Pablo Sandoval/Miguel Tejada; Bob Geren; Aldon Smith/Patrick Peterson/Nick Farley; Willie Mays
THE GIANTS are running into baseball karma.
Last year, everything went right the last six weeks of the season and the postseason. Remember that, in August, the San Diego Padres seemed to be cruising to the NL West title, ahead of the Giants by a comfortable 6 Ĺ games.
Then, they lost 10 straight. Even with that, the Giants had to beat the Padres on the last day of the season to win the division title without a playoff.
Then, in the playoffs, the Giants first faced the Atlanta Braves, who did not have Chipper Jones because of a season-ending injury. Then, they faced the Philadelphia Phillies, who had the best record in the National League but fell into a hitting and fielding funk in the NLCS. It didnít help that manager Charlie Manuel also went into a funk, starting Joe Blanton in one game.
In the World Series, the Giants got lucky again. The Texas Rangers were no better than the third-best American League team, but there they were. The Giants starting pitching was in high gear and they beat the Rangers. They certainly werenít the best team in baseball but they had the World Series trophy and rings. Perhaps it was retribution by the baseball gods for 1962, when they probably should have won but didnít, or 2002 when they would have won in six games if manager Dusty Baker hadnít had brain lock.
This year is the opposite of what happened at the end of last year: Anything that could go wrong has. The latest was Pablo Sandoval landing on the DL, along with Andres Torres, Mark De Rosa (surprise!) and Barry Zito, who had never missed a start because of injury before this season.
Beyond that, one bad offseason decision haunts the Giants: the signing of Miguel Tejada to play shortstop. Tejada was a great player for the Aís and, for awhile, with the Baltimore Orioles. But the Orioles had concluded, correctly, that he was no longer able to play shortstop the way he had, so he was moved to third and then released. The Padres picked him up to play shortstop in the closing stages of the 2010 season but he was, at best, adequate in the field and lacking his former power at bat.
Yet, when Juan Uribe left to sign with the Dodgers, Brian Sabean signed Tejada to play shortstop. He simply canít resist Latino shortstops past their prime.
It is significant that, when Sandoval went down, Tejada was moved to third with Mike Fontenot, who was supposed to be primarily a backup at second base, was installed at shortstop.
The truth is, the Giants are saddled with a group of old, injury-prone infielders: Freddy Sanchez, De Rosa, Tejada. Sanchez is the only premier player among them, but heís played only 119 games in each of the last two seasons. Itís only a matter of time before he goes on the DL again.
Shortstop is the critical position. There has been speculation Ė Iíve even indulged it it Ė that the Giants would go after the Metsí Jose Reyes at midseason, but thatís probably wishful thinking. The Mets will get other offers and the Giants donít have much in the way of prospects to offer them. When Reyes is a free agent at the end of the season, heíll get multiple offers and a very big contract.
The only other option right now is Jack Wilson, who probably could be gotten on the cheap because heís fallen out of favor in Seattle. Wilson is a slick fielder who doesnít hit a lick, but Tejada isnít hitting much now, either. Wilson would certainly provide a boost for the pitchers.
Brandon Belt will probably be back fairly soon because heís been on a tear at Fresno. Heís going to be a very good major league hitter but, to make room for him, the Giants would have to move Aubrey Huff to left field, which he can handle, and put Pat Burrell on the bench, so theyíd have less power.
My advice to Giants fans: Keep playing those videos of the 2011 World Series. You arenít going to see a repeat this year.
AíS PROBLEM: Iíve thought the Aís might be able to win the AL West Ė it probably wonít take more than 86-87 wins, which is not a huge improvement Ė but they have a big handicap: Manager Bob Geren.
The biggest challenge for a manager is always handling the pitching staff, which is easier in the American League because a manager never has to worry about whether he should pinch-hit for an effective pitcher in a close game.
But, even with that advantage, Geren continues to have problems, as shown in the Aís four-game series against the Rangers.
In Saturdayís game, starter Brett Anderson had what he later called his worst stuff since high school. He also had no command of his pitches. The perfect storm
Yet, Geren kept him in until Anderson had given up seven runs! Maybe he was asleep in the dugout. Hard to tell sometimes.
Iíve written on this subject before. Billy Beaneís biggest problem was his unwillingness to stick with the one effective manager heís had, Ken Macha, because he didnít get along with him.
It isnít style of play, as some have written. Beane is opposed to just trying to steal bases Ė as most baseball people are Ė because statistics over the years show that stolen bases are only a good thing if youíre stealing at better than 70 per cent.
In the lively ball era, starting with 1920, stolen base leaders have only occasionally been with pennant winners. Maury Wills was a huge factor for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Ď60s, but Rickey Hendersonís 130-steal season came when the Aís were out of contention. Conversely, Rickey was a very big factor for the Aís pennant winners in 1989 and í90 because he balanced off the power of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire.
Beane would prefer a team that hit three-run homers and didnít run a lot as, again, most baseball people would. But the current Aís donít have consistent power so theyíre running frequently, not just stealing bases, but taking the extra base consistently. Theyíre even bunting, which Beane doesnít like.
So, it wasnít the style of play but Machaís manner which bothered Beane. Macha is a no-nonsense type of guy. He told players that they made out the lineup themselves: If they were productive, they played; if they were not, they sat.
Iíd feel a lot more confident about the Aís chances this year if they had that kind of manager.
NFL DRAFT: The draft is great fun, with all the mock drafts that fans can look at and debate. Very seldom, though, do any of those mock drafts come close to the real thing, which should be a lesson to all of us, fans and writers.
As much as possible, I try to stick to what Iím confident I know. After attending the pre-draft media meeting with Trent Baalke, I was certain that the 49ers would not go for a quarterback with their first pick but instead would go for defensive help. I was right about that, though my guess on the position they would try to fill Ė defensive back Ė was wrong.
And, of course, I was as surprised as anybody that they took Aldon Smith, who had not appeared in any of the pre-draft speculation. Baalke is convinced that he will develop into an outstanding pass rusher and for the moment, I give him the benefit of the doubt because heís watched a lot of video of Smith. I havenít seen any.
One of the most difficult things for an evaluator is to judge whether the player is as good as he looks against the players on his level or if that superiority will disappear against better players at a higher level, whether itís from high school to college or from college to pros.
One example from this year: Defensive tackle Nick Farley. In the national championship game, Farley just destroyed the Oregon offensive line. For a time, it seemed that his performance that day might put him as high as No. 2 in the draft. But as teams broke down the videos of his games, more and more decided he wasnít worth that high a pick. Eventually, he was No. 13. Perhaps weíll look back at that in years to come and marvel that so many teams missed on Farley, but I think itís more possible that weíll realize he was just overhyped.
Sometimes, I see enough of the collegiate players to be able to evaluate them myself. I was confident Darren McFadden would become a star, though it took some time. I was equally confident that Darrius Heyward-Bey would not. He had played four years in a big time program but wasnít even first team All-ACC as a senior. He had a reputation for dropping passes. The Raiders, meaning Al Davis, picked him because he had blinding speed, but he does not have the hands to be a top receiver. If he canít cradle the ball, he canít catch it.
Other players arenít so easy to judge. I thought the 49ers pick of Kwame Harris was a good one, but when he played, it became obvious that he lacked the quick feet an offensive tackle needs Ė a shortcoming which should have been noticed by the scouts. Everybody liked the Raidersí pick of Robert Gallery, but he was a bust at tackle, though he became a good guard when he was shifted.
The other criticism I hear from readers is that their team Ė the 49ers this year Ė didnít make a trade to move up. But none of us know what goes on in the draft room. The only reason for the 49ers to trade up in the first round would have been to get Patrick Peterson, but he went to the Arizona Cardinals with the fifth pick. Thereís no way the Cardinals would have traded that pick to a division rival.
And, the big trades are big gambles. The Atlanta Falcons gave up a lot to grab the No. 6 pick to get Julio Johnson. Was it worth it? Only if it gets the Falcons to the Super Bowl. My guess is that it wonít, and the Falcons will be second-guessed mercilessly by their fans and media for years.
SACRAMENTO KINGS: Due to the hard work of Mayor Kevin Johnson, Sacramento has been given a reprieve and the Kings will stay, but it may only be for a year.
The NBA, like the NFL, is facing a labor-management problem, with the Collective Bargaining Agreement expiring. Itís possible the Maloofs decided it wouldnít be wise to move to Anaheim with the prospect of a season that may be cut short by a strike or lockout. There have also been reports that Anaheim was reneging on some of the promises it had made.
Whatever the reasons, the NBA is trying to give Sacramento its best chance to keep the Kings, sending out NBA people to help civic officials sell tickets and raise money to build a combination arena/entertainment pavilion. This has been a profitable combination for both the Oracle Arena in Oakland and the H/P Pavilion in San Jose.
Perhaps, the NBA would like to see the nomadic Kings stay in place. This is a franchise that started out as the Rochester Royals, then moved to Cincinnati, then to Kansas City/Omaha (not KC and Cincinnati, as I erroneously wrote earlier) and finally to Sacramento.
I wish Sacramento well in its effort to keep the Kings. I know from speaking engagements Iíve had there Ė as well as from seeing the traffic from Sacramento to 49ers games Ė that it is a very sports-minded city, and I think the Kings-Warriors have a lively Interstate rivalry. It would be even better if the teams were in contention for the playoffs but letís work on one miracle at a time.
WILLIE MAYS: As Mays celebrates his 80th birthday Friday, Iíll be writing about him in my Examiner column, using some information he gave me in a 1996 interview, explaining how and why he was able to do what he did. Iím also part of a Comcast special on Mays which will air on Sunday. I expect that much of what Iím writing for the Examiner will also be in the Comcast show. I was interviewed about two years ago, so I canít remember everything Iíve said.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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