Dodgers Sweep

628x471-2Mark J. Terrill

Yes, that was ugly. But it almost wasn’t! The Giants getting swept by the Dodgers is always incredibly unpleasant, but for some reason this one was a little easier to swallow. Obviously, I am not going to come out and say something outrageous about how the Giants are exactly where they want to be right now, but, for a few innings there, they were close. So Puig stayed hot and Kershaw did exactly what he always does. The rest of the Dodgers played horribly, and the Giants almost made two amazing comebacks on the road. This series stings, especially after the fiasco against the Marlins, but the losses came down to bad luck as much as bad baseball.

The first game of the series was a perfect example of why the Dodgers really got away with one. Bumgarner pitched what looked like his best game of the season, and only started to lose it after Bochy kept him in too long. The total depletion of the Giants roster continued, with Arias leaving the game with a non-specific hamstring issue. The bullpen couldn’t keep things going for Bumgarner; Kontos once again looked totally incompetent. The bright side of all of this? Other than Puig’s three, the entire Dodgers lineup got managed to get two hits in the entire game. Hyun-jin Ryu allowed twelve baserunners and pitched really quite poorly, only staying in and limiting the Giants to one run because an injured and slumping Brandon Crawford (who was filling in at short after Arias’ injury) failed to turn two bases-loaded situations into runs. There were a total of ten runners left on by the Giants, a sign of a team in a slump, but also a sign that the team the Giants were playing isn’t very good.

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Mark J. Terrill

The second reason the Dodgers are terrible? They made Mike Kickham look like a decent replacement for Chad Gaudin. Kickam wasn’t great, but he looked a lot better than he had in Oakland and showed some serious poise after making some ugly mistakes, including that home run that almost wasn’t. Stephen Fife looked totally mediocre against the Giants’ frosty bats, but kept the game relatively in control. The Dodgers’ bullpen was weak, but the Giants failed to complete the comeback thanks to a Scutaro flyout that refused to go the extra foot past Matt Kemp’s glove.

Lincecum managed to put in some pretty good work in his game against the Dodgers, but once again I took this as a sign of LA’s overall suckiness as a team than anything Lincecum was doing particularly well. Kershaw dealt once again, however, and the Giants only managed two runs. This game felt hopeless not only because Kershaw was on the mound, but because the Giants are unable to hold any kind of lead. Even if Lincecum had the best outing of his career, the bullpen isn’t really capable of functioning in its one capacity. Any lead the Giants have now, a rare sight in an of itself, is tenuous at best.

628x471-6Mark J. Terrill

Six losses (and one strange win) would seem like a good enough reason to hit the panic button. The Giants are in a slump, plain and simple. The rotation is finally pulling together, and the Giants are not losing games because of bad starts. The bullpen will improve, with time, as will the hitting. So many of the key producers in the lineup have gone cold that it is a wonder the Giants managed to mount any kind of comeback. Pence, Sandoval, Crawford and Scutaro have all been struggling, and the Giants are hard-pressed to make up for that. All that said, the Dodgers are not a good team. I normally try to put this kind of thinking aside, as saying it after a sweep feels unrealistic, but those three games are all exemplary of how the Dodgers’ big-money scheme has failed. One hot-hitting outfielder with a weird name isn’t going to change that.

Aaron Hernandez and “Character Issues”

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I just read an interesting post on Slate’s crime blog about the ongoing legal troubles of New England Patriot’s Aaron Hernandez. A little over week has passed since he was linked to the murder of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd, and he has since been arrested and accused of murder along with a number of firearm-related violations. What Justin Peters correctly asserts in the blog post is that the claim that people ‘could have seen this coming’ based on his scouting report is bogus. It also raises an interesting point about one of the more confusing aspects of the NFL Draft, namely the role of “character issues” in the selection of players.

The draft as a television program is far less approachable than the actual sport of football, as it depends on a wide range of factors, including professional team need, the style of the team’s coaching staff, the combine performance of the draftee, the on-field performance of the draftee (relative to the overall quality of the college division they play in), on-field and off-field reputation, college GPA etc. One of the more non-specific factors is “character issues”, which can range a great deal from a vague, rumor based reputation for arrogance to a history of documented legal or academic issues. It also is one of the more attention-grabbing parts of draft evaluation, as it gives someone not necessarily well-versed in the stats and numbers to judge a draftee based on their personality.

For a general manager of an NFL team, it is an interesting factor on which to base draft day decisions, as it can allow a GM to draft a player in a much later round than they would normally be placed were they evaluated on skill alone (a ‘value pick’). Character issues in scouting reports allow teams to set up evaluations of risk; if a team needs a player capable of starting in his rookie year, but does not have the draft capital to take an elite player with a sparkling record, they can invest lower picks in a ‘riskier’ player with ‘character issues’.

Although it is helpful to general managers, and may give an emotional impact to the storyline of draft prospects, character issues are by no means an accurate measure of what an individual player will be like during their tenure as a professional. Nor is it necessarily relevant to a team’s ownership that a player be perceived as ‘flawed’; they are looking for a valuable return on their investment, and the interest lies in whether an off the field issue has an impact on how well the player can play, or whether they risk suspension.

The idea that a professional sports draft can assess and even predict the future actions and personality of a young athlete is incorrect. It seems to me more of a product of the media surrounding the draft; for an example of this, look no further than Tyrann Mathieu, who was viewed as a highly talented cornerback with a spotty history that included an arrest for drug possession. Mathieu’s story was discussed all over ESPN, supplemented by interviews and analysis by draft experts and pundits. The overall question was whether Mathieu had “overcome” his past issues. It was a story that was covered in order to engage viewers emotionally rather than accurately predict which round Mathieu would be drafted in.

Because character issues are a difficult thing to evaluate, and aren’t evaluated by NFL scouts for any reason other than risk management for GM’s, they aren’t really a valuable predictor of anything. They can add drama to the draft if they are expanded upon by the NFL media, but this is only done to engage an otherwise uninterested viewership. One can see how inherently meaningless these issues can be by examining the draft profiles of one of the NFL’s most controversial players: Ben Roethlisberger.

David Shaw Tedx Talk

David Shaw gave a pretty cool Tedx talk about the Stanford Football Program’s philosophy after the arrival of Jim Harbaugh. Shaw isn’t a great speaker, but the recruitment and overall academic/athletic philosophy he describes is great. Although it is only one school, if Stanford continues to excel on the football field (which seems pretty likely) their program may serve to change the relationship between sports and academics at the college level. The idea of the rise (or return) of the scholar-athlete was discussed a little bit after Harvard’s surprising, bracket-ruining upset of New Mexico during March Madness, but may be an concept given more credence if a model like the one Harbaugh and Shaw created can spread in the way he describes. Naturally, this would have a huge impact on college recruitment, the NFL and the perception of football (and sports as a whole) in society. It is a pretty idealistic outlook and a philosophy that isn’t necessarily going to produce the best football teams (or the best scholars) but is commendable nonetheless.

Baseball Sucks: Marlins Edition

Marco Scutaro, Derek Dietrich© AP Photo/ Maricio Jose Sanchez

It’s the time of year when the Giants take a little break from the sport of baseball and just take it easy. Ever since the Posey-Cousins collision in 2011, the Giants and the Marlins have had a tradition of playing a different sport when they face off. This sport has the same rules as baseball, but has extra incentives added on. Kick the ball around? You get a gift certificate to Red Lobster. Come in for late relief and fail to keep runs of the board? You get a custom bobblehead of yourself looking frustrated on the mound. Make a player who spends his entire trip to San Francisco eating In-N-Out burgers look like the best hitter in baseball? Buster Posey takes you out for ice cream. Since this tradition began, the Giants have been the uncontested winners, only losing (winning) one game this season.

I could stick to the traditional game-by-game format, but there really wouldn’t be a point; Each game was about the same. The starting pitchers pitched pretty well, but it was against the Florida Marlins. The Giants’ bats were absolutely frigid… against the Florida Marlins. The bullpen continued to fail at its one job, and is starting to look totally useless. Chad Gaudin and Angel Pagan got injured/re-injured, making the whole thing feel like a terrible, meaningless slog. And yes, all this happened against the worst team in baseball. Unfortunately, the trade deadline is approaching, and a near sweep at the hands of a team eighteen games back from first place in their division is not the ideal segue into a roadtrip against some of the better teams in the National League.

The bullpen looked bad, but this is actually the part of the team that has me the least worried. Affeldt has struggled in the past and has come back, as has Romo. Casilla is getting close to returing, and Jake Dunning has been decent. All that said, I do not know who I would turn to if I were Bochy and the Giants needed a few zeros up on the scoreboard. Maybe Romo, maybe Lopez. Other than that, the bullpen has proven fallible. This is yet another reason why good starts are essential for the Giants. Jean Machi and Sandy Rosario aren’t going to last, but hopefully Gaudin and maybe even Lincecum can get added later in the season to keep things a little more stable. The Giants had a lot of bullpen trouble last year too. Shane Loux, Brad Penny and Dan Otero were horrible until the bullpen got it together going into August.

The starting pitching has been improving; little by little Cain and Bumgarner are putting up good numbers, and Barry Zito has stayed solid at home. Gaudin has been good too, but he probably won’t last many more starts for the Giants. There has been a lot of talk about the Giants going after a big-name pitcher before the deadline, (I have been hearing Cliff Lee [!!!] on the radio, but who knows) but that will depend on the next couple of weeks. If the Giants’ rotation can keep it together against the Rockies and the Reds, that may prove a big enough sign of progress to convince Bochy and Sabean not to bring anyone in. Otherwise, this homestand will mark the end of a small period of pitching success in a much larger season of rocky starts.

The offense was the biggest letdown in this series. The Giants looked totally lost; Scutaro, Pence and Posey couldn’t seem to get it going against the Fish. Blanco was the only player that didn’t look baffled by the Marlins’ mediocre staff, picking up nine hits over four games. If it wasn’t the Marlins, this would be a very bad sign. The Giants will have to hit poorly for the next few games before I get really worried. The offense has been, by and large, productive, and is what has kept the team above .500. Sandoval’s return from the DL may be just the thing the Giants need to get hot again.

The next few series will be good ones. All of them have interesting storylines: the trip to LA will mark the first time the Giants face Yasiel Puig, who, alongside Hanley Ramirez, may prove very dangerous. The Rockies have been among the Giants worst nemeses this season, and the burden will fall on San Francisco’s pitching staff to keep the ball in the park. A four game series against the Reds in another hitter friendly ballpark may prove even more difficult, however, as the Reds will no doubt be looking for some revenge after the NLDS.

Padres Series

Padres-Giants-PerezAP Photo

If you managed to make it through all three games of this series, on TV, in person, on the radio,  go let off a little steam. Go up on your roof or in your back yard and yell as loud as you can. Seriously. The entire Giants fan ba   se lost five years of life thanks to the Padres. I don’t think there have been any other games this season that compare to these three in terms of raw frustration, and I don’t care to do the research to verify this claim as I would risk being reminded of some other teeth-grindingly awful game that I had suppressed. Fortunately, the Giants are looking more and more like the team we know them to be. Unfortunately, they are scratching and clawing to get there.

MLB: San Diego Padres at San Francisco GiantsUSA Today Sports

Game one had all the makings of a classic. Zito was pitching pretty well and the Giants were functioning properly, using a lot of small ball to squeak into the lead. It looked like another throwback “Giants Torture” game until Jean Machi decided he was having too much fun and allowed the Padres to score, sending the game into extras. It was at this point the Giants stopped being the Giants. Every time a San Francisco hitter made contact it seemed to fly at a Padre, and at least three Giants fell over while making defensive plays. Despite this, and a very poor showing from the bullpen, the two teams managed to take it to the hard-luck thirteenth inning. Somewhere between Venable’s ridiculous catch and a bunt single from a Padres pitcher to score the go-ahead run, it became clear that the Giants had let this one slip away. This game hurt to watch.

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Cain and Perez were all that kept game two from turning into game one. Cain turned in his third good start in a row, dealing for seven frames and only looking fallible after allowing back to back homers in the sixth inning. The Giants struggled as much against Cashner as they had against Volquez, but got out in the lead early and performed a little better at the plate. Scutaro made his presence felt both with a great stop in the first inning and two hits in four at-bats (Mallet finger be damned). The bullpen blew it again; Affeldt had a rotten inning, which was erased by a clutch hit from Juan Perez. It was a win, but one that cost the team Brandon Crawford and felt a lot more stressful than it should have.

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Madison Bumgarner put in some serious work in game three, both with some great pitching as well as a ‘mistake‘ that he sent sailing close to Jesus Guzman in the second inning. Bumgarner’s stride towards home plate after Guzman started mouthing off was nothing short of incredible. It didn’t look like posturing; Bumgarner was expressing a candid desire to see what Guzman thought he could do in a fight against a 6’5”, country-strong pitching phenom. The dugouts cleared, but thankfully nothing came of it. The Giants managed to grind out another win, throwing everything they had against a team that did not want to go down easy. The lack of Sandoval’s power was evident, but the Giants can function well without it.

Pesky is the best word I can use to describe the Padres. Despite the Giants’ pitchers sincerest efforts, the Pads managed to get on base over and over again. It took some serious grit, but the Giants came out of the series the clear victors, the starters showing a lot of goodness against the Padres offensively skilled lineup. One of the more memorable storylines of the Giants return to AT&T is Juan Perez, who has proven a more than capable replacement for Angel Pagan. Although he will probably cool off at the plate, his range and arm in center field is remarkable. It will be interesting to see what Bochy does with Perez when Pagan returns.

A Football Life: Louis CK

Ever since I wrote a post about the foibles of NFL columnists and pundits in the offseason, I have taken note of some of the more outlandish articles, predictions and photo essays that have been ceaselessly churned out. Far and away the most useless type of article has been the style I wrote about in my post; the co-opting of a movie or television show for a set of meaningless comparisons to NFL plays that pundits spend way too much time talking about already. Perhaps it is just me being jaded and not recognizing that a style of article relegated to the “photo essay” section of the website shouldn’t be taken seriously, but I find it hard to imagine a single human being who cares how Rob Gronkowski fits into the Star Trek universe.

The NFL keeps pumping this stuff out, however, so I thought I’d make an attempt to randomly toss some NFL players at another popular tv show: Louis CK’s FX comedy “Louie”. Bear with me:

Louie Alex

Louie (Louis CK)- Alex Smith:

Like Louie, Smith is known alternately for his rocky career as well as his sudden resurgence as an effective quarterback leading one of the best teams in the league. His success stands on years of learning things the hard way from a cast of coaches and coordinators that failed to put him in a position to succeed. Like Louie’s ability to use his uniquely sardonic outlook in his standup, Smith managed to work his way out of an unenviable position as league punchline. Both are responsible, Louie for his two children and Smith for the control of the ball, and both find ways to succeed on their own terms.

Gervais Goodell

Dr. Ben Mitchell (Ricky Gervais)- Roger Goodell

Both Dr. Mitchell and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell play indispensable roles in their respective worlds, and they are constantly willing to test the limits of this fact. Dr. Mitchell goes out of his way to make Louie uncomfortable, frequently assuring his patient that he is on the verge of death simply to amuse himself, his nurse and fellow doctors. Like Dr. Mitchell, Goodell is wholly aware of the sway the NFL holds over its viewers, shown by his unwillingness to act or even acknowledge egregious problems with the league until the very last minute, a recent example of this being the replacement referee controversy in the beginning of the 2012 season. Goodell knows that people need football, just like Dr. Mitchell knows that Louie needs medical care, and is willing to push the envelope of acceptability in order to benefit himself and the league.

Peyton Lilly

Lilly (Hadley Delany)- Peyton Manning

Louie’s older daughter is the more introverted and calm of the two, not speaking much and spending most of her time reading. She is remarkably grown up for her age and is a counterpoint to her little sister. Peyton Manning is the older and more reserved of the Manning brothers, allowing his consistency on the field and game-winning talents to speak for themselves rather than seeking attention in other ways.

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Jane (Ursula Parker)- Eli Manning

Louie’s younger daughter is the more boisterous of the two girls, prone to showing her age by whining to Louie and her sister. Although she is not spoiled, she fails to understand much of what Louie and Lilly try to explain to her. Eli Manning, in sharp contrast to his older brother, consistently acts immature and impetuous, as evidenced by his refusal to play with the San Diego Chargers in the 2004 NFL draft.

Badger Baiter

Sean (Michael Drayer)- Russell Wilson

The bully who intimidates Louie on his date and the Seahawks’ new starting quarterback have a lot in common. Both are arrogant, brazen jocks, who enjoy pummeling opponents while onlookers yell encouragement. For Sean, it is his highschool buddies who cheer him on, for Wilson, it is the 12th man. Both come from a questionable environment, one from an abusive Saten household and the other from a team headed by Pete Carroll boasting a roster of young, loud, childish athletes who go out of their way to seek attention. It is questionable whether either young man can grow past the obvious limitations of their respective environments.

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Dane Cook (Dane Cook)- Mark Sanchez

Both Dane Cook and Mark Sanchez are stars who enjoyed a remarkably small window of huge success before reality caught up with them. Dane Cook became a comedy superstar in the year two thousand (and) six, headlined by his comedy documentary “Tourgasm”. He appears in “Louie” after enduring a remarkable decline in comedic credibility, made worse by numerous allegations of plagiarism. Mark Sanchez has experienced a similar decline after emerging as the leader of the New York Jets by leading them to consecutive playoff berths in the 2009 and 2010 seasons. He has since become the part of two quarterback controversies, one with Tim Tebow and the other with Geno Smith, and plummeted to joke status after his infamous “butt fumble” during a Thanksgiving game against the New England Patriots in 2012.

Dall Gruden

Jack Dall (David Lynch)- Jon Gruden

As little as we know about Dall, it is clear that he is an expert with a considerable amount of experience in television, which informs his bizarre methods when attempting to train Louie to host the Tonight Show. We know more about Jon Gruden and his successes and failures as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Oakland Raiders, but it is his challenging and unapologetic bizarreness as a commentator that is reminiscent of Dall. Both seem to be operating on their own plane of thought, drawing critical phrases from a strange corner of the English language and forcing people hopeful for a shot in the big time to figure them out.

Atlanta Series

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So ends the dreaded roadtrip. If we set aside the two games at home against Toronto, the Giants went 4-5 on the road, which is about as good if not slightly better than what people were expecting of them. With a better bullpen, they would have gone 5-4. With better starts, they might have gone 7-2. It wasn’t a roadtrip that deserves to be immortalized with a statue of MadBum and Cain high-fiving by Mccovey Cove (commemorating the first time Giants starters had two good outings in consecutive games in 2013) but it also wasn’t the outfield slip-sliding around in Toronto and Colorado and committing thirteen errors in six games. The Giants made a definite statement by winning in Arizona, then retracted that statement in Pittsburgh and fell lightly on their face in Atlanta. There was some cause for concern but a lot of good signs, namely that the Giants played fairly well after losing three of their biggest offensive producers in Pagan, Scutaro and Sandoval.

Giants_Braves_Baseball.JPEG2David Tulis

Game one was a perfect example of how the Giants should play. Whether it was his family in the stands or the work he has been putting in with Righetti, Bumgarner was locked in, and dominated an offensive powerhouse on their own turf. The offense fed off of that; Kris Medlen is no scrub but the Giants managed to tag him for nine hits and four runs before he was taken out of the game. Even Sandy Rosario looked pretty solid, carrying the momentum through the last two innings while allowing only one Brave to reach base. It was the sort of play that the Giants will need in the playoffs if they have any intention of going as far as they did last year.

Sergio Romo, Guillermo Quiroz

AP

Game two was an interesting one to watch, and may stand as a pivotal moment in the saga of Chad Gaudin. Gaudin has been great so far; he has stepped in and performed at times better than any other starter. That is not to say that he is better than the other starters, only that in the context of the 2013 season he, for a brief window, has become a rock that the Giants can lean on. It would be wonderful to see him keep up what he has been able to do so far, but watching his game against the Braves made that seem less likely. It is far too early to predict what will happen to Gaudin, and it is not as if he played horribly against Atlanta, but he didn’t look like a pitcher who could continue to fill in the void left by Ryan Vogelsong forever. I would like nothing more than for him to prove me wrong. It is easy to say that Romo blowing one save against a good team isn’t a big deal, especially because much of the fault is due to misplays by Arias and Crawford on an errant ground ball. There are any number of reasons why he didn’t have the best stuff that day, but Romo has been less and less effective as the season goes on. He doesn’t see a lot of playing time, which is a bigger deal than a lot of people think, and might benefit from some increased work. He simply hasn’t had a solid role to play; the Giants have been losing a lot, and many of their wins are comebacks. Bochy should have a better handle on how to use Romo going forward.

628x471-5Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Game three was a polarizing one; Lincecum looked simultaneously decent and terrible, walking leadoff hitters and then working out of jams with minimal damage done. He didn’t allow the Braves to score more than once per inning but still looked like a overheating mess on the mound. This game could have easily turned into a win; the Giants had plenty of opportunities but Teheran was as elusive as he was in his last start against San Francisco and kept them off the board. Once Justin Upton made his insane play, catching what should have been an RBI bloop from Joaquin Arias, it was clear what kind of game it was going to be. The Giants got outplayed by a bunch of free-swinging bats that do well at home, and it seemed like there wasn’t much that could have been done to prevent it.

So the Giants are floating above .500 with a lot of injured players waiting to come back. Two good starts from Cain was great to see, but the Giants will need more from every starter if they want to hold their own for the rest of the season. If they can do that while hitting as well as they have this season, the sky is the limit.

Dumb Da Dumb Dumb: Offseason Media Pt. 2

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks

© USA Today Sports

The summer wears on, and NFL offseason coverage continues to peddle nonsense to fans starved for their favorite sport. As the unreliable and relatively unimportant reports from minicamps and OTA’s stream in, the pundits get desperate for something to talk about. Any small quote or claim from a player or coach is endlessly bloated into some kind of revelation about their franchise and its future. There have been many, many examples of useless sports journalism in the last few weeks, but a couple stand out to me as exemplary.

Let me first apologize for writing yet another something about Tim Tebow. It is unfair to my readers to subject them to yet another piece of the remarkably stupid puzzle that is Tebow’s career, but I must do it. Since the rumors about Tebow’s move to the Patriots began, everyone in the NFL media and blogosphere jumped on the conjecture train. For ESPN, this was familiar territory; it was the fusion of one of their favorite subjects for debate with the endlessly relevant, important, mesmerizing New England Patriots. Since Tebow signed with the Patriots on June 10th, there have been twenty-nine articles written about him on Bleacher Report and twelve on NFL.com. Although this rash is unpleasant and stupid, it isn’t even slightly surprising. It also consolidates two subjects most people don’t care about into one, making it numerically easier to ignore. While this is probably not the case, I am hoping that this deluge of media coverage is the last cry of a has-been franchise; a new day may dawn in which the only time we see anything about Tebow or Tom Brady is on the cover of tabloids while at the supermarket checkout.

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Why isn’t there a “Who cares?” option?

© NFL

The other useless media tidbit relates to Jim Harbaugh. For those of you that haven’t heard, someone asked Harbaugh about the Seahawks’ issues with PED use during a post-practice press conference. He responded by ripping off his hat and shirt, grabbing a sea hawk out of mid-air, scrawling all over its body with his red sharpie, tearing its head off and ordering Andy Lee to punt the bird out of sight. He then went on to list every single player on the Seahawks’ roster and every single resident of Seattle by name, calling them smelly and stupid. Although I haven’t been able to find the exact transcript for this, based on the media response to his words it is safe to assume all this happened.

(Harbaugh’s comments can be found here)

I really don’t understand why his comments are a big deal. It sounded just like any other Jim Harbaugh response; garbled and nonsensical while managing to bring up Bo Schembechler and sound mildly annoyed at having to answer questions. Harbaugh saying that an athlete who takes PEDs is difficult to trust, and that PEDs have no place in sports is the most innocuous and acceptable thing you can say about the issue. Is it really shocking that Harbaugh has “noticed” that the team he is facing in Week 2 lost one of their primary pass rushers?  If the reporter had asked Harbaugh on his thoughts about PED use in Himalayan polo tournaments or Major League Ultimate Frisbee (it exists) he probably would have said the same thing.; it was the reporter who framed the question around the Seahawks. It is almost as if reporters assume that every single thing Harbaugh says is somehow, directly or indirectly aimed at Pete Carroll and the Seahawks.

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Football journalism at its finest.

© NFL

Unfortunately, the Seahawks have taken umbridge at Harbaugh, something alluded to by Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner, who was suspended for PED use late last season: “He’s never gonna be out there lined up against me. I wish he would. I’d put my hands around his neck.” Yet another Seahawks cornerback is a moron, hoping to intimidate a division rival by hypothetically threatening to throttle a man twenty-one years his senior.  This statement is abysmally meaningless and stupid; I’m pretty sure his exact quote was said by one of the lost souls in Dante’s Inferno, when Dante and Virgil visit the circle of hell that punishes people who emulate Richard Sherman. In the past I have written about the strange intensity with which the fans of both teams have embraced the 49ers-Seahawks rivalry; it is unsettling to see how the members of each team have reacted to the media frenzy in the NFC West.

UPDATE:

It seems that this odd fixation with JIm Harbaugh extends beyond the Seahawks secondary. Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate expressed a similarly violent desire in a similarly stupid way after being prompted by a Seattle radio station. I can’t think of a precedent for this in football, but it reminds me a little of the way that Giants fans treated Dodgers skipper Tommy Lasorda. It is also interesting to note how one-sided the whole thing is; 49ers players seem more focused on the 2013 season as a whole and improving in every way they can.

Pirates Series

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© AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

If you have been following West Bay Sports’ series by series coverage of the Giants, you are aware of the barrage of theories that have been leveled to explain the team’s disappointing play in the 2013 season. Article by article, these theories change, latch on to certain players and certain plays, all of this done in hopes of drawing a clear picture of the state of the franchise. Up until these last three games against the Pittsburgh Pirates, I could have given you any number of reasons for the Giants’ mounting losses, the most recent being a nasty case of the injury bug that has drained the team’s lineup. But the Pirates brought to the fore the most unsettling issue with the Giants today: the rotation. I do not mean to imply that this problem hasn’t been talked about a lot already, only that it has not loomed so clearly as the key to the Giants’ status going forward.

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© Justin K. Atler/Getty Images

The biggest complaint about the rotation has been that it is “inconsistent”. So often, bloggers claim that the starters are close to breaking though: sure, the ERA totals for the five pitchers are ugly, but Lincecum looked really good against the Braves and Bumgarner looked really sharp last week etc. etc. If the logic in the clubhouse is still that the rotation just needs a few tweaks to get itself right, then the Giants will be looking at a lot more losses. The Giants usually dominate, or at least win, when their starter shows up to play. If the starter lacks confidence, velocity or something else on the mound, the Giants lose, and sometimes lose big. Look no further than Lincecum’s start against Gerrit Cole. Lincecum couldn’t seem to knock hitters out even when he had them in 0-2 counts (including the pitcher), and he got blown of the game in four innings. Cole allowed seven Giants baserunners, but only allowed two runs in a strong six inning effort. The lineup took their cue from Lincecum, and failed to execute, going 1 for 6 with RISP. The game was over well before Lincecum’s departure; his lack of focus on the mound swung the momentum away from the Giants and there was no coming back from it.

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© Vincent Pugliese/ Getty Images

Much of the same could be said about Zito’s start. It went pretty much the way of his other road starts; he looked lost, unable to function. Liriano didn’t look much better; he was ever so slightly more effective and forced the Giants to work a little harder for their runs. Yet again, the momentum had fled from the Giants by the third inning. Sure, they rallied late and made the score a little closer than it could have been, but enough damage was done against Zito and the bullpen to keep the lead just out of reach. The lineup should be commended for their ability to keep grinding when the possibility of a comeback seems so distant, but this is a skill they have honed after being behind in far too many games.

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© AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

In stark contrast to this was Cain’s poise on the mound. He was efficient and aggressive, clearly not laboring under the knowledge what happened in his last outing on June 13th. As if breaking out of their own funk, the Giants lineup scored ten runs. They were hitting well and staying aggressive on the basepaths, taking advantage of every mistake and opportunity. With Cain dominating on the mound, the Giants looked like the winners long before Hunter Pence’s three run homer.

If you look at the first half of this roadtrip, you can see that what the Giants need to win, especially on the road, is good starts. Since May 27th, the Giants have won five out of six games where the starter pitched well. Two of these starts were at home, and the one loss was due to a mistake by Affeldt. In those starts the Giants outscored their opponents by twenty two points and hit a solid .279 with runners in scoring position. However, the most revealing factor in the Pirates series was the supposed depletion of the Giants’ lineup and bench. The Giants did not struggle to get on base in this series even without Scutaro, Sandoval and Pagan. They also played pretty well on defense, committing only two errors and turning six double plays. The wins and losses hinged on the starters. It was an ugly series, with some strange moments of tension between the two teams, but it also brought clarity to what the Giants need to do to win on the road; Good starts mean wins, two-thirds of the time. We can finally stop wondering about the Giants and start wondering, along with most of the medical world, how Clint Hurdle’s face got that color.

Clint Hurdle

© AP Photo

Diamondbacks Series

Andres Torres, Gregor Blanco, Ron Wotus

© AP Photo/ Ross D. Franklin

The Giants are tormenting us. What makes them play good or great against good or great teams, and then go and get swept by the Brewers, smacked around by the Phillies and absolutely destroyed by the Rockies? I can only see it as a crude joke on us fans, who do not know what will happen game to game, much less how the Giants will look after the All-Star break. Either way, everything went pretty well for the Giants in Arizona, except for that pitch that Affeldt served up to Paul Goldschmidt in game one.

I guess Cain is back. Maybe. He was on Friday, anyway. Four hits, three walks and one run in seven innings is nothing to sneeze at, particularly against a first place team. Cain is used to getting little to no run support; he might even thrive on it, but all that means nothing if Bochy misuses the bullpen. The Giants ‘pen has been frustrating of late; it has taken serious hits after Gaudin’s promotion and Casilla’s injury, and some of the new guys have been struggling to pick up the slack. Rosario and Ramirez are awful, but Bochy keeps throwing them out there to get ground up. It always feels slightly unnerving when Bochy orders an intentional walk, but if there is one baseball player out there and one situation where it seemed right, it was Friday night against Paul Goldschmidt. I don’t want to pick on Bochy; he likes to put faith in his pitchers to ‘get it done’, and this philosophy has paid off for the most part, but there is no denying Goldschmidt’s success against the Giants.

Marco Scutaro, Buster Posey

© AP Photo/ Rodd D. Franklin

Game one seemed to bleed into game two. The Giants, after weathering Patrick Corbin, jumped on Trevor Cahill and took out all their frustration. Crawford had his first four-hitter after looking lost at the plate the night before, and the Giants managed to drive Cahill out early. It was interesting to see Bochy’s decision to go to the bullpen in the sixth inning after Bumgarner put himself in a jam. As I said above, Bochy seems far more likely to give a starter a chance to get out of trouble than pull him, but he broke that rule and put in Ramirez. Maybe he was still smarting from the night before or saw an eight run lead as a chance to give Bumgarner a break and let Ramirez work. I do not know how Ramon Ramirez developed the ability to slow the passage of time, but he put it to agonizing use on Saturday. By his second wild pitch, I had forgotten about the huge lead the Giants had; it seemed like the entire game was contained in one inning that would never end. The Giants have not held enough large leads this season to make any totally valid judgements about their performance while winning big, but they looked sloppy on Saturday. Fortunately they kept it together well enough to seal one of the most tense blowouts I have ever seen.

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© AP Photo/ Rodd D. Franklin

I am deeply frustrated with Chad Gaudin; he has joined one of the best-hitting pitching staffs in the major leagues but has made little effort to improve at the plate. His ineffectiveness as a hitter will probably see him demoted soon; a 2.32 ERA means nothing to the Giants if your batting average is sub .200. I enjoyed imagining Juan Perez’ thoughts after his crazy catch: “So this is it; success in the majors. Searing pain in my left shoulder and knee. A large, scary man with flaming eyeballs named Hunter is staring down at me, saying something. This is success. Oh, there’s Torres. High five! Cool.” I won’t shock anyone by saying that the Giants are under a lot of pressure, given their recent championship success. We expect so much from these players and are so distraught when they don’t play like they did last year; it was a nice break to see a new player do well and just be happy for that fact alone.