Padres Series and the End

Barry ZitoTony Avelar/AP

So ends the 2013 season. After months of brutal losses, we finish the season as enamored of the Giants as when it began. Once the Giants were assuredly out of contention, things seemed to get a whole lot easier. I don’t think I checked the wildcard standings more than twice this year; I didn’t want to give myself more reasons to get invested in a team that was determined to slog its way into last place. In the end, it was more fun to be choosy about the things we invested in, like beating the Dodgers a lot. The transition from contender to bottom-feeder was long and difficult, but there was one moment in particular that seemed to spell everything out. It was this catch. Up until that point, the Giants had been staging comeback after comeback, hanging on to first place by Scutaro’s soon-to-be malleted pinkie. That catch came a few weeks after Yaisel Puig came up and ruined everything. From that point on things got really ugly.

The most popular reason given for the Giants’ failure to return to the playoffs was Angel Pagan’s injury. I am a huge Pagan fan, and I genuinely believe that he played a crucial role in the chemistry of the team, but his injury is just one of many reasons why the team melted down. His departure and return bookend the ugly part of the season, but he wasn’t the reason Tim Lincecum started to turn things around, or the reason Yusmeiro Petit emerged as one of the better starters on the Giants’ pitching staff.

It is good that the Giants kept fighting for wins; protected draft pick aside, it was a great reminder of why we watch this stupid sport. A 16-11 September would have been great to see en route to the playoffs, but a season of injuries, bad pitching and the breaks taking a dramatic turn the other way means we will have to wait

We couldn’t really have asked for a better end to a losing season. The Giants finished 11-8 against the Dodgers, besting them at home and in LA. They looked every bit as invested in the final two series as they did against the first two of 2013, despite the mostly ceremonial feel of the last three games. Zito capped off an up-and-down stint in San Francisco with a solid performance and a final, seemingly effortless strikeout. Gregor Blanco was given a shot at a needless inside the park home run, and Hunter Pence completed the most satisfying meaningless comeback we will ever see with a walkoff single to end the season.

The nice part of all this is that we feel we got our money’s worth. The Giants missing the playoffs is a major bummer, but the real problem with this season is how little fun it was to watch. Some amazing things happened, but they only served to punctuate weeks of offensive impotence and frustration. September was fun, though. Now is not the time to wonder about what it all means for next season; we should be thankful that the season ended on such a high note, and that being a fan made sense again.

49ers at Rams: A Win by Any Other Name…

imageGetty Images

It’s a win! Games like this are difficult to understand; it is important to parse what went right and what went wrong for each team. The 49ers did a lot of things well, but also had long periods of ineffectiveness. It was clear that Sam Bradford was off his game; he had plenty of opportunities early on but over/underthrew his receivers and looked mostly incompetent. Once the 49ers pass rush started to wear on the Ram’s offensive line, the momentum swung dramatically towards the 49ers. It was a slow start for Kaepernick, but after Anquan Boldin made his ridiculous play things really started to roll. It was an ugly and ultimately one-sided game, but it was the first time since Green Bay that the 49ers looked like they had a game plan and were able to put it into effect.

Good things:

Run Game: Finally! Frank Gore was incredible to watch, but Kendall Hunter was able to move the ball as well. It was the 1-2 punch that we had been hearing about all offseason; Gore brought power while Hunter was able to slip and roll through a surprisingly porous Rams D-line. The 49ers’ offensive plan on Thursday was by far the most balanced we have seen this season, but it revolved around the ground attack. We can only hope this is a sign of things to come.

Offensive line:

The O-line was able to overcome some early game yips to help power Frank Gore down the field. They also did a good job protecting Kaepernick, giving him enough time to make reads and take advantage of the holes in the Ram’s defense. Joe Staley’s almost-injury was terrifying, but he escaped unscathed.

Defense:

The 49ers defense really stepped up after losing several key players in Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and Nmandi Asomugha. Glenn Dorsey and Navarro Bowman were great, shutting down the run early and putting crippling pressure on Bradford throughout the game. Rookie Corey Lemonier looked like a worthy successor to Smith, while Tramaine Brock and Eric Reid provided good coverage.

Bad Things:

Penalties:

Penalties are still an issue; the 49ers lost 85 yards on 10 penalties continuing a worrying trend of sloppy play. It was a highly penalized game (18 penalties total), but these kind of mistakes will cost the 49ers games if they cannot show more discipline.

Slow Starts:

I was not a fun person to be around for the first quarter of this game. The 49ers looked as lost as ever against an inferior team, failing to get anywhere near the red zone in their first three possessions. Greg Roman seemed to wake up, however, and dialed up a more balanced game plan that gave Gore the opportunity to make big plays. Once a nice rhythm was established, the 49ers were in good shape, but it seems to take them longer than it should to get going. With the defense playing well the 49ers can weather slow starts, but impotence in the first quarter isn’t something that can continue.

Other Things:

Anquan Boldin:

It’s great to see Boldin run through opposing defenses, but Kaepernick’s reliance on the veteran receiver is something that can be exploited by wily defenses. Ideally, Boldin will become a reliable part of an offensive whole, but this will require some other players to step up. Hoping for a miracle before Mario Manninham and Michael Crabtree to get healthy isn’t enough to keep this team in contention.

Colin Kaepernick:

It wasn’t a monster game for Kaep, but it was effective. It is in the best interest of this team to dial back their reliance on his arm; he has shown that he needs more experience (and better receivers) before he can pick apart teams from the pocket. Calling plays that allow the offensive line to function the way it was designed to ensures consistency in a way that an inexperienced signal caller cannot.

3rd and 4th down execution:

Two of the biggest plays of the game came on 3rd and 4th down. Anquan Boldin’s crazy touchdown on 3rd-and-19 and Gore’s 4th down run were backbreakers that reminded us how effective this offense can be when everyone is on the same page and can execute. Greg Roman may have been pushing Kaep too hard to carry the team; it is good to see that he can still call plays that the offense understands and can perform perfectly, even in high-pressure situations.

49ers vs. Rams

50bbed78eba35.preview-620Chris Lee

“Adversity” has been a hot word this week. After losing two games in a row, the 49ers are in the midst of their first ugly stretch since Harbaugh arrived. It is important to note, however, that Harbaugh and his team have faced adversity before. When Harbaugh arrived, the 49ers were perennial losers who had struggled since the departure of Steve Mariucci. It wasn’t easy to change the attitude of a professional sports franchise, but Harbaugh and his staff turned the team around and used the talented roster to go 13-3 the next season. This is adversity that the 49ers faced, and eventually triumphed over. The change from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick may have looked seamless, but it was a huge undertaking by a team that was already in the midst of a winning season. The 49ers managed to reach the Super Bowl, overcoming a crushing loss in the NFC Championship game the season before and putting together a remarkable playoff run. The Niners have faced plenty of adversity; they have not skated effortlessly into the NFL elite and they are not yet in danger of being pushed back out.

After the last two weeks, the list of things to pay attention to has grown too large. The only thing I will be looking for is a win. The 49ers must defeat St. Louis and start climbing back up to where they began. I challenge the notion that the last two years were luck, and that this team is incapable of coming back. The overall sloppy play from every position speaks to something beyond talent and strategy; there is a complacency within the team that must be dealt with. This might be something that some ugly losses can change; being in the hole early in the season may provide the impetuous the team needs to tighten things up and go with what has worked the last couple of seasons.

The 49ers will be facing a struggling team that failed to make it to the playoffs last year. However, the Rams were the only division rival the 49ers could not defeat in 2012. It is a great opportunity for the 49ers and their coaching staff to show what they are made of. If tomorrow goes poorly, it will be clear that this team has a great deal of work to do. If not, it will be their first step back into contention and will help them recover what went missing in the offseason (besides Michael Crabtree).

Some notes:

At this time last year, the Packers and Broncos were 1-2, and the Cardinals were 3-0.

There are currently five 2012 playoff teams under .500.

The last two times the 49ers faced the Rams, David Akers missed a game-winning field goal in each game. Although he has not seen much work, Phil Dawson is 3-4 in field goal attempts so far in 2013.

The San Francisco Giants vs. New York

Polo_Grounds_1923

I made it back from New York in one piece! I certainly wasn’t the only fan who headed East to watch the Giants take on the Mets and the Yankees. Anyone watching those games would have seen that at least a quarter of the population of San Francisco decided to spend a week annoying New York sports fans by taking over their ballparks. The Giants left New York 3-3, defeating (or playing less poorly than) the Mets and falling apart against the Yankees. It was fascinating to see the three fanbases collide; there wasn’t a whole lot at stake for any team, but there was pride and other small reasons to be invested. With a large part of the Giants’ faithful swarming through Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx, New York once again seemed like the home of three baseball teams.

It was my first time back since I moved away, which meant a lot of “Hey, that place that used to be a restaurant is now a different restaurant,” and “I forgot about that smell!” I managed to avoid seeing any cockroaches, keeping my 378-day roachless streak alive. I also avoided Finnerty’s, the now famous Bay Area sports bar in the East Village. I heard the reports of madness there during Giants and 49ers games, but decided it was best to stay away, given what happened during the last game I watched there.

The Mets

I have a simultaneous fascination and dislike of Mets fans. I attended the second and third games at Citi Field, which gave me plenty of time to observe both fanbases. Neither team had much reason to play hard; the Giants might have been bitter after an ugly sweep by the Mets at AT&T Park earlier in the season, but they didn’t play with much passion. Citi Field was full of Giants fans, who did not hesitate to start chants and jeer at Mets outfielders. The Finnerty’s party bus contingent was just one piece of an overbearingly present sea of Giants fans. This is not to say that Mets fans didn’t show; they just didn’t have any illusions about their team. This has been a demoralizing, difficult season for the Giants, but the short term effects of some ugly losing stretches in 2013 hasn’t overcome the last few years of success. The Mets have every reason to be demoralized; R.A. Dickey and Matt Harvey gave them something to cheer about, and they have lost both. No amount of David Wright prevents them from assuming a loss every time they take the train out to Flushing. When the Mets mounted a comeback in game two, however, it was as if the Giants fans disappeared. It was the loudest that Mets fans got when I was there. With so much recent success, defeat makes Giants fans sad and grumbly. With so much recent difficulty, defeat leaves Mets fans unfazed, and makes victory all the sweeter.

 The Yankees

There were more than a few reasons to care about this series. The Yankees are a benchmark elite team; even in their off-years it is hard not to see a series against the Yankees as a test. I was only able to attend the first game of the series, because apparently people enjoy going to Yankee Stadium and will pay large amounts to do so. I am generally not a bitter man, but game one left a pretty awful taste. Why did it have to be A-Rod? Why did it have to break a record? I don’t have answers to these questions. Instead I have a question of my own: why George Kontos? Rather than giving the Giants a chance to make some kind of series-opener statement, the world got to see Bruce Bochy showcase the ugly side of his stubbornness. This has been one of the sad stories of this year, in my opinion. In 2012, Bochy would throw relievers to the wolves until they emerged with a pelt and a necklace of fangs. In 2012, this hard-nosed approach resulted in a lock-down corp of relievers who could safeguard the hard work of starters. In 2013, the bullpen was thrown to the wolves and got eaten, or injured their groin or developed cysts or blew leads. George Kontos is the archetype of how this strategy can backfire; Bochy may not care that he basically pulled the plug on this game when he put Kontos in, but I did. Maybe he wanted to reassure himself for the sixtieth time that Kontos is bad, or maybe he wanted to see a record broken, but he allowed A-Rod to troll the entire planet in the process.

Thankfully, I got to revel in the same bitterness two days later. A small, shameless part of me is happy that Mariano Rivera didn’t get the save the day he was honored. The ceremony around his retirement has been season-long, but it brought me some small joy to know that the Giants made that one day less enjoyable. It isn’t something to be proud of, but now I know how the Cardinals felt when they shellacked the Giants after sitting through the World Series Ring Ceremony. I hope that these aren’t the types of things I will be forced to cheer for in the coming seasons, but I also hope the Yankees fan who booed in my ear every time I cheered for the Giants was watching this.

Colts at 49ers: The Ugliness

49ers_t607Associated Press

There aren’t many differences between the 49ers’ week 2 and week 3. In both games, the 49ers offense looked confused and unsettled. In both games, the defense struggled against the run but made two playoff quarterbacks look pretty pedestrian. In both games, the opponent was able to drive up their time of possession by forcing the 49ers into numerous 3-and-out situations (the Seahawks had the ball 13:26 minutes longer than the Niners, the Colts had it 13:30 longer). This meant the defense was forced to play without much rest, allowing the Colts grind them down in the fourth quarter. I originally intended to go with the same good/bad/other format that I used last week, but seeing as how this game was almost identical to the last, I opted to simply write my random observations.

Home Field Advantage: The most telling thing about this game was the venue. The 49ers struggling to deal with the windbags in Seattle is one thing, but struggling at home in front of a friendly crowd is another. It is clear that what happened in Seattle can’t be seen as an aberration, or something that can be saddled on the 12th man. The 49ers had numerous advantages in this game but looked flat and confused. This was a game they could have won; the lead was one touchdown away until the fourth quarter.

Run Game: I feel like a broken record bringing up the run game again. Based on their sole scoring drive, the 49ers running back corp was more than capable of handling the Colts’ banged-up defense. Kendall Hunter and Frank Gore managed to tag-team all the way down the field and tie the game. My only complaint is that this didn’t happen twelve more times.

Rigid Play-Calling: It is important to note that this isn’t the first time fans have complained about Greg Roman’s play calling. One of the many criticisms about the 49ers’ final drive in the Super Bowl was the decision to go for three passing plays within five yards of the endzone. That trend seems to have continued; whether or not Roman recognizes this mistake remains to be seen, but it looks as if he has taken all the questions about Colin Kaepernick as a passer personally. To pick apart an opposing defense with a blistering drive on the ground and then abandon that strategy for the rest of the game is strange and illogical. There isn’t really a good way to explain it, unless you buy the theory that Roman is overworking to confuse the opposing team. Running the ball against a team that is notoriously weak against the run follows very basic logic; it may have been Roman’s desire to lean on the 49ers reputation as a running team to show the Colts something they weren’t expecting. With the 49ers receiving corp thin and offensive line struggling, Roman has run out of time to experiment and needs to call plays that move the ball consistently and effectively. The ineffectiveness of this strategy is best summed up by the 49ers first 4th quarter drive. Adam Vinatieri missed a field goal, giving the 49ers great field position at their own 41 yard line. Kaep threw an incomplete pass to Garrett Celek, a short pass to Kendall Hunter for a four yard gain, and was sacked on third down for a loss of seven yards. There was no attempt made to grind into Colts’ territory on the ground; instead, the offense was one-dimensional and ineffective. The 49ers were forced to punt, and the Colts mounted a scoring drive against a gassed defense that was given no chance to rest.

Colin Kaepernick: This was Kaepernick’s 13th career start. Yes, he had a ‘meteoric rise’ and has a lot of talent, but it was his 13th career start. Part of the 49ers’ reliance on his arm may be the result of some overeagerness on Harbaugh’s part. I believe Kaepernick is capable of being great, but forcing him and the offense around him to function in a way it isn’t meant to is unwise. As much as I hate the comparison, Seattle was in a similar position with Russel Wilson in 2012. Wilson was able to rely on Marshawn Lynch to help win games while he got his bearings, and picked up enough of the playbook to balance the offense going into the playoffs. Although Kaep is more highly touted and has done some amazing things, he is still a young quarterback and needs experience. There is no doubt that he will work as hard as he can to improve, but the 49ers should be patient and stick with what has been working.

Week 2: 49ers at Seahawks

628x471-1Elaine Thompson

Looking over the box score from last night’s game I find myself amazed at the ugliness of it all. Even Marshawn Lynch’s numbers don’t pop out at me; I remember him running over the 49ers, but it was only late in the game that he had any marked success. It was a disappointing game on a lot of levels; the most prominent being how little fun it was to watch. Although they would probably never admit it now, I’m sure Seahawks fans felt the same way. It was two teams struggling to get things going, while their respective defenses gritted it out and forced turnovers. Games like that usually come down to who blinks first. Whether it was the crowd noise, exhaustion or just overall sloppy play, the 49ers blinked and the Seahawks found ways to take advantage.

Good Things:

Defense: The 49ers defense came to play. They held the Seahawks offense to three points in the first half, keeping Lynch relatively inert and putting plenty of pressure on Russell Wilson. Pass coverage was great as well; Wilson actually had a negative quarterback rating at the end of the second half. I can’t help but look at their struggles in the fourth quarter as the result of the 49er’s offense failing to stay on the field for very long. The Seahawks held the ball for 13:26 minutes longer than the 49ers, giving them plenty of chances to look for holes and leave their defense fresh. With three turnovers in the second half stopping 49er drives and giving the Seahawks great field position, the Niners defense was hard pressed to keep stopping them. There was still plenty of good to be seen; game ending penalty aside, Aldon Smith was great against Lynch and was all over Wilson for much of the game. This is overall a good sign. The defense kept the game well within reach, contained Wilson and came up with a slew of big stops.

Bad Things:

Offense: This game really comes down to the offense. The penalties were brutal; the offense lost a total of 50 yards from mostly sloppy penalties, killing multiple drives and forcing Colin Kaepernick to pass. The Seattle defense held most of the 49ers’ receivers in check, and had great coverage all night. Kaepernick did a good job scrambling, picking up 87 yards on the ground, but couldn’t get anything else going. Seattle’s defense came as advertised, but I also got the feeling that Kaepernick was failing to read and execute plays. Too often replay showed a wide open Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis or Kyle Williams that Kaep had missed. It seemed like the 49ers phoned it in for most of the game; the offense looked confused and struggled to gain even a little yardage. Although the game was still winnable at the half, penalties and turnovers meant the 49ers couldn’t stage any kind of comeback.

The Run Game: One of the biggest questions about this game and the team as a whole is whether or not Frank Gore is the same back we saw last year. Looking over the numbers from the last two games, it seems like the 49ers are trying to get Kaep to pass more and hand the ball off less. Last season Gore averaged 16 rushing attempts per game. Last night he was given the ball 9 times. The Seahawks managed to wear down the 49ers defense by constantly forcing them to deal with Lynch. Eventually he was able to break through and make plays. The 49ers could have tried a more balanced approach; it was clear from the first quarter that Kaep was struggling to read the defense and throw accurately. San Francisco’s last win against Seattle was wholly based on the run game, with Gore rushing for 131 yards on 16 attempts. It would stand to reason that going with what has worked in the past might have led to a more even final score, if not a win.

Penalties: Last week, the 49ers struggled to wrap up Green Bay’s receivers, missing several tackles and giving up big yardage. That issue seems to have been addressed, but the overall sloppiness remains. The 49ers were penalized 12 times last night, losing 121 total yards. Two of the penalties came on crucial 3rd down plays, giving the Seahawks a fresh set of downs to continue their scoring drive. Although this game will be seen as a major coup by Seattle, it’s hard to overstate how the 49ers contributed to the loss. Seattle’s offense looked fairly one-dimensional until the last leg of the game; it was the 49ers’ tendency to shoot themselves in the foot that pushed this game over the edge.

Other Things:

Colin Kaepernick: Kaep was extremely frustrating to watch last night. His body language lacked the confidence we saw against Green Bay in week one, and he missed multiple opportunities for big gains with his arm and legs. It is important that the coaching staff recognizes these kinds of problems early on. He is a young and inexperienced quarterback that is trying as hard as he can to learn Harbaugh’s system. These last two games show the high upside and ugly downside to Kaep as a pocket passer. When the 49ers face the Colts next week, it will be a good opportunity for Kaep to rely on his backs and only throw when he reads the play properly.

Week 2: This is week two, everybody. At this point in the season a game like this will come as a painful learning experience rather than proof of any team being better than the other. It would be incorrect to say that Seattle is a definitively better team the San Francisco. Last night was ugly for both sides, and the advantage went to the home team. The 49ers will face the Seahawks at home in week 14, a game made all the more fascinating by last night’s overhyped showdown. Wilson won, but it was not an inspiring showing by Seattle’s offense, and I am excited to see whether the 49ers can take what they learned at Century Link and set themselves up to dominate when it counts.

Precedents: In week six of last year, the 49ers played the Giants at the Meadowlands, falling 26-3. Alex Smith was intercepted 3 times, and Gore was held to a paltry 36 yards rushing. It was an ugly, tension filled loss that felt meaningful at the time but was soon buried by Kaepernick’s emergence. Much like last night, it seemed like the Giants had all the answers, and not even the 49ers #1 ranked defense could stop Eli Manning and Ahmad Bradshaw. Games like last night happen; Seahawks fans have another win to beat us over the head with, but the season is far from over. Last night was ugly, boring and forgettable, but it may also provide the impetus for the 49ers to correct what needs correcting and improve. The Seahawks may have gutted it out at home, but I’m still not impressed. It is clear that both quarterbacks have a lot to learn, and the real test is whether or not the 49ers can bounce back in a meaningful way.

49ers vs. Seahawks: What to Watch For

Tt1lk.St.4

Before I go listing the things I will be paying attention to in tomorrow’s game, I feel compelled to temper the ridiculous level of hype around this matchup. Let me just check something… hold on… yep. Just as I thought, we will be watching a football game tomorrow. A football game. This isn’t D-Day. It’s not even a matchup between two culturally and historically competitive cities. I’ve been pretty open about my opinions on this rivalry and who stands to gain from it; just look here, or read my shorthand guide below.

Niners beat Seahawks 13-6+Carroll and Harbaugh didn’t like each other in college ball+Seahawks beat Niners 42-13+Richard Sherman talks a lot= Rivalry (?)

I just don’t see it. I remember the ‘beatdown’ in Seattle last year, and the mild disappointment I felt after. But hey, the Niners were still going to the playoffs. The only thing that angered me about that game is the leverage it gained with football pundits as evidence of some kind of anger between the teams. The loss was annoying because it was a loss that kept getting brought up. It’s like ESPN decided to start saying the word ‘rivalry’ constantly and the fans just followed suit.

I am going to go out on a limb and say that what 49ers fans want probably want most is another Super Bowl ring. They almost got it last year, despite the beatdown. As Jim Harbaugh says, it’s just another game in a season that has just begun. If Seattle wins it will make their weird, obsessive fanbase happy (the reason cited in that article that Seattle hates Jim Harbaugh? He makes angry faces on the sideline. K.) and confirm something we already know: the Seahawks play well at home. It would be great if San Francisco won, but the meaning of this game lies mostly with the Seahawks and their fans. Investing emotion in a game over bragging rights is fine, but it won’t be the only tough game the Niners play this season. Let’s just keep that in mind.

Here are the things I will be paying attention to tomorrow:

The Run Game:

If you had asked me one thing I knew was going to be working for the Niners against the Packers, I would have said the run game. As it turns out, it is possible to limit Frank Gore, but it comes at the expense of the secondary. I would be willing to bet that if you asked a Seahawks fan the same question about last week’s game against Carolina, they would have said the same thing about Marshawn Lynch. Tomorrow’s game will come down to the run game, which means getting Gore into a nice rhythm and using Kendall Hunter’s speed to move the chains. Of the same coin, it is essential that the 49ers do what they can to limit Lynch. Lynch has done well against the Niners; he ran for over a hundred yards in his last three games against San Francisco. Seattle’s record in those contests is 1-2. Even so, the Niners have to slow him down, which brings me to my next point.

Tackles:

There were some embarrassing missed tackles by the 49ers last weak, and they will need to step it up if they hope to get to Russel Wilson. The 49ers are a team with great fundamentals, and I am chalking up last week’s poor showing to season opener yips. If I am wrong, the Niners’ defense will be hard pressed to do anything against a physical receiving corp and a slippery quarterback.

Pass Rush:

The 49ers pass rush last week was inconsistent, sometimes getting to Aaron Rodgers and sometimes giving him far too much time. If the 49ers can contain Wilson, they can exploit his stature and prevent him from seeing his receivers. An aggressive pass rush will go a long way towards stopping the Seahawks from making big plays. If they get to Wilson early and often, the 49ers will be in a great spot to handle whatever Crazy Pete throws their way.

Crazy Pete

panhandle_1

Every major sports media outlet is hell-bent on keeping Sunday’s matchup between the 49ers and the Seahawks at the forefront of our minds. The entire offseason was spent building up to this game, and it’s time to cash in, whether through eyebrow-related bets or meaningless predictions. You may find it odd, then, to hear that I am not nearly as excited or nervous about this game as everyone else. This is partly due to this game being cranked through the hype machine a few too many times, but it is also because the entire country will be tuned in to watch Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll pacing the sidelines, a sight far more disturbing than any wordy description can convey.

I got to know Pete a little bit during the offseason. As some of you know, he spends much of his summer panhandling for gum money on Haight street. He can usually be found somewhere between the Pork Store and the Alembic, drinking a tall can of Steel Reserve and yelling “What’s your deal?” at frightened tourists. Although Seahawks fans may see Pete as the bestest, most handsomest and smartestest coach in the world, I assure that he is a crude, unruly man. On his nicer days, he can be heard mumbling about the time he met Jerry Garcia with a cardboard sign that reads “neEd money to get grateful ded TatToo”. He sometimes tries to accompany street musicians, screeching like a hawk until they ask him to leave.

I tried to interview him numerous times, hoping to find some semblance of the man who was selected to coach a major sports franchise. He refused to talk, handing me crumpled up bits of paper with John Wooden quotes or nonsensical football plays scrawled on them. Towards the end of summer I got him to open up by buying him a couple bottles of Mad Dog 20/20, which he happily guzzled. I asked him whether his 25-23 head coaching record was a reflection of his ability or simply a struggle transitioning from college football to the NFL, which prompted him to rant about 9/11 conspiracy theories for several minutes. Knowing this was a big topic for him, I waited patiently. When he was finished, I asked about the culture in Seattle that may have led to a league-high number of PED-related suspensions. He glared at me, stating that if he wanted an “inquisition”, he would “go back to L.A. and call Bill Plaschke”.

panhandle_2

His mood worsened, but I managed to placate him with a pack of Bubble Yum. He wondered aloud whether “Jim had sent one of his fascist cronies to mess with my pleasant brainvibes.” I assured him that I was only a fan and not affiliated with the 49ers organization. He cracked his second bottle of wine and downed it, his eyes falling to half-lid. The interview ended there; he told me that he was going to go catch a ride from his friend “Troll” up to Arcata, and would be returning with “a fuckton of acid.” Then he stood up, his bleary eyes meeting mine, and whispered “Win forever.”

High Hopes

12N_1091-RAW-alcatraz-baseball-diamond

If you have been following West Bay Sports, you know that my Giants-related content has decreased of late. There is no denying it; I have struggled to find things to write about most games. Over the last month, the Giants have been playing .500 ball, making the same mistakes as they did during their ugly slide into last place but sprinkling great games throughout. Whether it is Yusmerio Petit, Angel Pagan or Ryan Vogelsong, the mood of the clubhouse has shifted. At some point during their series in San Diego, I remember thinking that the Giants are a much better team than the one that decided to fall apart this year. We can see it when they play well; the team has the ability and the experience to do well. They seem to be waking up, but any shot at the playoffs is long gone. Perhaps it is just wishful thinking on my part, and I am once again buying front row tickets for another abysmal season, but I am excited for 2014.

The recent late-inning success is interesting. It was the early season walkoffs and narrow victories that led this team down into last place , but it is nice to have something to cheer for. This kind of baseball reveals a ballclub that hasn’t put everything together. Looking back over this season, I can’t help but feel like the Giants phoned it in after going all the way in 2012. The chemistry, speeches and dominant pitching worked last season, but just barely. It isn’t surprising for players to lean on something that works, but it is clear that fundamentally better ballclubs are better than the ballclubs that wait to get hot. The Giants took the division last year with fundamentally strong baseball and won during the playoffs with chemistry. They can do it again.

Maybe this season will be too much and the team will lose cohesion, or the rotation will never return to form, but this team will be looking at 2014 as an opportunity to regain what was lost. A little while ago I wrote about the fractures appearing in the clubhouse, and the lack of competitiveness from the Giants play. Since then, the Giants have improved a lot. More games are lost because of the mistakes of one or two players; you can see that the team is working to end the season with a bang. This drive in the face of an offseason that will pass the Giants by is a good sign.

The Giants will take on the Dodgers before shipping out to New York to face the Yankees and the Mets. I couldn’t hope for a better test of whatever small things have been working for this team. In many ways, these last few games will be as important as any game after the All-Star break. If this team shows even a little something, it may stay Sabean’s hand in the offseason and give him an excuse to keep the 2012 champions together. We can only hope they fight hard and gash the Dodgers. Or at least try. In a season like this one, that will be enough.