Saturday, March 27, 2010

The McCloughan Mystery


The mystery that is Scot McCloughan's departure from the San Francisco 49ers is one that has baffled the Bay Area sports community.

How can an accomplished General Manager leave a team with a month left before the NFL Draft, the one thing that a GM has prepared for since last season ended, and probably before?

It all seems pretty fishy to me. Was he fired? Is this a leave of absense? One thing is for sure, his office in Santa Clara is cleared out with no sign of him returning.

But what happened? We don't know, and we may never know. The way the story was just sprung upon the public so abrupty, I doubt if we ever hear the real reason for the 49ers and him parting ways.

The ordeal must have been huge in order to cause the split of someone as accomplished in the 49ers organization as McCloughan was. He was trusted by the 49ers and had come on several radio programs the previous week talking about his mindset going into the NFL Draft. It seemed like this one blind-sided everyone.

A speculation broke yesterday that could possibly give us insight into why the two sides split. There was the rumor of McCloughan having a drinking problem. Word is, he showed up drunk to several team meetings and organized events, which caused embarrassment to the organization. And the two sides decided to mutually split ways.

Again, this is just speculation, but it seems reasonable. McCloughan has an extremely tough job, as do all General Managers of sports teams. He must bring good players to the 49ers, and draft good players in the NFL Draft. And if he doesn't, he is criticized. Extremely stressful, I would say.

But whatever the issue is, it is personal. Personal to McCloughan, and personal to the 49ers, and probably something that will not be a topic of conversation at any time forward.

For now, meet your new man in charge of the 2010 NFL Draft for the 49ers. His name is Trent Baalke and he has been friends with McCloughan for 15 years. Some are calling him a McClone, and for 49er fans that's as good of news as you can get. McCloughan had a pretty good track record for drafting players, and if that carries over to Baalke, who has worked hand-in-hand with McCloughan over the years, we should see no difference.

But people will still want to know about McCloughan and what happened. The 49ers are going to keep this one close to the vest. And if it is something as serious as a drinking problem, the 49ers and McCloughan should be given that space.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sharks' Losing Streak a Sign?


The San Jose Sharks finally snapped their 6-game losing streak the other night against the Minnesota Wild, a streak spanning 10 days and resulting in the Sharks being out-scored 27-12.

It has since sparked speculation of what to make of the Sharks breakdown with the upcoming playoffs just around the corner.

So what do we make of the losing streak? There were several things that clearly stood out. The first being the defense. The word to describe it was 'slow.' They were slow to react, slow on the penalty kill, and extremely laxidasical throughout the whole losing streak. There was no flow to the defense and they seemed plain awkward on the ice.

The other thing that stood out, and this isn't a secret, was Evgeni Nabokov not seeing the puck. I've said this before, and many others before me, the Sharks go as far as Nabby takes them. During the losing streak, Nabby could stop nothing. He went 0-5 on the losing streak that ended in 6 games, with Thomas Greiss losing one of the games. From what I saw, most of the goals scored against the Sharks were shots that should have been stopped by Nabby. But the Nabby we have seen since the Olympic break is not the same one we saw before. Specifically, ever since his his meltdown against Canada.

But is the losing streak just a post-Olympic hangover for the Sharks? Or is this a sign of things to come in the playoffs? I think it's got to be a mix of all the above. The veterans are tired, or they are playing tired, and the younger guys feed off of that. And Nabby seems to be affected by his Olympic play and it has carried over into the NHL season where they are coming down the stretch and need him more than ever.

Honestly, I hope this losing streak is not a sign of things to come, and the true Sharks team was not revealed over this losing streak. They were just going through the motions, and I think this losing streak is a wake-up call for this team. They have been on top of the Western Conference for so long that they were just, like I said, going through the motions. Now they have Marc-Edouard Vlasic back, and the defensive lines are now complete. Hopefully, they can build from being fully healthy, because there is no other excuse now.

As of today, the Sharks are 1 point back of the Chicago Blackhawks for 1st place in the Western Conference, which is shocking considering the Sharks have tallied 3 points in the last 7 games. But taking the 2nd seed or even 3rd seed in the playoffs would not be the worst thing, it might be the best thing for this team.

Now is where it begins. There are 9 games left in the regular season, with big games coming against playoff-bound teams that the Sharks could possibly face in the first round of the playoffs (Canucks and Avalanche). Down the stretch is where they will earn the fans' trust going into the playoffs, and prove this is not just another fluke year of crawling into the playoffs and making an early exit. And for the fans' sake, I hope that is not the case.

Monday, March 22, 2010

FOR SALE: Golden State Warriors


Anyone want to buy an NBA team? It's a little bit of a fixer-upper, but it should pay out in the end.

The Golden State Warriors announced Monday that their disappointing franchise is up for sale. Larry Ellison, who has shown extreme interest in buying the suffering franchise, is in the clubhouse as the favorite to succeed Chris Cohan as owner. And why shouldn't it be Ellison? He would be the owner of the team whose arena bears his company's name. Oracle Arena. It sounds just about right.

For the Warriors fans who have waited forever for a contending team, you can start paying attention now. Many thought that the "WE BELIEVE" year was the turnaround for this franchise and that they would never go back to being a bad franchise ever again. Hang on. This was because they had a core group of players with Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, and Al Harrington. But they forgot one thing, Chris Cohan was still the owner, and his track record would suggest that the success they were having would not last long.

Of course, a few years later they let Davis go, then traded a disgruntled Harrington, and then recently an even more disgruntled Jackson, and there they were again, back at square one.

A couple years ago, they tried the rebuilding process after all hopes of winning with the team they had was out the window. But it was never going to work. This franchise was never going to work. That is until there was new ownership. The Warriors were never committed to rebuilding because the main issue that needed to be rebuilded was the ownership.

It needed to start at the top, and finally Cohan has succumbed to the jeers wanting him out of Oakland and has let this franchise at least have a chance at succeeding, which was never going to happen with him at the helm.

So here we stand, the Warriors finally agreeing to sell the team, and Warriors fans could not be happier. Will this be enough to turn this historically disappointing franchise around? Not sure quite yet, there is a long way to go. But naming Larry Ellison as the owner should be the first move. And maybe we look back and say that this was the start of something great, or maybe we don't. But this franchise, and most of all its fans, need a different path entirely, because the path Chris Cohan was leading the Warriors down has been one that has gone in circles for the last 15 years with no results. Change will come. Here's to the next 15 years.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

How SWEET It Is!


The little school from the little town of Moraga, CA defeated the 2nd seed Villanova Wildcats on Saturday, booking their ticket to the Sweet 16 next week.

The game was neck-and-neck just about the whole way, but Omar Samhan continued to wear down the under-sized Villanova team and then exploded in the 2nd half, including big shots down the stretch that were needed to put the Wildcats away.

Samhan continues to impress in the Tournament and has grown into maybe the player of March Madness so far. He scores, plays defense, blocks shots. There is not much this kid cannot do and Villanova was unable to stop him as he went for 32 points and 7 rebounds.

What surprised many was how clutch this St. Mary's team was in this game. Whether it was a clutch block from Samhan, free throws from Clint Steindl, or a bank-in 3-pointer from Mickey McConnell to seal it.

This team is for real. They match up well with every team in this tournament, have fantastic guard-play from McConnell and others, and the big man Samhan down low doing everything.

Who knows how far this team can go, but they are peaking at just the right time. Their next game will be on Thursday against #3 seed Baylor University, who is no joke. It will be yet another test that the Gaels will have to overcome if they want to continue their impressive run through this Tournament.

This week, look for Omar Samhan all over TV, as I predict he and the Gaels will be quite a comodity for ESPN.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Madness Contines...Bay Area Included


Please, set down your bracket and walk away. Your bracket is busted! Now, you can sit and enjoy the absolute Madness that has occured through these first 32 games with much more to come. And for those who were in the HP Pavilion on Thursday, as I was, you were front and center for it. Pandemonium!

Just a few notes, for those who said the Pac-10 was a weak conference this year, it looks like Cal and Washington have proved them wrong. Both looked extremely good in their 1st round games, Cal pouncing early and never looking back, and Washington with a last second lay-in to upset Marquette.

To maybe some surprises, the Bay Area has represented. St. Mary's had a convincing win against a Richmond team who some thought could go to the Sweet 16. But the big story was the introduction of Omar Samhan to the nation. Samhan had 29 points and 12 rebounds and was dominant in the paint, but kicked it up in high gear in the 2nd half to put away Richmond.

St. Mary's next opponent is Villanova, who struggled in their 1st round game beating Robert Morris in overtime. Villanova is a guard-heavy team led by Scotty Reynolds. This is an advantage for St. Mary's because they can match up with Villanova's guards, while having the big man Samhan in the middle fighting with a Villanova player (probably Antonion Pena) who will not compare to Samhan's size and bulk. This could prove to be a big upset if St. Mary's can pull it off, as they are riding a high and Villanova is a little low right now coming off a 1st round overtime win that shouldn't have been even close. Tune in for that one on Saturday.

For the Cal Bears from Berkeley, they were impressive against Louisville on Friday night. They jumped out to a 12-0 lead, then increased it to 18 before winning by 15 points. It was convincing and Jerome Randle continued to show that he is a star and can run that team to it's full extent. Next up for them is top-seeded Duke. It will be tough for the Bears to play like they did against Louisville, as Duke is fundamentally sound with the ball and capitalizes on every mistake you make. I see a far better chance of St. Mary's upsetting Villanova than Cal upsetting Duke, but you never know with the Madness that we have seen so far.

One team that I like is Washington. After seeing them first-hand on Thursday, I have no idea how they did not win the Pac-10 or how they got an 11 seed in the Tournament. They are an extremely talented team with Isiah Thomas running the point and the tall and lanky "Q-Pon" Quincy Pondexter down low. They are quick up and down the floor and rise well above the rim. I see no reason why they cannot beat New Mexico on Saturday and maybe even West Virginia down the road.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

My Bracket Revealed


First of all, I dont guarantee anything, but here is my thought process on the 2010 March Madness bracket breakdown.

This year's bracket is tricky and it can go several ways, if u ask me. There are so many upset opportunities that it is almost a trap to pick all of them to happen. The way I see it, there are many upset opportunities, but I dont feel many will happen.

I have chalk in the Final Four. This is because Kansas is that good that they can put up with encountering a stacked region; Syracuse matches up well with everyone they play in their region, including Kansas State; Duke has the easiest road to the Final Four, even though I thought they should be a #2 seed; and Kentucky just needs to get past West Virginia to get to Indianapolis, and their freshman play like upper classmen.

Again, I dont guarantee anything, but I have picked the Final Four the last 2 years. But that means nothing, this is the hardest bracket to figure out in a long while and we could easily have 0 #1 seeds in the Final Four when it's all said and done. That is how crazy these next 3 weeks are going to be. Enjoy.

http://freebracketchallenge.1.mayhem.cbssports.com/brackets?do_fb_create=1

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The $10 Million Debacle


Yikes!!! Those were the voices of Oakland A's fans all over the Bay Area after reading the box score of yesterdays 13-5 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. The starting pitcher for the A's yesterday---The Opening Night starter, Ben Sheets.

Sheets, who signed a 1 yr./ $10 Million deal this offseason, was having a rough spring training as it was, but his was the icing on the cake. Sheets faced 10 batters, gave up 8 hits, and let up 9 earned runs in yesterday's spring training game.

Those jeers you hear? Those are from the people who reasoned that giving Sheets $10 Million for one year after a season in which he pitched in 0 games for the Milwaukee Brewers was ridiculous.

One of those jeers was definitely coming from me. Billy Beane is a fantastic GM for the Oaklnd A's, but he sure missed one right here. Signing a guy who did not pitch a game in 2009 for $10 Million is a bold signing. At the time, it was a good pick-up, but as we analyzed it more and more it simply did not make sense.

Finally, it came to fruition on Monday when Sheets bombed in what can only be described as a debacle. Sheets did not get one player out. An A's fan's reasoning would be that it is taking Sheets time to get back into pitching shape and get the kinks out after taking off 2009. But this isn't some low-profile pitcher we have here who is allowed to get kinks out his system, this is a guy who was payed $10 Million this offseason to pitch, and pitch well. And in return, you get 0 outs, and concerned looks over in Oakland.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Upset Alerts in San Jose


I'm not sure how many people you are going to see pack into the HP Pavilion on Thursday at 11:30a.m. In fact, let's hope we see 10,000 people in the arena that holds 17,000. I currently do not know a person who heard the news about New Mexico or Butler playing in San Jose on Thursday afternoon and quickly went out and booked their tickets for the games.

I have my tickets though, I've had them since June, and for a March Madness junkie like myself, I cannot wait for Thursday and Saturday. Not because these are big name teams playing in San Jose that could potentially make it to the Final Four, which they're not. But because all of the teams that are favored are on high upset alert. And isn't that the attraction of March Madness?

4 Vanderbilt vs. 13 Murray State
5 Butler vs. 12 UTEP
6 Marquette vs. 11 Washington
3 New Mexico vs. 14 Montana

I see huge upset possibilities in every one of these games, especially the Vanderbilt vs. Murray State game at 11:30a.m. on Thursday.

So those who have tickets for Thursday in San Jose...Enjoy. Because March Madness gets no more "Madder" (not a word) than at the HP Pavilion.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

And the Madness Begins in the Bay Area


March Madness is upon us. The 2010 NCAA March Madness bracket was revealed on Sunday, and at first glimpse, I would say we are in store for many an upset. There are just so many possiblities, and so many teams with chances of playing the part of Cinderella.

Off the bat, Kansas got screwed. The #1 overall seed should not have to go up against the likes of 2 other possible #1 seeds in Ohio State and Georgetown, not to mention Tennessee, Maryland, and Michigan State are not too shabby either. Bottom line, Kansas has the toughest road to the Final Four of any #1 seed.

The team that got the best of the draw was by far Duke. Their only tough opponent on their way to the Final Four is an overrated Villanova team that may lose before the two teams meet.

In the other 2 regions, Kentucky's only test will be West Virginia in the Elite 8, and what a test that will be. And in the West region, we will see what Syracuse is made of early, as they do not have many tough opponents, just a few that are extreme upset chances.

But let's keep it in the Bay Area. The two teams, Cal and St. Mary's got draws that they were not anticipating of getting. Those thinking that both teams were going to make it to the 2nd round are currently rethinking their previous statement (me included).

Cal will go up in the 8/9 match-up against an invigorated Louisville team coached by March Madness veteran Rick Pitino. Louisville is riding a high after beating Syracuse in the Big East Tournament, and boy they showed they can shoot the rock in that game. This one could go either way, but I think it comes down to Jamal Boykin of Cal vs. Samardo Samuels of Louisville. Both will be guarding each other during the game, and I think it comes down to those two to decide the game. My Prediction: Samuels over Boykin, and Louisville over Cal.

For St. Mary's, they simply ran into the wrong #7 seed. Any of the other #7 seeds the Gaels would have matched up great with. St. Mary's will play a Richmond team that is everyone's Cinderella team. I dont see it that way, but some describe them as playing a "Big East style of ball," and the Big East is the best conference in the country, so i'll take their word for it. But don't count out the Gaels. They showed Gonzaga they can play with the big boys in the WCC Championship. If Omar Samhan and Mickey McConnell stay consistent and do what they've been doing the whole year, then St. Mary's can create the potential upset, and they are in the upset position. But if they don't and Richmond gets to them, we will see an unhappy St. Mary's team returning to Moraga. My Prediction: Richmond over St. Mary's

-I will post my full NCAA Bracket within the next couple of days.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Seasoning Buster Posey


The anticipation of Buster Posey is almost too much these days. He is making absolute waves in Spring Training so far, and fans' #1 question heading into the regular season is when are we going to see Buster?

It seemed like the organization was sending a clear message to its fan-base a couple months ago when they re-signed Benjie Molina in a crazy turn of events. Could that have been a reaction to Posey's first-time experience in the Majors last season? Probably.

It seems like the Giants are being extremely careful with their "future." And the way it is looking, we will probably see Posey starting the year in AAA-Fresno. This is not bad, of course, they did sign Molina, who, next to Aubrey Huff or Pablo Sandoval is the team's best power hitter, and power is what the Giants have been needing for the past few seasons. Plus, I dont think the plan was to give Molina all that money to play back-up catcher.

But what shoud be done with Posey if he is such a key part in the future of the Giants franchise?

I say be gentle with him, he is fragile. People fail to remember that he played most of last season in Single-A, then was promoted to AAA for just a couple of months. Then they promoted him again to the Majors, and that did not turn out all that well. He is still young and there is a lot of time to get him into Major League Baseball shape, because right now he does not appear to be that way.

If the Giants want this kid to be a Rookie of the Year contender when he gets to the Majors (which is what everyone anticipates him to be), they will season him. Season him "low 'n slow" in AAA-Fresno for half the season, and then when the All-Star break comes, promote him to the Majors as the back-up catcher pending that he does well in AAA. Get him some at-bats here and there in 2010 and work him into the the starting roster come the 2011 season.

For now, keep Eli Whiteside at the back-up catcher position. In order for consistent production out of Molina, Molina will need constant time off, and Whiteside is good enough to share the load until Posey is seasoned.

Do not let this discourage you though, Giants fans. Posey will meet the anticipation, but in time. For now, enjoy the other young, solid players gracing the Giants roster this year, guys like Madison Bumgarner and Dan Runzler. But the Giants know they can keep Posey in their back pocket for now, and when he is ready, he will be the next big thing in baseball.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

March Madness in the Bay Area


March Madness is arguably the best month or so in sports, and it just got better for the Bay Area. The Bay Area will be represented this year in the NCAA Tournament by 2 teams (pending Stanford winning the Pac-10 tournament...not likely). Those two teams are California and St. Mary's.

Cal, who hadn't won the Pac-10 regular season title since 1960, finally got the monkey off their back this year and were far and away the best team in the pitiful Pac-10. They are not a lock just yet to be announced to the 65-team field, but the odds are pretty good that they will receive at-least a bid if they do not win the Pac-10 tournament.

Most likely, Cal is looking at an 8 or 9 seed in the Tournament, which just goes to show how bad the Pac-10 was this year. The conference's best team is probably going to be given an 8 or 9 seed. With Pac-10 Player of the Year, Jerome Randle, and Duke transfer, Jamal Boykin, they could a force in March Madness.


I like Cal to win their 1st round game in the NCAA Tournament, given that they are an 8 or 9 seed, that is. But I don't feel that they will get much farther than that. The Pac-10 just isn't that strong this year, and they will be extremely fortunate to win that 1st round game.

Over in Moraga, CA, St. Mary's is doing big things. They defeated #14 ranked Gonzaga last night to take the WCC crown and clinch a birth to the NCAA Tournament, which was not in the cards before the game. Big Omar Samhan and sharp-shooting Mickey McConnell led the team to a 26-5 overall record this season, with 2 losses coming to Gonzaga who they beat by 19 last night.

As for their NCAA Tournament, it is up in the air as to what seed they will get. Beating Gonzaga by 19 could lift them up to maybe an 8 or 9 seed, but i think they're looking at more of a 10 or 11 seed. Either way, i like them to win their 1st round game. They are a surprise to most teams, and when they are hot from the outside, they are like no other. It just depends if that kind of shooting shows up. But I got a feeling head coach Randy Bennett will have that team ready to go come Tournament time.

I feel that this is a great situation for Bay Area fans. This could have easily been a year when the Bay Area didn't have a team in March Madness. Both these teams are extreme underdogs and if they win, it's an accomplishment for their program.

Look out for St. Mary's though. Their sharp-shooting and big-man play could make them quite a Cinderella team in the NCAA Tournament.

Monday, March 8, 2010

David Carr?...Really?


Yep...really. The San Francisco 49ers signed former Texan and late NY Giants back-up David Carr to a 2-year deal yesterday. After days of whispers about how the 49ers were interested in Carr for some reason, it fianlly happened on Sunday. Carr was selected as the 1st overall pick of the Houston Texans franchise in 2002, and boasts a career record of 23-56.

So what were the 49ers thinking? You might as well call Carr "Alex Smith #2." Except that David Carr is the original Alex Smith. Both were drafted 1st overall in their respective drafts, and both have had horrible, underperforming careers thus far. So let's put them on the same team then!

Why sign Carr to play for the 49ers? The only plausible and acceptable reason is to push Alex Smith. Mike Singletary loves competition and the only hope from his standpoint is that a quarterback competition would fuel Smith into becoming a better quarterback. OR maybe Carr wind the job in training camp. In my eyes, both Carr and Smith are the same person, both busts who were taken out of lesser known football schools and made into NFL quarterbacks. Or were supposed to be NFL quarterbacks, the verdict is still out.

So Singletary and the 49ers front office brought Carr in to create a competition between two less than par quarterbacks. At a time in the offseason when the team is supposed to be filling key weaknesses with bigger name players, they sign David Carr as a back-up quarterback. But maybe that was the 49ers first line of business- Obtain a back-up quarterback. How about obtain a quarterback altogether? Donovan McNabb seems to be on his way out in Philadelphia. Where was the pursuit after him? How about an offensive lineman or a kick returner?

Unfortunately, the Carr signing seems like it's going to be the BIG free agency signing for the 49ers this offseason. I had the hope of the 49ers signing someone big after hearing from GM Scot McCloughan that the 49ers were "free to spend." If this happens to be the biggest signing in offseason free agency, the 49ers and McCloughan will have pressure like no other in the Draft in April.

So as it stands, the 49ers now own the rights to 2 of most underperforming #1 overall draft picks in the last 20 years. I can only think of 3 off the top of my head. And lucky for Bay Area sport fans, all 3 currently reside in the Bay Area.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

49ers Need to Act Now


49ers GM Scot McCloughan came on the radio the other day to talk 49ers free agency in this an uncapped year.
I was surpised to hear McCloughan talk mostly about how free the 49ers are to go out and spend money this free agency period. He described it as being able to spend just as much as any other team out there. Of course, not as much as Jerry Jones and the Cowboys because of their Ultra-Stadium revenue, but you get the point. 49er fans havent heard that in awhile. And the last time they did, Nate Clements came to the Bay Area for a wheel barrow full of cash. And the 49ers have certainly reaped the benefits of that...NOT.
The 49er fans who live in a fantasy world wanted the team to pick up someone like Julius Peppers or Brandon Marshall when there were far too many teams ready to overpay already going after him even before free agency started.
So far, the 49ers have done a poor job in this free agency period. We have not heard about them going after anyone or even a headline saying "49ers in talks with..." to satisfy the fans who actually pay attention.
Here is a deal that I feel should get done right now, no questions asked. There is a player which not many may know of because he plays in St. Louis and has an extraordinarily long name. Oshiomogho Atogwe is a safety for the St. Louis Rams with game the size of his name. He is the pride of that Rams defense, which isnt saying much seeing as the team has the 1st overall pick in the 2010 draft, but he is a stud nonetheless with playmaking abilities, something that the 49ers have lacked in recent years.
Atogwe had 72 tackles last season and 2 interceptions. Those are just about the same stats as new NY Giants safety Antrel Rolle had last season (72 tackles and 4 interceptions), except that Rolle just signed a 5 year/ $37 Million deal yesterday, in which $15 Million is guaranteed, making him the highest paid safety in the game.
The Rams tendered Atogwe last week at the lowest tender possible at $1.226 Million. Almost a smack in the face. Teams now have the option to make offers to Atogwe, which the Rams have 7 days to decide whether or not to match. And with the Rams having to sign the #1 overall pick in April, I would say a legitimate offer would put Atogwe out of the Rams' price range.
Here is why the 49ers may have the best possibility to scoop up a gem like Atogwe. He went to Stanford University and is currently rehabbing from off-season shoulder surgery somewhere in California where he resides in the offseason. Add that to the fact that he is dating Mike Singletary's daughter and the 49ers may have something.
But the 49ers need to act now if they are serious about him. All signs point to the 49ers having a great chance to bag him. All that needs to be done is to pull the trigger.
With the acquisition of Atogwe, the 49ers wont have to move Clements to safety any more, or even think about it. Clements is due for a break-out season at cornerback in 2010 anyway. And wouldn't an Atogwe/ Dashon Goldson combo look good in the pass defense?
In other 49ers free agency news, I think you are going to see David Baas, Ahmad Brooks, Aubrayo Franklin, and Barry Sims stay with the 49ers. While Arnaz Battle, Dre Bly, and Isaac Bruce are looking like they're going to leave.
Time is running out for the 49ers. Teams who were serious about upgrading their team already made their moves. Where are the 49ers?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Back in the Squat


I don't usually get excited from Spring Training games, but I've got to say that the San Francisco Giants spring debut this afternoon got me a little excited about the upcoming season.
The Giants looked good, although I know it's just spring training and the whole deal down in Scottsdale is more about stretching the muscles for the first time since last season, and less about batting averages and homeruns. But they won today in extra innings mind you. They were up 7-3, but ultimately won 8-7 in 10 innings.
But if there was one person who needed to have a good game this afternoon (which there wasn't), it was Aubrey Huff. The Giants' "premiere" power pick-up this offseason hit a homerun on the first pitch he saw as a member of the Giants.
This is a good start, and for all those who think Huff will not contribute much this season, I say think again. Huff's career statistics are not fantastic, but compared to every other clean-up hitter that has held that spot since Barry Bonds, his numbers should look good to a Giants fan. If given a full season, Huff has consistently shown he can put up moderate RBI numbers mixed with a descent batting average. And don't forget, in 2008 he had 108 RBI's and a .304 batting average. If he manufactures anything close to that this season, it will be an accomplishment for Giants management. But possibly moreso for GM Brian Sabean, as the he acquired Huff for $3 Million/year, which is a steal for a guy who is just a year removed from the 2008 Silver Slugger Award.
Just don't underestimate Huff. I predict a descent .270-.280 batting average and between 80-85 RBI's this season from him. That would be the most production Giants fans have seen from the #4 spot in a long time.
For those who tuned in to the Giants game or read the articles about how Tim Lincecem gave up 3 runs and walked several batters today, don't overthink that too much. He's a notorious slow starter in spring training and it takes him a while to get back into pitching shape, mostly because there are so many moving parts in his wind-up it's hard to get that timing back to perfection. He even knows, "My arm was ahead of my body, I wasn't using my legs and my front side was leaking out, and the ball was ridng into the right-handed box." He understands what he's doing wrong and he has these same balance problems every spring. No big deal. It takes a lot of time and work to get a gem like Timmy back into '3rd Cy Young in a row contention' shape.
But the future is now for this ball club. Madison Bumgarner looked clean in his spring training opener giving up no runs in 2 innings of work. And farm system products like Conor Gillaspie (who singled home the game-winning run), Darren Ford, and Roger Kieschnick were all in uniform today.
It seems like we are in for another thrilling season once again in the competitive NL West with these San Francisco Giants. Except this time, we're ready for this one.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Success in Playoffs Rests on Nabby


The San Jose Sharks will go as far as Evgeni Nabokov takes them. As I was eagerly anticipating the Canada vs. Russia game last week, I couldnt help but go back in history and see how Nabby has faired in big games like this. Of course, Nabby's history in these type of games was not good, considering the Sharks have not made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in the 5+ years that they have been contenders. That's not to mention these last 3 years when some have picked them to win the Cup. And that's definitely not to mention that the Sharks lost in a first round upset to the Anaheim Ducks last season after winning the Presidents Cup during the regular season, although a lack of offense contributed to that debacle.
Nabby went on to allow 6 goals in the game against Canada on his way to being pulled mid-way through the game.
But is this a sign of things to be come playoff time for the Sharks? For Sharks fans sake, let's hope not. They've been through enough with this team already.
History would say that Nabby is a choke-artist when it comes to big games like that against Canada, or come playoff time. Yet, Nabby is a fantastic regular season goalie, and that is what keeps up the hope for these San Jose Sharks year in and year out.
We will see how the Olympics affect this Sharks team. We saw a telling tale of how Nabokov reacts to pressure last week. With 7 players who played in Vancouver, will that make them tired come playoff time? Or just keep them from getting rusty. I say the latter.
It seemed like there was a combination of both in the Sharks first game back from the Olympic break. I saw rust from the players who didnt travel to Vancouver, and tired legs early from the players who did. A great game though with New Jersey jumping out to a 4-0 lead only to give up 3 goals in 3 minutes in the 3rd period. But the Sharks lost, and now we ponder if this was another big game lost by Nabby or just a better team altogether.
No matter how you feel the Sharks will fair in this season's playoffs, the first thing that remains to be seen is Nabokov. The Sharks have offense, and I feel with the experience of the Olympics and the acquisition of Dany Heatley this season, it will show up this playoff-around. But it still rests on Nabby. It seems at times nothing gets past him, but at others it seems like he just cant stop a shot.
The Sharks go as far as Nabby goes, and if he doesnt go at all and we see another early round exit for the Sharks, we will see the Sharks looking for a new netminder next season.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Silver, But Not Disappointed


Quite possibly the Game of the Decade lived up to its high anticipation on Sunday. An overtime goal appropriately scored by Canada's "Chosen Son," Sidney Crosby, struck Gold for the Canadians in Vancouver.
To get that game to overtime, the United States had a series of heart-clenching goals scored late by Vancouver Canuck, Ryan Kesler, and another by New Jersey Devil, Zach Parise with 24 seconds remaining in regulation that can only be described by an American fan as a feeling of euphoria. Had the Americans won the game, that goal would have gone down as one of the greatest plays in American Olympic history. Right next to Mike Eruzione's goal in 1980.
The game had all of the above. It was emotional, nerve-racking, competitive. The players who would be teammates on Monday were not teammates on Sunday, and that was never more evident from the drop of the puck. This was a game between two countries that hate each other. And although the players from both teams will go back to being friends in the NHL, they were enemies for this one game.
But the U.S. should not be disappointed with the loss. Coming into the tournament, most would guess they were the 5th or 6th best team in the Olympics. They were undermanned talent-wise and it was obvious. But for them to show heart and determination despite the undermanned talent shows what the sport of hockey is all about. The U.S. team got out of Vancouver with a medal, which is more than any hockey analyst previously gave them credit for.
But the real winner of these Olympics was the sport of hockey. For one week, the world was a hockey fan, anticipating every shot taken and feeling every emotion possible. Casual fans were able to see the true appeal of the sport of hockey, speed, quickness, and skill. And now names like Ryan Miller and Zach Parise are household names. And although NHL team owners will complain about not obtaining any revenue during this Olympic break, which occured in the middle of the NHL season, hockey acquired a million new fans during this week. This Gold Medal game was just what the sport needed.