Linececum;Sandoval; Anderson/Braden; Don Nelson; JaMarcus Russell; Bud Selig
But this year, both teams have a shot. As I write this, the Aís are only percentage points out of first place in the AL West. The Giants are in fourth place in the Nl West but are only 3 Ĺ games behind the Padres in a division that is clearly up for grabs.
The Giants are currently facing problems with their best pitcher, two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, and Pablo Sandoval, who should be their best hitter.
I think Lincecumís problems will be solved first. Heís lost his rhythm on the mound, which can happen to pitchers, but thatís the type of thing he can work on with pitching coach Dave Righetti in the bullpen. Heís probably lost a bit of his confidence, too, but heís too good a pitcher to stay in this slump long.
Iím not so confident about Sandoval. Watching Sundayís game on TV and Mondayís in person at AT&T, I saw the same pattern: Pitchers are throwing him waist high fastballs on his fists, and heís not handling them, either popping them foul or missing them entirely. On Monday, he saw enough other pitches he could hit to get three singles, but if he doesnít start hitting those pitches on the fists, heís going to see more and more of them. Pitchers look at videos of the next team theyíre going to face. If this was clear to me, it will be really obvious to pitchers.
And, on a team that is very prone to hitting into double plays, Sandoval is the leader with 12.
The other thing I find interesting about the Giants is that their two highest-paid position players, Aaron Rowand and Edgar Renteria, are not the best players at their position.
Andres Torres had come up to the majors with the Detoit Tigers in 2002 and later played for the Texas Rangers, but he had only 257 major league at-bats when he signed with the Giants last year. But heís a better hitter Ė and a much better leadoff hitter Ė than Rowand, and probably a shade better in center field, too. I donít know Torresí salary but itís a small fraction of the $12 million a year Rowand is getting.
Similarly, Juan Uribe is not getting anything like the $9.25 million Edgar Renteria is getting, but the Giants are better with Uribe at shortstop because he has far more range. In one play in Mondayís game, he went to his right into short left field and just missed throwing out the runner. Renteria wouldnít have come close to the ball.
Mark DeRosa didnít get as big a contract as either Rowand or Renteria, but the Giants are better off when heís not playing, too. DeRosa has never been more than one of those guys who looks good if heís surrounded by good hitters, which does not exactly describe the Giants. It was a mistake to sign him. Now, heís on a rehab assignment but itís not going well. Heís probably headed for another surgery, which will effectively end his season.
Meanwhile, manager Bruce Bochy is scrambling to find a lineup that can hit but without any luck. After the Giants went 20 innings without scoring as the Aís swept them at Oakland, Bochy prevailed on Giants GM Brian Sabean to bring up Buster Posey. But that move only looked good against the Arizona Diamondbacks and their dreadful bullpen.
On the official Memorial Day, Coloradoís Ubaldo Jiminez tied the Giants hitters into knots. No surprise there. Jiminez had already thrown a no-hitter this year and had a 9-1 record going in with an ERA of less than one run a game. This kid is really something. He reminded me of Juan Marichal with his assortment of pitches, and he had movement on everything. Giants hitters were often left staring at a fast ball which started wide of the plate and then dipped in for a strike.
But on Tuesday night, the Giants looked almost as bad against Rockiesí starter Jason Hammel, who came in with a 6.93 ERA, scoring only one run in an 11-inning loss.
Without Sandoval as that big hitter in the middle of the lineup, Bochy is going to have to scramble to get a decent hitting lineup. That means finding a way to keep Torres and Uribe in the lineup. It probably will mean making Bengie Molina a coach by midseason and putting Posey behind the plate.
Otherwise, the Giants postseason drought will probably extend to seven.
THE AíS HAVE one big advantage: mediocrity in their division. The Angels have been plagued by injuries, and theyíve lost some top players in the last two years. Seattle, which was the hot pick by ďexpertsĒ in the offseason, has not played well. The Mariners have a big problem with Ken Griffey Jr., who is not producing. Because of his stature, it will be hard, maybe impossible, for the Mariners to tell Griffey to retire, but thatís what he should do.
The Aís have certainly had their injury problems, too. Justin Duchscherer, who was expected to be a solid veteran in the rotation, is undergoing another hip surgery. His Aís career is over. Coco Crisp just got off the DL and went right back on; heís scheduled to come off on Tuesday. Brett Anderson, their sensational young lefthander, just came off the DL with a solid performance against the Tigers last Saturday.
Even without Duchscherer, the Aís starting rotation is solid. Ben Sheets, who is scheduled to pitch tonight in Boston, had some very rocky outings early but he seems to have settled into a groove. Anderson has a bright future, and present, too. Gio Gonzales is still inconsistent but has great stuff; heís basically where the Giantsí Jonathan Sanchez was at this time last year; Dallas Braden threw a perfect game last month. Trevor Cahill has been solid since he returned from the minors and a stint on the DL.
The Aís have very little power, which is why they brought Jack Cust back, but they have excellent team speed. Rajai Davis, who started off very slowly but is starting to hit more like he did last season, is an adept base stealer. So is Crisp, if he can ever stay healthy. Other Aís Ė Ryan Sweeney, Daric Barton, even catcher Kurt Suzuki Ė have excellent speed and routinely go first-to-third on singles. Unlike the Gians, the Aís can generate runs with their feet.
The Aís are a much younger team than the Giants, so they have a chance to play better down the stretch. The Giants are likely to fade. That, and the fact that theyíre playing in a weaker division, makes me think the Aís are more likely to reach the postseason than the Giants.
AT THE PARK: On Memorial Day, the Giants had a sellout against the Rockies, 42,000-plus, and it sometimes seemed that 40,000 of them had never seen a game before.
Giants crowds often contain a large percentage of fans for whom the game is just part of the overall entertainment package. When I walk around the park, Iíll see hundreds of fans milling around on the walkway behind right field, gazing out at the water or buying food at the stops behind center field and eating at the tables there.The playground for children beyond the left field fence is always full.
That doesnít bother me. Giants management is very smart and realizes that, to attract large crowds, you have to go far beyond those who really know and care about the game. Theyíve done a great job of that, providing a little something for everybody.
Itís a given in baseball that, the larger the crowd, the smaller the percentage of fans who really understand the game. When the Giants played at Candlestick, they had a very smart crowd because only fans who really loved the game would battle the terrible weather. Now, it is the Aís crowds which are much smaller and with a higher percentage of true believers.
So, when I go to a Giants game, I know Iím going to see a lot of people just there for the event. Even so, it was a shock on Monday. Fans were standing near the end of the second inning, applauding Tim Lincecum and exhorting him to strike out the batter, which he didnít. Thatís the kind of thing you associate with the last inning of the final game of the World Series. In one inning, fans applauded when consecutive Giants ďhittersĒ hit a ground ball to the second baseman and a fly ball to short right.
Maybe the Giants should hand out baseball primers to fans as they enter the park.
BASEBALL SCHEDULING: In the first interleague weekend, the Giants and Aís were able to play a Saturday afternoon game. Why? Because Fox wanted to be able to televise a prime time game between the Yankees and Mets, so it waived its afternoon exclusivity.
That Fox exclusivity is a scandal. Itís especially bad in the Bay Area, where even in summer, evenings can be cool at AT&T or the Coliseum, but afternoons are usually very nice. The Giants and Aís then have the choice of playing a 6:05 game or not being on television at all. Usually, they choose the 6:05 game.
Teams shouldnít have to make that choice. Fox has the rights to what the network thinks is the best game, so that should be enough. Even if there are other games televised at the time, if that is truly the best game, Fox will have it. Most likely, that change would make little difference to their ratings, but it would make a big difference to the fans. But, silly me, when has MLB cared about the fans?
DON NELSON: Those close to the Warriors are certain that Nelson will return for a full season as coach, no matter who buys the club from Chris Cohan.
Nelson has already turned over much of the coaching work to his assistant, Keith Smart, but he canít step back totally. It isnít the money. It isnít even the record for most wins, which most people (including me) thought was his chief reason for continuing this last season. Heís got that record now, but heís still here. He just loves the excitement of an NBA season, which has so long been a part of his life, first as a player and then as a coach.
While I understand that, I worry about Nelsonís health. He didnít even want to miss a road trip last season when he had pneumonia. Heís always ballooned up during the season and Iím sure his weight is at an all-time high after last season, because he couldnít take his usual offseason hiatus in Maui.
I hope when the new owner comes in, he persuades Nelson to turn over the job to Smart. Hold a big ceremony honoring him before a game but donít let him continue to punish himself this way.
JAMARCUS RUSSELL: Just when the Raiders seemed to be having a great offseason, they returned to their litigious ways and sued Russell to try to recover some of the money theyíve already paid him.
As with so many Raiders actions, I have no idea what Al Davis and Amy Trask, who usually advises him on legal matters, could be thinking. NFL contracts have specific parameters. No matter how long the contract is, the only guaranteed money for a player is the signing bonus and however many years heís played. In this case, Russell got his bonus and was paid for the three years he was in a Raiders uniform. If heíd even gone to training camp, he would have had to be paid another $6.45 million. Since he was cut after mini-camp, heís not owed any more money.
But I canít see any possible reason for him to give up anything heís already been paid. Iím sure there were no performance standards he had to meet. He didnít work very hard, either physically or with video sessions, but that was something the Raiders should have monitored more closely themselves.
My guess is that Russell wasnít cut before mini-camp because the Raiders were trying to get him to re-negotiate his contract at a lower level. He probably should have done that because now, any club which signs him could do so for the veteransí minimum salary, which I believe is around $300,000. But making stupid decisions isnít a basis for taking money from him.
EMPTY GESTURE: To honor veterans on Memorial Day, all major league teams wore white caps. Now, as reported by Scott Ostler in todayís Chronicle, MLB is selling replicas of those caps for $36.99 and donating $1 from each sale to the Welcome Back Veterans Fund.
Whoopdedoo. Those caps probably cost less than $5 to make, so MLB is making a tidy profit on the deal, while claiming to be patriotic. This is all too typical of whatís happened with Bud Selig as commissioner. It would have been far better to donate all the profit to the veterans fund, but thatís not Budís way. He probably counts dollar bills instead of sheep to go to sleep every night.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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