I’m on the record for how I think the 2013 MLB playoffs will shake out. Here’s my brief expectations as they first appeared on Boston.com:
World Series I’d like to see: Red Sox vs. Giants World Series I think we’ll see: Giants over Angels ALCS prediction: Angels over Rangers NLCS prediction: Giants over Phillies Red Sox in or out of the playoffs? In
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Is there any argument to the notion that Boston is a baseball town? With a legion of Red Sox fans — an overwhelming number of which can be categorized as diehard — there is little competition. Even with the dynamic of a Stanley Cup title in tow, I doubt the scales have tipped in hockey’s favor.
But in San Francisco, last season’s World Series title has created a shift in what was most definitely a football city. It’s fair to say that the reign of Alex Smith has destroyed any semblance of the golden years for the 49ers. And the reign of Tim Lincecum — and before that Barry Bonds — has given the Bay Area a sense of unbridled success that none of the five other professional sports teams has provided in a long time.
It’s hard to characterize it completely, but with the 49ers’ playoff drought so long and the depths of its porous play so low, you’d think the fervor over the red and gold would waver. That’s not the case. But the overriding feeling is that the 49ers have become a hopeless franchise — one that is habitually one or two pieces away from being complete. However, for the Giants — who havn’t been stacked with talent through the lineup in generations — the fervor over the G-Men has risen past the dominating football fandom. Casual baseball fans now count themselves among the diehards. Transplants to the city now claim the Giants as their team. It’s all topsy turvy in a city that has a changing culture and changing demographics.
Nothing about San Francisco sports is the same as it was 10 years ago. Steve Mariucci was still in town. Terrell Owens, too. The Warriors didn’t have an identifiable league star. The Raiders were Super Bowl contenders. The Giants were on the cusp of the playoffs. But everything revolved around the 49ers. Not until 2002 did the Giants steal a bit of the limelight with its first World Series trip since with Bay Bridge series in 1989. Barry Bonds followed that up with the home run chase.
The only blip on the Bay Area sports timeline that surpassed the interest of the 49ers and Giants in that time was the Warriors’ 2007 playoff run. The excitement over their series win over the Dallas Mavericks reverberated throughout Northern California — speaking volumes about the need for a viable basketball team. But it was quickly forgotten with the dismantling of the team, starting with one of its core players in Jason Richardson.
(On a side note: Remember Monta Ellis being a super sixth man on that team? Good times.)
The last time the 49ers went to the playoffs was 2002. Their last Super Bowl win was in 1994. For the diehards, it has been an eternity. For the casual fan, it’s been an opportunity to divert their attention to the region’s better team: The Giants.
A whole generation of young fans in the Bay are growing up on the success of the Giants and will know nothing of the 49ers’ glory years. Specifically the kids, who are always the lifeblood of new fans, don’t know that in the last 30 years the 49ers went to the playoffs 18 times. That’s because those playoff trips were within a 22-year time span starting in 1980. (Before last year’s World Series win, the Giants’ previous playoff trip was in 2003. They’ve been to the playoffs 7 times in the last 23 years.) That generational shift in fan favor, coupled with the casual observers and the transplants to boot, are painting a new picture in San Francisco. A picture in black and orange.
So while pessimism and angst are sorely ingrained in the conversation about the 49ers — who are expected to do well in San Francisco — optimism and cheer reverberate around the Giants. The two are polar opposites of where they were just a decade ago.
I like to think that I’ve been busy, and that’ why I haven’t posted here. I’ve been thinking about it for the last two weeks — stewing on it really — but I haven’t been able to square away the necessary time to really jot down my thoughts. Even now, I don’t really have the time.
But here are a few things that I just had to write down because, if anything, they’ve dominated headlines and have distracted me from the things I’m actually supposed to be doing.
1.) Carmelo Anthony to New York — I thought this was both a logical trade in the pieces given and taken on both sides and it also ended the “Melo-drama” of the NBA trade season. Great move for New York, despite the loss in depth. Great move for the NBA, to be done with this ridiculous year-long side story.
2.) Celtics trade Kendrick Perkins — I didn’t see that coming. His defensive presence is the only reason the Celtics were the favorites for an NBA title. And if Shaquille O’Neal can’t seem to get healthy, there’s no telling whether the Celtics are even better than the Orlando Magic. I’m waiting to see how the team responds when they’re not playing at 10:30 p.m. EST.
3.) Barry Zito’s back in the rotation — Everybody’s punch line is back in the starting rotation for the San Francisco Giants, with manager Bruce Bochy penciling him in as the No. 4 starter, switching places with Jonathan Sanchez. Madison Bumgarner will remain the No. 5 starter while Tim Lincecum stays at No. 1 and Matt Cain at No. 3. Not a bad rotation. Plus, it’s nice to switch back and forth between lefty’s and righty’s.
4.) Jim Harbaugh has a thing for Alex Smith — The rookie coach of the San Francisco 49ers says, “I very much like Alex. I like being around Alex. I had an opportunity to evaluate the tape, and I think he’s a very good football player. That being said, we’re going to make the decision to bring in the best quarterbacks that we possibly can to compete for the starting quarterback job.” Let’s not play with Alex’s feelings. Dump the sour grapes for something new and flashy. Preferably Auburn in flavor.
I don’t expect to be posting much for the next month as I’ll be all over the high school state tournaments for basketball and hockey in Massachusetts. But I do intend to steal a moment or to drop a quick one-liner every now and then.
The last time the Giants won the World Series, I wasn’t even a speck in my mother’s eye.
In fact, she was only three years old and they were representing New York City. Needless to say, 56 years later – almost two generations – The Giants have reached the summit for their fourth time in franchise history since moving to San Francisco and these are the kind of lifetime memories I will forever cherish.
Or forever hold in contempt.
There’s nothing better than almost two generations of mediocrity. And the last loss put the entire Giants organization in what I like to call “organizational standstill.”
So, this team worked … but it didn’t?
I am going on the record right here and now: No, a pennant will not do. We’ve got 21 of those, and three in the last 21 years. I’m not interested in being first place loser any more.
There has to be something better than the horrors of reliving 2002. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing the last week. A lot of painful memories come to mind. The game ball. Russ Ortiz. Livan Hernandez. Dusty Baker. Game 6.
I haven’t said anything about the San Francisco Giants in months. In fact, this is the longest I’ve gone without addressing the G-Men since I started writing about sports.
Same for the San Francisco 49ers, whom I will address tomorrow, and the Oakland Raiders, my usual punchline. It would be easy to chalk it up to being on the east coast, but I can’t excuse away the fact I’ve seen every single game of the 49ers this season and a couple of the Raiders’ games as well. However, the Giants have only been hovering in the background of my sporting interests for the past month. (Football, apparently, has become that much more important to me.)
But after the Giants won the NLDS the other night, I think I should at least take a moment out of my schedule to express my pride in how the players and organization have done. This is the first year in many that I haven’t found any reason (outside of Barry Zito’s continued presence) to complain about the team. With pitching as the team’s strength, and nerve as the team’s currency, the Giants beat a very good Atlanta Braves team in what easily could have been a series of black and orange meltdowns. (The bottom of the ninth in Game 4 with Brian Wilson on the mound was absolutely nerve racking.) And it’s because of the coolness under pressure and the timely runs and the balls of steel with guys like Wilson, I guess I will continue to be quiet. Because all is well on the home front. Yes, there are worries. Yes, there are inconsistencies. They are, for the diehards, glaring. But generally speaking, I think this team has a good shot of winning the pennant. And if they keep doing well because I’m not writing about them, why change now?
Here’s hoping for a strong outing in Philly. I’ll be toasting the G-Men from my couch, laptop and pen with pad neatly tucked away in my bag. No need to jinx anything. (Knocking on wood.)
Barry Zito will rise to the talent we’ve always assumed he had this season, but were too disappointed and impatient to see come to fruition. And with good reason.
This is his year, and it started with solid spring preparation, according to the former Cy Younger.
The lefty who is best known for his exhorbitant contract ($126 million), has a chance, as all first day starts provide, to set the tone for 2010 season. Skipper Bruce Bochey even has enough faith in him to label him the No. 2 starter behind reigning Cy Young award winner Tim “The Freak” Lincecum. This after falling far enough to be the No. 4 pitcher last season, getting tossed down to Triple-A ball, and languishing in the bowels of fan hatred.
I’ve chronicled and critiqued Zito’s dips with the best of them. I’ve also praised him — every so slightly — as he’s turned his game around, found his swagger and resurged from the “Dead to me List.” (OK, so he’s not really off the list yet. But I’m thinking about it. That counts for something, right?) So you can imagine that I’m hoping for the best 2010 possible.
“I’ve just really made some good adjustments in my game,” he said. “I’ve got an appetite right now for success. For whatever reason, I’ve had to build that appetite back up. I think they say a lion can’t really hunt on a full stomach. I want to prove a lot of things this year.”
Read: I’ve got motivation.
That’s a key ingredient for comeback player of the year. If only they could give the award to somebody who hasn’t been injured.
I’m absolutely thrilled that the San Francisco Giants won their season opener against the Houston Astros. (Take that Brian Hamilton!) It was a good start for Lincecum, who had seven K’s to record the victory. Back to Cy Young form? Not quite there, but pretty close. Either way, life is blissful in black and orange right now. Waiting on Zito to keep the good vibes rolling.
There’s no creature more despicable than a Los Angeles Dodger. Far be it of me to give them more credit than what is due, but they’ve lambasted the Giants for the last few seasons running a season tab of 11 wins to seven losses in 2009. Not fun for the black and orange faithful and not fun for this displaced San Franciscan.
While holding this slight edge over the Giants, the Dodgers manhandled the Colorado Rockies as well (13-4) and we’ll just dismiss the lowly San Diego Padres and once dangerous Arizona Diamondbacks. We’re writing them off for reasons of vanity, I’m sure. In my mind, it really is a three-way race in the NL West.
The importance of winning division games cannot be understated. As I stated yesterday, one of the leading theories on winning championships is building teams to make the playoffs — not necessarilly the World Series — year in and year out. That starts with building teams that can win your division. At 17 to 19 games apiece against each of the teams below, the G-men need to prove that their kings of the West before they can even think of the NLDS, where St. Louis and and Philadelphia will be lurking.
Extracts taken from the Miami Herald and the Sports Network’s baseball previews. Links are below each item.
Los Angeles Dodgers — (95-67 last season, 1st, Division Winner)
“The bulk of the load will be vested upon the broad shoulders of sluggers Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and James Loney, while young hurlers Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda and Chad Billingsley will solidify a somewhat questionable rotation that will send Vicente Padilla to the mound on Opening Day. There are many alleys Torre can wander down in his journey for a qualified fifth starter, with prospects such as Eric Stults, Charlie Haeger, Josh Lindblom, Russ Ortiz or James McDonald.”
KEY ADDITIONS: RHP Josh Towers, INF Jamey Carroll, RHP Justin Miller, INF Nick Green, OF Reed Johnson, UT Alfredo Meagan, OF Brian Giles, RHP Eric Gagne.
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: LHP Randy Wolf, INF Juan Castro, OF Juan Pierre, INF Mark Loretta, 1B Jim Home, RHP Jon Garland, RHP Guillermo Mota, 2B Orlando Hudson, LHP Eric Milton, RHP Jason Schmidt.
PROJECTED LINEUP: SS Rafael Furcal, CF Matt Kemp, RF Andre Ethier, LF Manny Ramirez, 1B James Loney, 3B Casey Blake, 2B Ronnie Belliard, C Russell Martin
Read more on the Dodgers here.
Colorado Rockies — (92-70, 2nd, Wild Card Winner)
“With a solid core of infielders led by shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and a rotation featuring some of the best in the NL in Ubaldo Jimenez, Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook, the Rockies have a strong chance at winning the wild card if heavily-favored Los Angeles takes home another division crown.”
KEY ADDITIONS: 3B Melvin Mora, C Miguel Olivo, RHP Tim Redding, C Paul Lo Duca, OF Jay Payton
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: 3B Garrett Atkins, RHP Jason Marquis, OF Matt Murton, INF Mike McCoy, RHP Jose Contreras, C Yorvit Torrealba, RHP Joel Peralta, RHP Ryan Speier, RHP Matt Herges, RHP Josh Fogg, LHP Joe Beimel, LHP Alan Embree
PROJECTED LINEUP: LF Carlos Gonzalez, CF Dexter Fowler, 1B Todd Helton, SS Troy Tulowitzki, RF Brad Hawpe, C Chris Iannetta, 3B Ian Stewart, 2B Clint Barmes
Read more on the Rockies here.
San Diego Padres — (75-87, 4th)
“The core of the team is still pretty much intact minus ace Jake Peavy, who was dealt to the Chicago White Sox along with his lucrative contract last July. Perhaps the biggest addition to the team was pitcher Jon Garland.”
KEY ADDITIONS: OF Scott Hairston, OF Aaron Cunningham, RHP Jon Garland, C Yorvit Torrealba, INF/OF Jerry Hairston Jr., OF Matt Stairs, C Dusty Ryan, RHP Radhames Liz
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff, OF Brian Giles, C Henry Blanco, C Eliezer Alfonzo, INF Edgar Gonzalez, INF Luis Rodriguez, RHP Shawn Hill, RHP Mike Ekstrom, OF Cliff Floyd, RHP Walter Silva, RHP Cha Seung Baek
PROJECTED LINEUP: CF Tony Gwynn, 2B David Eckstein, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, 3B Chase Headley, LF Kyle Blanks, RF Will Venable, C Nick Hundley/Yorvit Torrealba, SS Everth Cabrera
Read more on the Padres here.
Arizona Diamondbacks — (70-92, 5th)
“Besides last year’s ace Dan Haren and newcomer Edwin Jackson, the rest of the Arizona rotation remains in limbo. With starters Max Scherzer and Doug Davis with other clubs, manager A.J. Hinch has a few decisions to make as to who will fill out the rest of the starting staff.”
KEY ADDITIONS: RHP Edwin Jackson, RHP Ian Kennedy, 2B Tony Abreu, RHP Aaron Heilman, RHP Bobby Howry, 2B Kelly Johnson, 1B Adam LaRoche
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: RHP Max Scherzer, LHP Daniel Schlereth, 1B Josh Whitesell, LHP Doug Davis, 3B/1B Chad Tracy, OF Eric Byrnes.
PROJECTED LINEUP: SS Stephen Drew, LF Conor Jackson, RF Justin Upton, 1B Adam LaRoche, 3B Mark Reynolds, C Miguel Montero, CF Chris Young, 2B Kelly Johnson.
Every team has one player that will change everything for their franchise. For the San Francisco Giants, that’s Pablo Sandoval.
Also known as the Panda Bear, Sandoval broke onto the scene last season as a prized prospect with a questionable defensive background. He’s shifted between first, third and catcher, and has done so reasonably. But honestly, nobody cares.
He’s a slugger, and that’s why he gets the cool nickname.
In his first full season, only a year removed from his debut, Sandoval is leading the Giants into seemingly the first season in which San Francisco will be competing for the pennant without Barry Bonds. Only Sandoval makes this possible.
(Remember, the Giants tried it on pitching alone in 2008. It didn’t work.)
Because of Sandoval (.330 average, 25 homers, 90 RBIs, .943 OPS in 2009), and his projected improvement, there’s a lot of hope pinning on the Panda Bear. So long as he continues to hit well, coupled with the Giants’ stellar pitching, the National League West is within grasp.
The problem is, everything from there is a bonus.
The measuring stick is, and seemingly always will be, the Steinbrenner nine. If the Giants can’t match up well with the New York Yankees, they’re just pretenders like the rest of the bottom dwellers in Major League Baseball. They might as well call ’em the San Francisco Royals. Seriously.
So what does the future of the Giants look like, if the future of the Giants is limited to two to three stars? Not so bad actually.
There’s quite a few baseball theories out there, particularly about how to win championships. One of them, held by Red Sox general manager and vice president Theo Epstein, is that if you build your team to get to the playoffs every year, you’re bound to make the World Series. And obviously, your chances increase to win the whole thing. This after the Sox went to two World Series in the last six years and won the damn thing both times.
So if the Giants are built to win the pennant every year, they’re inevitably built to win the Fall Classic at one point. The only thing standing in their way is the NL West. More on that tomorrow.