie Conor Gillaspe until their minor league phenom Arroyo is ready.

Dealing for pitchers is more of a risk always, and the impact on the fan sentiment that after all drives dollars to the ballpark is really risky if they don't perform, specifically when there's somebody missing from the everyday lineup, a player that fans--especially young fans--really looked forward to seeing.   Moreover, it's not clear how a left handed reliever helps the bullpen all that much.  Unless he's a closer.

By the way, I'm not among those who see Cain and Peavy as weak starters in the rotation.  They may not be able to get very deep in the game, but they've pitched as well recently as any of the other starters.  Jeff S. especially.

The Giants also traded Andrew Susac, who was stuck in the minors because the Giants carry only two catchers.  It isn' t all that rare for a team to need that third catcher, and right away.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh Pirates traded starting pitcher Francisco Luriano, and I detect some hometown dissatisfaction with recent personnel moves.  I'm not following the team that closely but they do seem to be dealing more than usual.

But that's baseball these days, I guess.  The Dodgers have added some rent-a-team philosophy since their buy-a-team hasn't worked out, but all that rarely does.  You build a team, and even with some vital late season acquisitions in their World Series years, the Giants built a homegrown infield that was among the best in the league.  And now they've broken it.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Help is on the way

The San Francisco Giants posted the best won-loss record in baseball in the first half of the season.  Since the All-Star break, they've posted the worst.

After losing a series to the last place Reds, the Giants face the first place Nationals.  But they do so with Joe Panik back in the lineup, and with the prospect of Hunter Pence back this weekend.  Matt Duffy is also show signs of recovery and may be off to his rehab assignment soon.

 They've also brought up a lefthanded reliever, a one-inning specialist so far.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Slump Dump

The SF Giants are on a terrible losing streak, mostly to teams they should be handling, although their misfortunes include meeting these teams when they are on win streaks.

Most good teams go through this--the Cubs did just before the break--and it's good to remember at such times that the Giants were collapsing so much late in the 2014 season that one of the SF Chronicle's top sportwriters wrote that it was becoming obvious there wouldn't be any even-year championship parade.  And yet, there was.

But as fans wait for SF to right the ship, it's worth noting that having all the injuries they had plus an undependable bullpen probably made also having the best record in baseball unsustainable.  It's going to take awhile to work guys back in over the next month or more, and it's likely to be a close race in the division, even with the Dodgers own injury troubles.

Right now the team can't even win for Bumgarner, while the rest of the rotation (except for Cueto, perhaps) is weakening.  Or maybe it's the warmer weather and the balls aren't dying in the outfield anymore.  The Giants are back home and will be at home a lot in the next month or so.  I doubt if there are 8 out of 9 winning streaks to come--a lot of good teams are coming in-- but they should get back to winning more often than not.

The Cubs went all in for their bullpen with the Yankees' Chapman and there's not much time for the Giants to acquire what everyone else is also looking for.  But with the starting rotation vulnerable, and leaving runners on base an epidemic, there are other problems.  Given the high prices and low availability out there, the Giants may have to rely on their own players who have been better than they have recently.  Maybe they will be great again.  If any team organization can bring that out, it's the Giants.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Slow Return/ Hated Dubs?

In their first two games back against a sub-.500 team they'd dominated so far, the San Francisco Giants looked like they weren't over the All-Star break.  Less than usually brilliant starting pitching, throwing and fielding errors, bad at-bats on Friday, more of the same Saturday until the bats perked up, but--real bad omen-- another blown save by Casilla, this time causing the walk-off winning run to come in on a balk.  Casilla started the 10th inning up 6-5.  He ended it the losing pitcher, 7-6.

The Giants lost both games, with an ailing Johnny Cueto scheduled to start in Sunday's afternoon game after Saturday's evening 10 innings.  Not sure who steps in if he can't go since Bochy used Suarez Saturday.

Only silver lining is that the Dodgers lost their tough one on Saturday, so the Giants don't lose additional ground to them.  These games probably indicate just a slow second half start, but for all the talk about the Giants being favorites now--especially with their position starters on the mend (though Pence may have had a setback in his first rehab game)-Saturday's ending doesn't quell that nagging suspicion that the Giants don't have the bullpen--especially the closer--to go as far as they'd like.  Although the rest of the pen did well on Saturday.

I suppose the speculation starts soon about which rooks the Giants keep after the starters come back.  I'm particularly curious about how they evaluate outfielders Williamson v. Parker.

Sunday Update: Cueto pitched, but not so well.  The Giants were very nearly no-hit by a guy who was brought up from the minors in the morning, for his last shot as a big league pitcher.  It's a nice story of redemption for him, but the Giants were terrible again, as they were all series long and as they are from time to time--in not bringing in those runners on base.  Their only hit was a three-run pinch hit homer by Connor Gillaspe. (This kid has a future.) Cueto, Belt, maybe even Posey--some kind of All Star jinx going on.

Once again they lucked out however as the Dodgers lost.  But what should have been a tune-up in San Diego turned into being outplayed and swept, and it doesn't get easier.  With cross-country travel to Boston and New York, this could turn out to be a disastrous road trip.

The game of the day however was the Pirates beating Washington in 18 innings, 2-1 on Starling Marte's home run.  No All Star jinx there, but then he didn't go.

As a result of Durant's decision, apparently Golden State Warriors are to be the league's most hated team, or at least that's what sports media are trying to gin up.  From the most loved to the most hated?  Because they added another dynamic, exciting, likable star?  Makes no sense to me.

This article however makes sense of the new Warriors team v. last year's.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Our Star

Sunday Madison Bumgarner had his curve working for 14 strikeouts in a complete game shutout.  He was so dominant that the D-Backs went hitless for 7 plus, before Jake Lamb hit a clean single.  It was only the second ball to get to the outfield--the first was also by Lamb and went for an error.  That broke up the perfect game.

The Giants won 4-0, the last two runs driven in by Brandon Crawford, the team RBI leader.  Crawford helped turn double plays in the 7th and 9th.  In the Giants' 4-2 win on Saturday, he turned a play that probably turned the game, winning it for Jake Peavy.

Crawford leads all infielders in the category of runs saved with 19.  So mostly what people talked about this weekend was: why isn't he on the All-Star team?

The All-Star balloting is bullshit.  The fan component, with unlimited votes, is bullshit.  That it's an elaborate marketing device for an insurance company is really bullshit.

The Giants have the best record in baseball, and are sending two position players and a pitcher to the All-Star game.  The Chicago Cubs, into the famine side of their early feast, are sending practically the whole team.  Bullshit.

In the past few days the Golden State Warriors have lost Speights, signed McAdoo and Ian Clark, and acquired veteran forward David West.  Meanwhile somebody said that Jerry West told him the Warriors might add another name to the team soon.


Thursday, July 07, 2016

Strength in Numbers

Strength in Numbers was the Warriors' motto last season, but as the San Francisco Giants approach the All-Star Game break, it occurs to me that it's also the headline for their success so far this year.

At the moment the Giants enjoy the best record in the majors.  Thanks to a Dodgers' loss today, they have a 6.5 game lead atop the division.  The question is why?

Especially when so many regulars have lost significant playing time with injuries, and right now three or four are unavailable (it's not clear about Span) for the final weekend before the break.  Plus one of their top relievers (Romo) has just gotten back, and one of their starting pitchers (Cain) may be ready for the second half but has been out of the rotation for several weeks--just as he seemed to be getting back on track.

And even factoring in the injury to Romo, the bullpen has underperformed, both in contrast to past years and to the league right now--with a high number of blown saves.

So why are they winning?  There's one clear stand-out star of the first half: new starting pitcher Johnny Cueto.  But he pitches just 1 out of every 5 games.  Three other starters are also pitching at a high level.  Madison Bumgarner has run into some bad luck with run support and reliever failures, Jeff S. has been inconsistent recently and Jake Peavy took awhile to get sharp, but together they are clearly among the top starting pitching staffs in the league.

That's strength in numbers.  So is the high level of the starters in the field who've managed to stay healthy: Brandon Belt is having an All-Star year, as is Brandon Crawford, though thanks to a totally bullshit selection process, they might not be recognized as such.  Buster Posey is their MVP, for even when he's not hitting, he's guiding these pitchers and playing his position admirably.  And quite a lot of the time, he is hitting.

But strength in numbers really comes into play with the rookies and substitutes, the guys who've been sent out on the field to replace the injured starters, and to do what the team needs to win.  And by and large, they've been doing it.  Playing unfamiliar positions or bouncing around the batting order, they've mostly come through.  And among the rookie pitchers, Cory Gearrin has been heroic, pitching effectively in tight spots probably more than he should be asked to perform.  Suarez is another--bouncing back and forth from the minors, asked to relieve, asked to start, he's been pretty solid.

You have to assume that part of this is due to the team culture.  Other players envy the SF Giants organization and their clubhouse.  They were factors in getting Cueto and Jeff S. to join up.

That brings us back to the Golden State Warriors, with the same quality organization and team chemistry.  It's a smaller group in the clubhouse now that has to embrace a bunch of new players, but at Kevin Durant's signing press conference Thursday, it's clearly a great deal of why he's come to the Warriors--and he said so:

"When I met these guys, I felt as comfortable as I've ever felt," Durant said. "It was organic, it was authentic, it was real, and it was feelings I couldn't ignore."

He was reassured that there wouldn't be ego trips or selfish play.

 Of the core players he said: "It felt like they just loved each other unconditionally."

It's kind of a strange thing for an athlete to say about other players.  And yet, it seems to be crucial to the success of these two Bay Area teams.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

The Closer (Also the Starter)

On Wednesday in San Francisco, it's all good.  Johnny Cueto pitches a complete game victory--his fourth so far this season, in an era where even one is rare--and his 13th win (highest on the Giants in the first half of the season in almost a quarter century) against one loss.  The victory over the Rockies gave the Giants the best record in MLB.  And with the Dodgers' loss, a 6 game division lead.

Pretty good day for Pittsburgh, too.  After falling behind the Cards 5-1, the Bucs roared back to win 7-5 for their seventh straight.  Bullpen again was key.  The victory secured second place in their division, 8.5 games back of the Cubs.  And the Cubs are next.

Not such a great night in San Francisco on Tuesday, though, as six strong innings by Madison Bumgarner were wasted by another bullpen implosion.  Corey Gearrin, who gave up the 3-run homer that blew the lead, was placed on the 15 day DL to rest an aching shoulder.  The rook had been the most reliable reliever on the staff until recently, and probably was overworked.  Let's hope not fatally.  The bullpen remains the Giants biggest weakness, as they are tied with the lowly Reds for the league lead in blown saves.

Meanwhile across the Bay, the past year's Golden State Warriors team continued to disassemble.  Barnes and Bogut leaving were expected consequences of Durant,  and Ezeli was probably gone in any event, but Leandro Barbosa was a fan favorite and personification of Strength in Numbers.  He declined to stay for the vet minimum and took a two-year deal from Phoenix. Free agent Brandon Rush also left.  That leaves Shaun Livingston and Iguodala, with Speights still to be determined.  The Warriors still have four roster spots to fill.

Surprisingly, veteran head coach Mike Brown has joined the Warriors' staff as an assistant, as Luke Walton takes the Lakers head coaching job that Brown once held.  Brown won Coach of the Year at, coincidentally I'm sure, Cleveland.

But all that will take a backseat on Thursday when Kevin Durant officially joins the Golden State Warriors.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Wow

Wow.  What else is there to say?  I certainly never expected it.

Kevin Durant announced on Monday that he would be playing for the Golden State Warriors.  In one fell swoop, the Warriors obtained one of the greatest players in the NBA, and defanged its conference rival, the Thunder.

Some other dominoes quickly fell.  Warriors Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes departed for Dallas, and the Dubs obtained from Dallas a year contract for big man Zaza Pahchulia, who with Curry, Thompson, Green and Durant, probably constitutes the 2016-17 starting five.

After their initial elation, Dubs fans at the Bleacher Report obsessed with financials, trying to figure out how the Warriors pay the rest of the team.  But another comment on that site says it all in one word: Surreal.

Yet it makes sense for Durant, and almost anybody.  Because every player envies the players on Golden State for the team culture and the Bay Area atmosphere.  Durant's one question in his meeting with the Warriors was, will I upset the team chemistry?  Everybody knows that's what's special about the Warriors.  Strength in Numbers is more than a slogan. (Rob Mahoney at SI makes this point at length.)  Curry texted Durant, reassuring him of the team ethic, and it's not a team of rivals.  Jerry West expounded on how Durant would fit in perfectly.  All this is at least equal to the prospects of championships to come.

The news of Durant's announcement came as the San Francisco Giants were finishing up their afternoon game at home--Duane Kiper related it during the radio broadcast-- riding homers by Posey and Pagan behind a strong start by Peavy (yeah, the killer P's, inevitably) to beat the Rockies 3-1.  Also notable: Sergio Romo returned to the bullpen, pitching in the eighth.  And for the first time in awhile, the Giants got through the eighth with their lead intact.

They leaned on their rookies again, though mostly for defense.  Parker and Williamson made nice outfield plays on a tricky sun-and-wind day, and Grant Green made an excellent play at second base.

The Dodgers also won so the Giants didn't get any additional space at the top of the division, but their victory did pull them to one-half game behind the Cubs for the best record in the league.  They've won 16 of their last 22 games, the best record in MLB for that period.

The Pirates beat the Cardinals 4-2 to go above .500 and gain a game on second place Cards--they're now just a game and a half behind them.

It's another year of feast and famine so far.  All the division leaders are near or above .600, with Cleveland, Texas and Chicago leading their divisions by at least 6 games (the Giants by 5.)  Most look to be two team races at best.  The American League East is the sole exception.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Revenge of the Rooks II

On Sunday the Pittsburgh Pirates completed a sweep of the A's in Oakland and after winning four straight are back at .500.  Notable in this streak is their bullpen, which hasn't given up a run in 32 innings.

That's in contrast to the San Francisco Giants bullpen, which blew late inning leads in their last two games in Arizona.  After leading 5-1 for much of the Saturday game, a 3-run homer in the eighth gave Arizona the lead and ultimately the win, 6-5.  Before that, the highlight was Mac Williamson's titanic home run that hit the scoreboard, which none of the Giants' announcers could remember seeing before.

On Sunday an even more makeshift lineup (Brandon Belt playing left field because of injuries to Span and Blanco, playing next to Jarrett Parker and Williamson) the Giants nevertheless had a 4-1 lead while starter Suarez was pitching, but blew it once again on a homer in the 8th, this time tying the game at 4.  It took eleven innings for the Giants to win it 5-4, with the bullpen holding the line in the extras.

Brandon Belt had two keys, one of them a 2 RBI double, as well as an important catch in the field, and Brandon Crawford had another stellar defensive game that saved some runs.  But again it was the rooks who were the story--both Parker and Williamson were in the thick of it, and the winning hit came from the hobbling Pena, not fit to field yet but who came off the bench to double in the 11th inning, bringing the speedy Parker around from first.

Williamson hit another boomer, but this time a line drive that was caught.  Announcer Jon Miller gets a lot of joshing from the rest of the crew for fixating on the new stat of bat speed.  But Dave Fleming had to admit that the ball traveling at an exceptionally fast 117 mph off Williamson's bat correlates with a hit 95% of the time.  

So the Giants limp home from a short road trip with, almost unaccountably, 3 out of 5 wins, and still 5 ahead of the streaking Dodgers.  They return with Denard Span awaiting results of an MRI on his neck that could lead to yet another player on the DL.  The good news: Kelby Tomlinson is doing his final rehab thing in triple-A and is close to returning, while Hunter Pence seems ahead of schedule on his possible return, taking batting practice.  Matt Cain is doing his triple-A starts.  And best of all for the beleaguered bullpen would be the return of Romo.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Revenge of the Rooks

When five of your eight starters in the field aren't playing, and a few of their backups can't either, a lot of teams wouldn't be expecting to win.  SF Giants manager Bruce Bochy had an ace in the hole, i.e. on the mound, in Johnny Cueto.  But he wasn't feeling all that great either, with a stomach virus.  He gave up four runs before settling into a quality start, seven innings with nine strikeouts.

You might look to Crawford, Belt and Pagan to get you going, but they all went hitless. Yet the Giants came back to win 6-4, and it was just about all because of the rooks (and the semi-rooks who had some playing time late last season.)  Conor Gillaspie had another fine day, going 3 for 4, a homer shy of a cycle.  The homer--a big fly to the opposite field--came from the powerful bat of Jarrett Parker.  Catcher Trevor Brown had a key hit, and so did the rookiest of the rooks, Grant Green, up from the minors and playing his second game as a Giant, subbing for DL Joe Panik at second.  Green had two hits Friday, including a key single with two outs in the fourth inning that drove in two runs. He also had two hits in his first game.

Even rookie Cody Gearrin pitched a hitless eighth, while Casilla's ninth was another adventure, aided by a tough Belt to Crawford to Belt double play.

The day before in Oakland, the Giants salvaged the last game of the home-and-home Bridge series behind Madison Bumgarner's pitching--and his double that got the hit parade started, 12-6.  Buster Posey had a three run homer.  As of Friday the Giants are again 20 games over .500, leading the Dodgers by 6 games.  LA got bad news when their ace Clayton Kershaw went on the 15 day DL.  My Pirates have been winning more lately and are now just three games under .500, creeping up on the slumping Cards for second place, and the first place Cubs have been slumping as well (though they still have the best record in baseball, along with the Texas Rangers.)

 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

When the Wheels Came Off

What happened to the San Francisco Giants in their two games hosting the Oakland A's was shocking but perhaps not so surprising.  That Jeff Samardzjia was ineffective again on Monday is troubling enough, giving up 6 of the A's 8 runs.
But much worse on Tuesday, when Suarez started and pitched well, the bullpen fell apart completely. .  The bullpen gave up all but one of Oakland's 13 runs. They gave up multi-run leads three times. The Giants actually outhit the A's but what killed their chances was walks.  The failures included this year's two most reliable relievers, Cory Gearrin (who walked the first two batters in the eighth, when the Giants lost a 3 run lead) and closer Casilla (who let a one run lead for the As balloon to 4.)

No matter how carefully Bochy has managed this bullpen, it has been stretched, and so a total meltdown, while it wasn't inevitable (and certainly wasn't pretty), wasn't against the odds.

Then the series moved to Oakland and the Giants incredibly found another way to lose--with an epidemic of errors and bad plays.  The makeshift infield was probably due, but the outfield?  Matt Williamson had a terrible day in the field and at the plate, but he's a rook.  It was Angel Pagan in left, who had one of those games he used to have in center field.  Is there a more schzoid player on the Giants?  He's been the hero with timely hits and some dazzling catches.  But on Wednesday he was just plain sloppy.  He so clearly cost Jake Peavy the game that even Peavy was visibly and audibly angry.

As if all that wasn't bad enough, since the series started the Giants have lost two more players to injuries.  Another infield starter, Joe Panik, began experiencing concussion symptoms from a fastball to the head several games ago.  He's on the five day DL.  Now the promising infield replacement, rook Pena, got stomped on in a collision with Williamson in the field, and is out for an undetermined time.

The Giants already had to bring up Ruben Tejada, who they acquired and sent to the minors where he has been less than impressive, and his first day in the field was not good either.  Kelby Tomlinson is starting to play in his recovery regime in the minors but he's not yet available.

Is it surprising then that for the last game of this series in Oakland, the Giants aren't using a DH--Madison Bumgarner is pitching, and he's hitting.  He's one injured player away from being asked to play third base.

The sort of good news is that while the Giants have lost three straight, the Dodgers have lost two of three.  

Sunday, June 26, 2016

800=8

The SF Giants left Pittsburgh with a 6-1 road trip, looking forward to a couple of home series against non-contenders, beginning with one of the weakest teams in the majors, the Philadelphia Phillies.  Plus two of the three games would be pitched by their aces, Bumgarner and Cueto.

But it turned out to be not that easy.  All three games were decided by one run.  As happened in Pittsburgh, the Giants couldn't score for MadBum and he took the 3-2 loss.  The others were victories, and on Sunday, it came down to the last of the ninth--with an erratic Cueto long gone-- and consecutive doubles by the rooks Pena and Gillaspie to notch Bruce Bochy's 800th win as Giants manager, 8-7.

Meanwhile back in Pittsburgh where the Giants had taken 2 of 3, the Pirates beat the Los Angeles Dodgers three games straight (with a fourth coming up Monday), and the Giants division lead is extended to 8 games.  Sunday's game saw yet another brand new pitcher on the mound for Pittsburgh, as the Pirates touched Clayton Kershaw for 4 runs and only his second loss of the season.

Sunday's game in San Francisco was out of kilter, with 4 hit batsmen, numerous lead changes and strange plays.  The root of it all may well have been the unpredictable calls behind the plate.  It unnerved everybody when balls were called strikes, and some highly obvious strikes were called balls.  There's nothing that can turn this game unstable more than an erratic plate umpire.

Besides Gillaspie's winning hit, the game featured four hits by Angel Pagan, who came very close to homering twice.  The first time it was barely foul, the second hit off the top of the wall, which scored a run but which ended up with Pagan called out trying to stretch it into a triple, although possibly trying to draw the throw to make sure the run got in.

The Giants' bullpen was tested in this series and seemed tired.  Denard Span seems to need a day off badly, judging from his plate appearances on Sunday.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Giants On Top

The Giants in Pittsburgh.  John Miller describing the evening sun lighting downtown, Dave Fleming describing the fans streaming over the Clemente bridge, and so on.  Heavy nostalgia for me, even if I've only been in that particular ballpark a couple of times.

After sweeping the Rays in Tampa, the Giants won three of four in Pittsburgh.  The one they lost--the first game--was the weirdest, as it was Madison Bumgarner pitching eight innings and giving up one run on a homer that just got over the outstretched glove of Angel Pagan in left.  But the Giants scored nada and lost.

The remaining games showcased the Pirates pitching woes and a suddenly unhittable Giants bullpen.  A 15-4 blowout, mostly against the Pirates relievers, followed by a come from behind 7-6 win, again mostly on the Pirates relievers, and in the second-weirdest game, the Giants rookies beat the Pirates 5-3.

 Mac Williamson had himself a couple of games after being called up to take Duffy's DL roster spot, including a titanic home run (460 feet or so), making it less likely that he'll be the guy sent back down next time a starter comes back on the roster. (Though Jarrett Parker is also playing well, and hitting.) Two rookies, Ramiro Pena and Conor Gillaspe, played short and third Thursday, and split third in other games, in the absence of injured Matt Duffy.  Both hit well, with Pena being the bigger surprise, showing RBI power.

Joe Panik has gotten hot finally, and was instrumental in all 3 wins in Pittsburgh.  Johnny Cueto won his 11th game, keeping pace with the league leaders, in that 15-4 bash.  Angel Pagan hit a grand slam, Gillaspe had four hits that included a homer, and Blanco was on base five times.

So while the Dodgers went on a six game win streak, the Giants won five out of six on their road trip, and the Dodgers picked up nada on them in the standings.  On Thursday the Giants went 20 games over .500, and are tied for the most wins in baseball with the Cubs and the Rangers (both of which have lost fewer games, however.)

Meanwhile the Pirates are in desperate shape.  They are still home run threats--as the Giants saw--and they have a great defensive outfield, and at times a terrific overall defense.  But key players are injured or are just coming back.  They're 14 games out of first, which doesn't bode well for contending this year.  The Cubs are running away with the division so far, 9 games ahead of St. Louis, so for a change the wild card might not come out of this division this year.

Now the Giants come home, and we'll see how resilient the rooks are.  To survive with starters Pence and Duffy, prime infield and even outfield backup Kelby Tomlinson, reliever Romo and starter Matt Cain all on the DL (with only Romo likely to be back before the All-Star break), the rooks are going to have to play above their pay grade.  And Bochy has to remain successful with his orchestration of the bullpen.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Next Year?

The stage was set, the score was tied.  Even after the debacles of games 5 and 6, the Warriors were poised to win the seventh game and the championship.  All they had to do in the final minutes was what they did so well and so often in a season without precedent: make shots.  A couple of 3s.  Or maybe just one.

And like some nightmare, the basketball version of the actor's nightmare maybe, they couldn't do it.  They could not sink even one.

For all the credit that LeBron James is getting, this was the Warriors' game and the Warriors' series to lose.  And they lost it.  Draymond Green's suspension and the back and forth between the teams and the NBA killed their game at home in the fifth game.  But all they had to do was win one more game.

They had beaten the Cavs in Cleveland just a week before, but they couldn't come all the way back from a devastating first quarter and they lost game 6, wire to wire.  Draymond was back but Andrew Bogut was down.  So the team that had beaten the Cavs three times in this series didn't take the floor.

It didn't for game 7 either--Bogut wasn't there to guard the basket. Iguodala was not himself. Draymond had an efficient game, his best since the first game.  But the Dubs needed the Splash Brothers to come up big, and they didn't.  But they've had poor shooting games and still come through at crunch time.  And they didn't.

In some weird way it may have been the price of their long winning season, and all the expectations every day.  I can't help thinking that Steph Curry trying to introduce a new product in his shoe line in the middle of the Finals was really dumb, and distracting.  But what do I know?  Nothing, really.

We'll remember the greatness of the season past, and the physical wounds hopefully will heal.  I'm still a fan, but I wonder if a team comes back from this next season, especially a team like this one that depends on confidence.

On a brighter note, Jake Peavy pitched a phenomenal game against Tampa Bay on Sunday, although the SF Giants didn't score for him, winning in the late innings with a four run outburst to take their eighth game in a row 5-1 and sweep the series.  They have a quick turnaround to Pittsburgh, though not as quick as the Pirates themselves have, after a night game in Chicago where they were swept by the Cubs.  Pirates pitching has been sagging and they are falling behind in their division.

The Pirates are hurt by injuries but the Giants so far seem to be surviving theirs remarkably well, though they are dangerously thin.  The Giants are doing it with relentless hitting but mostly with starting pitching, and they go into Pittsburgh with MadBum, Johnny Cueto and the Shark.  And an apparently rejuvenated Jake Peavy.
Brandon Belt had another homer on Sunday, he leads the team with 10--he's seems to be playing relaxed and professional since his contract.  Brandon Crawford responded that way, too--he's now the Giants' leading RBI guy.  Despite the frustrations--too many left on base, the adventuresome bullpen--it's once again a fun team to watch (even, as I do, on the radio.)  

Friday, June 17, 2016

10-1

On Wednesday, Johnny Cueto won his 10th game as a SF Giants starter this season, 10-1, which is also his won/loss record.  No pitcher in the major leagues has more wins, and only one has a better record.  With lots of run support for a change, the Giants swept the Brewers and ended their homestand on a five game winning streak.

The news is much more dire for the Golden State Warriors.  They left Cleveland with a 3-1 lead and the chance to grab the championship with a game 5 win at home.  But at LeBron's behest, the NBA suspended the Dubs' keystone player, Draymond Green.  Not only were the Warriors thoroughly beaten in the fifth game, they also lost Andrew Bogut to injury.  As I suggested, Klay Thompson did carry the Dubs early in the game, but Curry failed to close the gap at the end.

Without Bogut defending around the basket, the Cavs had a much too easy time scoring in game 6 in Cleveland, and the Warriors got blown out in the first quarter.  Still, they were coming back in the fourth when Stephen Curry was called for his sixth foul and when he objected, he was ejected.  Coach Kerr after the game called out the ref for three bad foul calls against Curry.  Both Curry and Kerr were fined.

Normally the return home for game 7 on Sunday would make the Warriors the favorites.  But while the odds aren't quite 10-1 against them, they are against them.  Not only is Bogut still out but Iguodala was hobbling, and the Warriors' defense looks fatally porous.  The Cavs have been beating up on Curry and the Warriors in general.  It will take all of Kerr's genius and an heroic team effort for the Warriors to come away as champions again.