A's, Giants, Cal, Stanford, 49ers
by Glenn Dickey
Sep 27, 2006

THE A’S should pitch Rich Harden in the first game of the playoffs. If they don’t – and the plan now is to pitch him in the last game of the season and then in the fifth game of the first playoff series, if there is one – I fear they’re going to make another first-round exit from the playoffs.

The matchups, whether it’s Minnesota or Detroit, don’t bode well for the A’s. They have big hitting days against mediocre pitching but they can be shut down by the top pitchers, as the Angels have proved. If they face the Twins, they could see Johan Santana twice – and, they’d have to play three games in the Metrodome, where they’ve never fared well. The Tigers have a bunch of flamethrowers in the starting rotation and bullpen, plus Kenny Rogers, who always pitches well against the A’s.

The A’s need a shutout pitcher to counter that, and Harden is definitely that type of pitcher. Barry Zito isn’t. Dan Haren has been struggling lately. Esteban Loiaza has pitched well in the second half of the season, but he doesn’t pitch shutouts.

That leaves Harden. I can appreciate the fact that the A’s don’t want to push Harden, but he’s passed his first two tests, when he was on a 60-pitch count and then 75, with ease. They’ll probably extend the pitch count to 90-100 in his next game. It would make more sense for that game to be in the postseason, not a meaningless game at the end of the regular season.

THE GIANTS’ nose dive this month should finally convince the club’s management that the policy of going after superannuated veterans to surround Barry Bonds has failed.

Bonds’ great run from 2000 through 2004, when he was by far the most dominant offensive force in the game, masked the Giants’ weaknesses. When he missed most of last season and then was substantially less as a hitter this year than he had been, the weaknesses became apparent.

This Giants team falls short in every regard. Their pitching isn’t as good as they thought it would be. Their offense is inconsistent. Though they have some good defensive players – shortstop Omar Vizquel, third baseman Pedro Feliz, outfielders Steve Finley and Moises Alou – the right side of the infield and catching, with Mike Matheny out, are sub-par.

With so many holes, it won’t be easy for the Giants to rebuild. They should look at this as a two-year project, bringing in younger players, probably through free agency because the position players they bring up from their minor league system usually disappoint.

What I fear, though, is that general manager Brian Sabean will continue to try to patch up holes with overrated veterans. The first test will be whether he re-signs Shea Hillenbrand because he’d come cheap. Hillenbrand is a below average fielder with below average power for a corner infielder –which is why he’d come cheap. Of course, he’s a great presence in the clubhouse.

SPEED KILLS: Cal coach Jeff Tedford noted at his Tuesday lunch/news conference that the biggest difference between this year’s team and the one he inherited from Tom Holmoe is team speed. “There were some good players on that team,” he said, “but there was nowhere near the kind of speed we have now.”

That’s no accident. Tedford looks for athletes who can make a difference, and speed is a vital component.

That’s especially true at wide receiver. DeSean Jackson was timed at 4.29 seconds for the 40 in the spring, and Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan are not far behind. That enables the Bears to create some mismatches in pass coverage against defensive backs who lack the speed.

And, of course, Jackson is also a very dangerous punt returner because of his speed. He went 80 yards for a touchdown against Arizona State, and when he was asked afterward when he knew he could break it, he said, “After my second step.”

STANFORD SEASON: With the Cardinal possibly facing a winless season, coach Walt Harris is under the microscope.

One reader asked me if I thought Stanford might bring in Steve Mariucci. That was an easy question: The answer is no. Mariucci was only interested in being a college head coach as a springboard to the NFL, and he got his wish with the 49ers after just one season at Cal. He would return to college only with a team which he could expect to be successful, thus enhancing his reputation. Stanford is emphatically not that type of college.

And I’m sure the new athletic director at Stanford, Bob Bowlsby, understands that Harris is not the problem. The raised admissions standards at Stanford – as Bill Walsh noted when I interviewed him for a website column in May – have made it tough for Stanford coaches to recruit in football, basketball and even baseball.

NOLAN’S DECISION: When Mike Nolan let the clock run down and then punted from midfield just before the half of last Sunday’s game against the Eagles, I thought it was a bad idea, as did those around me in the press box. But I also thought the postgame reaction in the media was extreme, especially from those who said or wrote that Nolan was in effect telling his players he had no confidence in them.

The players certainly didn’t take it that way. The 49ers came out and dominated the third quarter, with the Eagles having negative yardage for the quarter. The fluke play on which defensive tackle . Mike Patterson went 98 yards with a recovered fumble to score, doomed the 49ers, but they showed a lot of fire in coming back. And quarterback Alex Smith showed remarkable poise in the face of almost constant pressure. Smith was better than his statistics because Vernon Davis dropped a pass near midfield that would have been a big gainer and a 49-yard pass play to Antonio Bryant was nullified by a penalty.

ERROR: As several readers have reminded me, I mistakenly put Oregon State in the first paragraph of my Tuesday Examiner column. I read over columns three times to try to prevent such errors, but there are still times when I “see” what I intended to write, not what I actually did. Maybe I was just thinking ahead this time, since the Bears play Oregon State this Saturday.

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