Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ex-Blackhawk Niemi To The Sharks


Former Chicago Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi signed with the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday, according to sources.

The Sharks had been looking for a clear-set goalie to start their 2010 season, although their recent pick-up of Antero Nittymaki from Tampa Bay seemed to be the default option, at least to start.

If you would recall, Niemi played the role of the brick wall in front of Chicago's net last season when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup.

Niemi was only in net because of first-stringer Cristobal Huet's benching late in the season. Niemi surprised the world, and probably himself, when he lead the Blackhawks to the Cup.

The team most annoyed with Niemi's success last season is probably his current team, the Sharks. The Sharks were swept in the Western Conference Semi's after they couldn't get a puck past Niemi. Now that Niemi is on their side, their attitude toward him may be a little different.

But let's analyze this for a second. Next to the Anaheim Ducks, the Blackhawks are most likely the Sharks' greatest rival because of the way the two teams continuously meet in the playoffs or how they are always on top of the conference.

If you're not too much into hockey, I liken this towards the Giants/Rockies or Giants/Padres series. It's not the Dodgers, but pretty close.

Niemi coming to the Sharks is like Ubaldo Jimenez or Mat Latos coming to the Giants, just a little less talent on Niemi's end.

Whether Sharks fans like this or not, or however they feel about a goalie who single-handedly eliminated their team the previous season and now becomes apart of it, Niemi makes this Sharks team a lot stronger than they were before they had him.

Will Niemi be given the starting spot? The Sharks won't admit it off the bat, but you would have to believe that a Stanley Cup winning goalie would have to be the only way to go. Especially over Nittymaki, who last played for the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of worst teams in the NHL last season.

Niemi fills the void that was left after Evgeni Nabokov departed. Instead of a goalie that proved everything in the regular season and nothing in the playoffs, you now have a goalie who has somewhat proven himself in the regular season and is overwhelmingly proven in the playoffs. Nabby Who?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Giants' Pitching Could Be Downfall


Who would have thought that this far into the season, the Giants' pitching rotation would be hurting and not helping their playoff chances?

The ringleader of this circus that every starting pitcher the Giants have (except for Matt Cain) seems to perform in is Tim Lincecum. Yes, the 2-time NL Cy Young Award winner is the downfall of the Giants to this point.

Cain seems to be the only one holding this fort, that is their playoff chances, up. The Giants have a total of 2 quality starts by their starting rotation in the last 7 games, both by Cain. That's not what the Giants are about. They're about having one of the top starting rotations in baseball, and not bad bullpen either. Instead, at this point in the season, the Giants are about come-from-behind wins and staying afloat in the NL Wildcard race.

We saw glimpses of hope from Lincecum in the past couple of starts, but are glimpses of hope really what you want to see from your #1 starter? I want to see consistency and a leader that despite the rest of the rotation's problems, he would still go out there and give a quality start. We haven't seen that. And if we don't see it in the near future, you won't see the Giants past September.

It irks me to think about the possibility of the Giants missing out on the playoffs because of their starting rotation. What a topsy-turvy season this has been. The Giants had a scorching pitching staff in the beginning of the season, but they had no offense. Now they have offense, but no scorching pitching staff. I would one day like to live in a world where the Giants have both a scorching pitching staff and an offense to boot.

If the pitching staff gets kicking somewhere between now and the end of the season, we may be able to see that. For now, squeaking out wins and staying afloat may be the last option if the Giants want to remain the playoff hunt.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"The Freak" Not Looking "Freakish"


Although the Giants' recent power surge has distracted from the issue a little bit, the question still looms, what's wrong with Tim Lincecum?

The 2-time Cy Young Award winner has looked anything but in the last month and a half. He has been less of an ace and more of a hinderance to this Giants ball club that needs solid outings more than ever this time in the season.

Sure, maybe it's just a rough patch and we should cut the guy some slack for setting the bar so high to this point. But Lincecum picked the wrong time in the season to do it. Could Lincecum be the downfall of this Giants' postseason push? He sure isn't helping.

Blame this on several things, if you will: His hair, his mechanics, the bar he has set for himself since winning the Cy Young. I'll take 'all the above.'

He should cut his hair, that's a given. The guy looks ridiculous.

The meat and potatoes of the Lincecum problem, though, is his mechanics. The mechanics that got him to where he is today are not the one's he has used in his last several starts. And there lies your problem.

Reports are a month ago he changed his funky mechanics that he has used since forever, and things took a turn for the worst. Now that he wants those old reliable mechanics back, he can't find them. Or they're taking longer than expected to find.

What can be done to get Lincecum back in #1 starter shape? Several options have been thrown out there: He could cut his hair (I'm just gonna keep throwing that one out there), hire Chris Lincecum, Tim's dad and the man behind Tim's quirky wind-up and all his success, or keep working with him and hope it's just a speed bump in this kid's long successful career.

Good news, though. Lincecum's last outing, although a loss, seemed to show a much more sharper Lincecum. Instead of fastballs at 90-91, we saw them consistently at 93-94. The location problem still looms. He was so perfect with that location last season and early this season. Location will come with good mechanics, and it seems that Lincecum does not have that right now.

Pitchers will always have obstacles thrown their way. It is how they react to those obstacles that will tell how successful that pitcher will really be. Lincecum is at his crossroads. We will see how he reacts.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Giants/Padres NL West Showdown Preview


Thanks to Jonathan Sanchez, this sort of bland, unsexy series featuring two teams at the top of their division but out of the ESPN spotlight, may have regained some of its sexiness. At least a smidge.

If you're not familiar, Sanchez' guaranteed a sweep of the 1st place Padres in this weekend's pivotal series in San Francisco. The obnoxious thing about it, Sanchez had just come off 4 innings pitched while giving up 4 runs in a loss. What was he thinking? Probably trying to psyche his team up. Not smart from your #4 starter.

The Giants came off a nice series against the Cubs, in which they took 3 of 4 games, which is what they were supposed to do. The Cubs are a poor team.

But it was a good challenge for the Giants. They knew who they were going to meet over the weekend, but they didn't let that psyche them out and possibly lose ground to the Padres.

Quite the opposite in fact. In this Cubs series, we were introduced to two new faces that could lead this Giants' penant run: Pat Burrell and Pablo Sandoval...finally.

Burrell had a gargantuan series, easily the hottest player on the Giants, and Sandoval is getting going just when the Giants need him the most, making the fact that Sabean has yet to get a legit bat in the line-up very miniscule at this point. Sabean can thank these two players.

As for the weekend shindig at AT&T Park, the Padres may have the edge. San Diego sends 2 of their best starters against the worst the Giants have to offer. Lucky for the Giants, both Sanchez and Bumgarner (the worst the Giants have to offer) are just about in tune with Richard and Latos, who are throwing for SD.

But in this first game of the series, all eyes will be on Sanchez. He opened his mouth, now he has to back it up. And an outing like he had in Atlanta will get him booed right out of the starting rotation come playoff time.

These Padres are for real, though. Don't belittle them. No matter how much the analysts told you they wouldn't be this season, or even how much they are going to go down in flames in the 2nd half of the season. They're here to stay. They made the moves at the trade deadline that they needed, and they have the young, solid pitching willing to go the distance for the rest of the season. Also, they haven't faltered at all this last week, and expect nothing less this weekend.

The series will be pressure-filled, maybe even a little dirty with some words exchanged, but this is a statement series for one team in a 3-game series. The Padres riding high, the Giants riding higher. This weekend series will tell us a lot about how this NL West race will go down.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Pressure On Giants To Make A Move?


Sure, the Giants have won 21 of 27 games or something like that. But there may be one story that overshadows that at this time in the season.

Two big moves went down the other day, and they didn't even involve the Giants. At least at this point.

The Washington Nationals placed "country strong" Adam Dunn on waivers the other day. Then the KC Royals designated Jose Guillen for assignment this afternoon.

Both players have been discussed in the Giants organization within the last year, and both players are prime for the picking now that they are technically on the market and on the Giants' immediate radar.

Already, we have heard hints of the Giants "discussing" the option of acquiring Guillen.

And just the other day we heard Dunn's options for a trade could be down to the Rockies or Giants. So if GM Brian Sabean wasn't stressed and tired after the trade deadline, you better believe he will be after this hooplah is over with.

The chances of acquiring Adam Dunn are far less likely than the Giants acquiring Jose Guillen. Dunn is front page news, and the Nationals are going to want to front page talent in return for him. For the record, Jonathan Sanchez is not front page talent. It would seem like the Nationals would want Madison Bumgarner and maybe more for Dunn's services. I doubt that will sit well the Giants' front office.

As for Guillen, he is on the move. The Royals quit on him and his struggles in the past weeks. Good for the Royals to move out such a big name as him and focus more on their younger players they have coming up.

Guillen is batting .255 with 16 HR's and 62 RBI's this season.

The Giants have several options here. Either wait and see how the market reacts to Guillen, or pursue him like he will actually make a difference. The Royals are desperate to get rid of him, possibly by any means necessary. This means if they cannot find a suitor for him, you may see him signing with a contender on his own.

My advice, Guillen is struggling, and I hope that the pressure on Sabean to get a bat and get a bat now doesn't affect his thought-pattern on this player who is clearly overpaid and not producing like his paycheck says he should.

Back to Dunn. The asking price may be too high for the Giants, but it won't hurt to try. Honestly, I just want the Giants to show a little interest in him, maybe throw Jonathan Sanchez out there. And if it doesn't work out, it's totally understandable because Dunn was far out of their price range to begin with.

What I don't want the Giants to do is panic and give up good young players because of the pressure to get a bat. The Giants are cruising right now. Don't fix something that didn't need to be fixed in the first place.