Tim Lincecum/Barry Zito/Ryan Vogelson; Josh Reddick/Yoenis Cespedes/Bartolo Colon; Albert Pujols/Josh Hamilton; Phil Mickelson/Tiger Woods/Rory McElroy/Mark Davis/Reggie McKenzie
A TERRIBLE thing happened to the Giants yesterday: They had to play a game outside their division and they got crushed by the Reds, 11-0. The lopsidededness of the defeat was a surprise but not the result. They are now 16-32 outside their division, a .333 average. To put that into perspective, no team has a seasonal record that bad this year. And now, they have to play a doubleheader today and tonight with Eric Surkamp and Barry Zito as their starters. Keep that bullpen on the ready.
Playing within the division, it seemed the Giants might have a shot at the postseason but now, they have 32 straight games outside it. Ouch! So all this speculation about what Giants general manager Brian Sabean might do is pointless. One of the brilliant savants on KNBR recently said Sabean should trade Marco Scutaro to the Aís and play Nick Noonan at second. Just a couple of points about that: The Aís penurious ownership of Lew Wolff and John Fisher would never take on Scutaroís contract - $6 million this year, $7 million the next two years Ė and Noonan hasnít shown anything yet to indicate that heís a major leaguer. He was drafted because of his hitting ability but he hasnít shown he can play any position defensively at a major league level. And, he hasnít looked all that good as a hitter, either.
To make it worse for the Giants, the Dodgers are on a roll and ready to make a mockery of the divisional race. It wouldnít surprise me if they eventually win it by 10 games. Theyíve always had the talent and now that players have gotten healthy, though Matt Kemp is injured again, theyíre clearly the class of the division. Itís highly unlikely that a wild card will emerge from the division. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh both have better records than current NL West runnerup Arizona, and I expect the Washington Nationals to have a better record by seasonís end, too.
Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy canít admit it, but they both should be looking at a 2014 rebound. That starts with the pitching, specifically, the starting rotation. Chad Gaudin has shown that he can handle a starting role, assuming he can shake his current legal problem. Ryan Vogelsong should be back fairly soon, giving the Giants a chance to assess him for the rest of the year. Theyíll need to assess Michael Kickham further. Please, please, please donít even think about bringing Zito back.
Lincecum remains a question mark, though not just because he followed his no-hit game with a stinker. Jonathan Sanchez and Matt Cain, the most recent Giants starters to throw no-hit games (Cainís was a perfect game, of course) also had bad outings in their next starts, though not quite so horrendous as Lincecumís. Tim still has plenty of time this season to prove he can still be an effective starter Ė and stay with the Giants.
THIS IS A critical week for the Aís because they have a four-game series with the Anaheim Angels to close it out.
The Angels won the first two games of the weekend series in Anaheim before Bartolo Colon closed them down with a complete game shutout on Sunday, so the Angels were still 10 games back Ė and they fell back to 11 behind with a Monday loss, while the Aís beat the Houston Astros for the 10th time in 10 games.
. Oh, and BTW, after Colonís impressive outing on Sunday, are there any fans out there who still wonder why the Aís brought Colon back after his 50-game suspension on a drug charge last season? Though heíd never say that, Aís general manager Billy Beane obviously doesnít think that taking a PED is loathsome. Leave that to the moralizers. At 40, Colon is a very effective pitcher. He throws strikes but they arenít just pitches down the middle. He changes speeds, moves the ball around, pitches to spots and generally, makes it look easy.
Angels owner Artie Moreno has tried to spend his way to the World Series but it hasnít worked so well. Last year, he lured Albert Pujols from the St. Louis Cardinals with a 10-year contract the Cardinals couldnít afford to match. Pujols isnít hitting for the average he once did because, for three straight years, heís started off very slowly. Last year, though, he recovered to hit 30 homers and 50 doubles and drive in 105 runs. So far this season, he has 16 homers, 19 doubles and 58 RBIs, though his average is just over .250. There are teams in baseball that could use a hitter with those power numbers. One of them plays at AT&T Park.
This year, though, Moreno signed Josh Hamilton, and that was a real mistake. Hamilton has wasted much of his talent because of his addiction problems, and heís nothing like the hitter he was in the recent past. The Texas Rangers made no attempt to re-sign him though he had 43 homers and 128 RBIs last year, playing half his season in a real hitterís park. The Rangers obviously thought he wasnít worth the gamble and they were right. Heís hit for some power this year but his batting average has been stuck in the low .220 mark. Heís taking terrible swings.
The Aís payroll might be 20 per cent of the Angels but theyíve been playing much better, even though injuries have seriously hampered Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes hasnít had anything like the breakout year everybody expected. If they even split the weekend series, that will make it virtually impossible for the Angels to make a serious run at the division title.
The main obstacle for the Aís, though, remains the Texas Rangers, whom they swept in the yearís final series in 2012 to win the division. The Rangers got a boost this week when they traded for the Chicago Cubs Matt Garza for a bunch of prospects. The Cubs are in a fire sale mode, hoping to build a team which can get them back to the World Series for the first time since 1945. Good luck with that.
PHIL MICKELSONíS win in the British Open was as exciting as it was unexpected, even to Mickelson himself. He had been spectacularly unsuccessful in the event, seemingly unable to adapt to the much different style of golf on the old British courses. On the perfectly manicured American courses, golfers hit lofty drives, not expecting much more yardage on the roll. On the British courses, which often have stiff winds coming off the North Sea, the idea is to hit the ball low and get a good roll on the much harder courses. Mickelson finally adjusted his game this year and shot a sensational 66 on the final round, while Tiger Woods was doing his usual fourth round fade in a major. Tiger hasnít won a major since 2008 and he has never won one when he trailed on the final day. Heís great at coming from ahead but no Arnold Palmer when he trails.
Nonetheless, golf needs Tiger, who remains the biggest draw by far, because there are too many golfers who are faceless. When Iíve covered golf tournaments in the past, Iíve found golfers to be very cooperative, patiently going through their rounds in detail. At the same time, though, most of them are deadly boring.
Rory McElroy seemed as if he would become a great attraction last year when he shot to the top of the standings because heís a charismatic figure, but his play has fallen off this year. I donít follow the tour so I donít know the exact reason but from watching athletes in different sports over the years, Iíve seen that the ones who sustain success are single-minded. McRory doesnít seem to have that approach.
Mickelson has been a good draw, though not in Tigerís class, because people like him and his courageous wife, who fought off breast cancer. But heís 44 and, though golf is hardly overdemanding physically, thatís still old to keep winning majors.
So, the tour needs to develop some more stars to save what is essentially a boring sport.
MT. RUSHMORE: A Chronicle article last week had a cute premise: A ďMt. RushmoreĒ for local sports teams with the top four in the history of each team; Bill Walsh was one of the four for the 49ers but for the other teams, it was all players. The Giants had Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Barry Bonds, and I agree with those three, but the fourth was Buster Posey, while Juan Marichal was left off.
Give me a break. Posey is off to a great start in his career but Marichal had a great career. To this day, Iíve never seen a pitcher who had such absolute control of the game. He knew how to pace himself, to save his best fast ball for a time when he had a runner on third and less than two outs. That was one of the reasons he was able to win that historic duel with Warren Spahn, when each pitcher went the distance in a 15-inning game, which the Giants won, 1-0, on a Mays home run. A case could be made for that game as the best regular season game in history because the two pitchers both are in the Hall of Fame, as is Mays, who many baseball people think is the greatest player ever.
Along about the 12th inning of that game, Giants manager Alvin Dark asked Marichal if he wanted to come out of the game. Marichal gestured at the other dugout and said, ďThat old man is still in the game. Iím not going to come out.Ē
Marichal was great fun to watch because he was a complete master of pitching. Sandy Koufax was dominating but he had just two pitches, his fast ball and a curve. That was all he needed. But Marichal had a great variety of pitches, and he had variations on all of those, depending on his arm angle. There were times he seemed to be toying with hitters. And, when the Giants and Dodgers met in what were always crucial series in those days, Marichal was always matched up against Koufax.
When we were both guests on a Comcast ďChronicle LiveĒ show a couple of years ago, I told Marichal he was the one pitcher Iíve always remembered for his complete mastery. Iím not sure where he got that because he already had it when he came to the Giants. His first game was a one-hitter and, of course, a complete game. That was midseason, 1961. By the next year, he was acknowledged as the best pitcher on the Giants staff, though Jack Sanford won 24 games.
IN THE PAST, baseball was the sport which got virtually year-round coverage with its offseason dealings and the ďHot Stove LeagueĒ where potential trades were debated by fans. Now, itís free agent signings and baseball gets considerable off season publicity, but football has surpassed it. By moving the draft from February to April and then putting in the Indianapolis analysis of possible draft picks, not to mention offseason workouts, the NFL has become a virtual nonstop publicity machine.
Thatís caused writers to get ever more desperate for stories. Thatís the only way I can explain some of the coverage of the Raiders this offseason.
The first example was the reaction of writers to the firing of the Raidersí public relations director for permitting a Sports Illustrated writer to have access, which led to an accurate article on how ridiculous the operation had become in the last years of Al Davisís life. In other words, the truth.
That led one columnist for a website to proclaim that Mark Davis was putting Reggie McKenzie on notice that he could be fired if the team didnít improve. That was ridiculous on a couple of levels. One was that Mark is clearly uncomfortable in a decision-making role. He had said at McKenzieís press conference that he didnít know football and he would leave that decision to McKenzie. He didnít want to make this decision, either. Iím sure he was under pressure from his mother and delayed the decision for six weeks, while the PR director worked for home. All this only made a big story out of something that is seldom even noted. The 49ers changed PR directors several years ago. Do any of you remember who the former PR director was Ė or who the current one is?
And, of course, there has been absolutely no change in the way McKenzie is operating. He has been forthright about the need to clean out the roster and reduce both the teamís salary cap status and salary level. Heís only now in the position of running a normal NFL operation.
There has already been some media criticism, though, including one columnistís charge that this yearís team is weaker than last yearís. I donít know how that assessment can be made before the team even went to training camp.
It will be somewhat easier to assess the team after training camp and the make-believe games but the real assessment canít come until the regular season. My expectations are that it wonít be a good year overall but the team will start to come on toward the end. With a good draft next spring, I think the Raiders will be ready to compete again, and on a consistent basis.
RYAN BRAUN was caught in the most recent MLB drug testing, which I suppose will please the moralists, including the one currently sitting in the commissionerís chair, but which really does nothing meaningful for the sport.
Itís interesting that the people who are truly incensed about this, whether fans or media, are usually the ones old enough to have some sense of baseballís history. Thatís not true of younger fans and athletes who have no sense of history; itís all what happened yesterday. This is not a recent phenomenon. In the mid-Ď80s, Don Mattingly told a writer he didnít know who Babe Ruth was. Take a stroll out to the monuments in centerfield, Don.
That trend has only accelerated in recent years as so much has become available on television. Baseball people once feared television but now, virtually all the Giants and Aís games are on Comcast and teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Mariners have hugely successful cable systems. In that atmosphere, history truly becomes irrelevant.
So, those who really care about the gameís history are usually older. I get complaints from some of them who insist the game isnít as good as it once was. Of course, thatís because theyíre not as good as they were. Itís always easier to be nostalgic about events in our youth.
The baseball anti-drug program is chiefly aimed at these people, but I donít see many of them in the stands when I go to games. So, itís hypocritical for Selig to pursue this program. Bud Selig? Hypocrisy? How could I even think that?
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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