Matt Cain/Angel Pagan; Yoenis Cespedes/Josh Reddick/Gene Tenace; Aldon Smith; Bud Selig/Lew Wolff
THE GIANTS lost another veteran to injury this week when Matt Cain finally agreed to elbow surgery to remove the bone chips that have been rattling around in his elbow. Cain has had problems for some time but he’s never been one to make excuses. He didn’t this time, either, but finally had to bow to the inevitable. He’s expected to be ready to return for next season and should have several years left.
That was just another reminder, though, that the Giants have put too much of their hopes for success this year into veteran players with injury problems. Nobody has talked much about Michael Morse but he was a big factor in their great early run with his mammoth home runs. But, his back started paining him and his power disappeared. Now, he’s just an outfielder who’s below average defensively, a liability when he’s in the lineup.
Angel Pagan is supposed to return soon, perhaps this week but he’s been sidelined by back problems two years in a row. The Giants finally seem to have conceded they can’t get much out of Marco Scutaro with his back problems. Are you beginning to see a pattern here?
There’s another interesting note here. The Giants media, fans and players themselves have talked about what a different team they are when their injured players, especially Pagan, are in the lineup. When the A’s have lose key players, like Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp and two front-line starters, they just plug in somebody else – or Billy Beane trades for somebody – and keep rolling. It reminds me of something I heard in my youth: Excuses are for losers.
General manager Brian Sabean has been criticized for not making a big trade, especially with Beane making block buster deals, but I think Sabean’s caution is the correct decision. The Giants have rebuilt their farm system and they’ll need those players to make them contenders in the years to come. They couldn’t have made a significant trade without losing significant young players.
The Giants probably can make the playoffs with the team they have. The National League is a mass of mediocrity, with the Dodgers the only team with really superlative talent, when they choose to play together. And, the Giants are in the weakest division in the league. They’ll be playing mostly divisional foes in September, which will help them greatly.
It’s not out of the question that they might still win the NL West. For all their talent, the Dodgers don’t often seem to play well together – unless Clayton Kershaw is pitching. Kershaw is as dominating as Sandy Koufax was in the ‘60s. Yasiel Puig is a tremendous talent, too. But I’ve never thought Don Mattingly was a good manager. Great player, great guy…but that doesn’t translate into managerial skills.
Meanwhile, the A’s have been wheeling and dealing, picking up another pitching ace in Jon Lester while surrendering Yoenis Cespedes while he still had trade value. He had one more year on his contract but was no going to re-sign with the A’s so he would have had little trade value next year.
Many A’s fans were devastated by the loss of Cespedes, a very exciting player. I always enjoyed him, too, but I thought he was often more spectacular than effective. One example: That tremendous throw he unleashed from the left field corner to home plate; it was necessary only because he’d misplayed the ball hit to left field. He has tremendous power but often over swings, and his production this season was disappointing. He has hit well in the postseason but nobody can be sure whether he’ll continue that. There are many examples of players who had a great postseason run but could never come close to those stats later. I first became aware of that phenomenon with Gene Tenace in the 1972 World Series. He came out of nowhere to hit .348 with four home runs and nine RBIs, winning the Most Valuable Player award as the A’s won the first of their three straight Series. Tenace was a decent player but he never hit for much of an average after that.
Perhaps Cespedes will become a real star with the Red Sox but he’ll have to be a smarter hitter because pitchers will throw him pitches on the outside corner to keep him from pulling the ball to left field, with that short left field wall looming.
Beane is clearly aiming at postseason success with his stockpiling of top pitchers but he wasn’t kidding when he said he was looking at the division race. The Angels have been the hottest team in baseball with the best record in the majors since June 6. They’ve strengthened their pitching, with the addition of former A’s closer Huston Street their latest move, so it will be a race to the wire for those two teams. Seattle, as I’ve said before, is a pretender, not a contender.
IT WAS bedlam as the first game in the new Levi Stadium – a soccer match – was played Saturday night. Traffic was at a standstill for about an hour, San Jose’s light rail had problems. Meanwhile, San Franciscans who blame the 49ers for leaving the city, though they had no real choice, rejoiced over the problems.
There will no doubt be other problems, as there are with any new stadium, but conditions will be different when the 49ers play there. The biggest difference: Great America will not be open on 49ers game days. Saturday night, there was a big event at the amusement park. Huge difference.
The fans who will most enjoy the change from Candlestick are those coming from Sacramento. Instead of having to battle through automobile traffic across the Bay Bridge and through the tangle getting from the freeway to Candlestick Park, they can just take the train, which would let them out right by the stadium. If they still choose to drive, it’s far easier to drive down 880 on a Sunday, when traffic is light.
Because so much of the 49ers fan base has moved down the Peninsula, the distances will be roughly the same to the new park and Candlestick. There haven’t been many season ticket holders from San Francisco in at least three decades. Even when there’s been a San Francisco address for a season ticket holder, it’s usually a company, whose chief executive lives, yes, down the Peninsula. San Franciscans buying single game tickets have usually come out in buses from downtown. They haven’t been sitting in the luxury suites, and few of them would be able to afford even the cheapest seats at a new stadium.
THE LARGER question is how the 49ers will do this season, and their health issues may stop them far short of the Super Bowl. Aldon Smith is also probably looking at a fairly substantial suspension – my guess would be six games – for his various misdeeds. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell won’t be as lenient as a Santa Clara County judge. I’d just like to see Smith get some serious counseling. He’s not a bad person but he obviously has a drinking problem. Without help, that will only get worse.
The Niners have had some serious injury problems, and now, they’ve lost Glenn Dorsey, who plugged up their middle. They have problems everywhere on defense, which has been their strength.
It’s very early, of course, but I don’t think the 49ers will have the kind of season fans have come to expect since Jim Harbaugh arrived. If they even get into the postseason playoffs, I think they’ll make a quick exit.
The Raiders are playing what everybody thinks is the toughest schedule in the NFL, so it would be unrealistic to expect too much but they should be on the way back this season, finally worth watching for some reason other than comic relief.
Their quarterback situation seems solid, for a change. I felt the trade for Matt Schaub was a good one because he had been a solid quarterback before everything went south last year. Reports on Derek Carr from training camp have been very positive; he might be the steal of the draft.
Of course, we won’t really know anything until the real season starts in September. These phony exhibitions prove nothing.
SPORTS MEDIA LOST: I was reading one of my favorite authors, Catherine Coulter, who lives in Marin County with her husband, when I was startled by a true-life sports story. Ms. Coulter writes novels about the FBI but she inserted a bit about Tim Tebow, when the story came out in 2012 that he was returning to the New England Patriots. Through a character in her book, a young woman who is a sportswriter, she shows that the story came from Tebow’s agent, who was actually trying to get leverage for a better contract with the Toronto Argonauts. The sportswriter who “broke” that story never checked with anybody else. He had a scoop, and that’s all he cared about.
Unfortunately, that’s what the sports media is like today, both in newspapers and TV. It’s all about being first, not accurate. How many times have you read or heard “a source says”, only to hear very soon that the “source” had it all wrong?
Then, there’s the problem of writers who concoct their own theories and fool themselves into thinking they were right. The latest example is Joe Sheehan’s piece in Sports Illustrated about how Bud Selig has been a great commissioner for baseball. Let me go through his points:
1) Selig has created more interest by expanding the postseason. Actually, the NFL has also done that and it works better for football because, with a short season, NFL players are accustomed to thinking every game is important. Baseball plays a much longer season because the game is so random. You see the results in the postseason. When the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos met in the last Super Bowl, there was no doubt that they were the best teams in their conferences. The baseball postseason is a crapshoot. The Giants have won two World Series after seasons when they were not close to being the best in baseball.
2) Selig has driven more revenue to small-market teams, with a revenue-sharing program. Unfortunately, that program has allowed owners like our beloved Lew Wolff to do everything possible to drive attendance down and yet prosper by collecting money from that fund. Last season, the A’s made more money because of that than the Giants did, selling out every game at high prices.
3) Selig has pressured municipalities to build new parks for their teams. That means more money coming from taxpayers, of course, not teams, which I don’t think is a great idea. That doesn’t work in California because there are too many teams. So, the Giants worked Silicon Valley to get a beautiful new park but other teams have older parks which are nothing like AT&T. Their owners could afford to pay for new parks but they won’t. Wolff said yesterday that he is willing to put money into a new park, but I’m not holding my breath. He also said he’s always loved Oakland. That’s why he’s been trying to move to San Jose.
There are other examples of foolish sportswriting, starting with our local one, Bruce Jenkins, who wrote that Bruce Bochy should be commended for letting Ryan Vogelsong pitch a complete game. Vogelsong only threw 102 pitches and he had a four-run lead going into the ninth against the Mets. I can’t imagine another manager who would have taken him out at that point.
Jenkins, of course, hates the idea of monitoring pitch counts because his managing idol, Billy Martin, didn’t. Of course, Martin burned out his starting pitchers, as he had done earlier with the Yankees, but Bruce has never admitted that, although he watched it happening as the beat writer on the A’s.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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