Catching up on Bay Area Sports: 2013
I don't post that regularly, because while I'm a big baseball fan and know it enough to analyze, I'm not that knowledgeable about the other sports in the Bay Area. Still, I'm a sports fan. But people didn't like me bringing non-baseball into obsessivegiantscompulsive, so I created this blog to place my thoughts. This is not meant to be thought provoking, but rather, as a fan of Bay Area sports, just a way to put my thoughts out there, since my last catch up post. It is ending up to be an annual thing.
Giants Win Second World Championship in Three Seasons
Of course, this was the big news of the past year, the Giants winning the 2012 World Championship. They did it in historic fashion again, whereas they won for the first time in 2010 with a ragtag band of misfits, in 2012, they won by coming back from almost dead twice, being one loss away from elimination in the NLDS and NLCS, and coming back and beating the Reds and Cards, then sweeping the Tigers, who was favored to beat the Giants.
I suppose the victories were symbolic and hark back to history. The Giants have no history of playoff battles with the Reds, but given that they were the first NL team to have two world championships in 3 or less seasons since the Reds won in 1975 and 1976 (which was courtesy of the Giants giving away George Foster to them for a utility infielder, so that's another link), there was that symmetry. In addition, Dusty Baker was the Reds manager, so there was that link as well.
The Cards, of course, we have a long and sordid history with. From one-flap down, to getting beat by the Cards when we were one victory away from the World Series for the first time in forever, to beating them in 2002 to finally get into the World Series again, to Krukow getting injured in a classic rhubarb long ago in a scrum with the Cards, to Ozzie Smith smashing in Will Clark's face, the Giants have had it in for the Cards for a long time. So it was nice to put them away in the NLCS, especially when they had us on the ropes and especially after Holliday bulldozed over Scutaro at 2B. And there was a link in the Reds series too, as their GM was the Cards former long-time GM.
The Giants have no history with the Tigers, so there was no symbolism there, so this was the start of one with them. They have got to be hungry over that drubbing.
I'm excited that the Giants have a great head start at becoming the Team of the 2010 Decade. And they look good to win at least one more before things are done. This second championship moves them ahead of the Warriors in the Bay Area, as they have just the one. The Niners lead with 5 championships while here, the A's have four, the Raiders have three (though technically only two in Oakland, one was in LA), and now the Giants have two.
49ers Finally Lose a Super Bowl
The Amazing 49ers, under amazing Coach Harbaugh - Who got it better than us? Nobody! - has been a revelation. I was excited that he was named coach, if only because he was helping the Cards win a lot of football games, but mostly because he was the only logical link to the Bill Walsh era who could coach us with energy, and not as a re-run, as a number of former 49er coaches could have been named coach here.
He has won a lot faster and more than I had thought when he was named, but in hindsight, this made a lot of sense. As much as the team has been a loser, they had a lot of good core pieces built up over the years. many through the draft, like Gore, Willis, Davis, but also through free agency as well. And especially that great defense, hone well by two good defensive minded coaches, Nolan and Singletary. They just needed an offense to back up that defense.
For as much as fans remember the Walsh era for the great offenses, with Montana, Rice, Young, I still credit the defense equally for all the championships they won, as it was when our great defensive backfield was getting all those interceptions and running back turnovers for touchdowns that got me excited about the 49ers chances of getting to the playoffs in 1981 (Dwight Hicks and his Hot Licks), and it was that great defensive stop against the Bengals that enabled Montana to weave his magic at the end, without that stop, he would have been historic only for getting us close, not for winning it all for us, finally, after all those frustrating losses to the Cowboys in the Nolan years.
Thus I was hoping for a good effort in this Super Bowl, but worrisome that because of Justin Smith's injury, the defense will not be up to the task. His injury has greatly affected the defense, and we were not 100% in the Super Bowl.
And I realized that the Niners were just that bad enough to lose, looking back afterward. Those turnovers, that run back for a touchdown, take any of them out of the equation, and the Niners would be celebrating their 6th Super Bowl victory, instead of congratulating Kap for his great comeback that just fell 5 yards short. Had he completed the comeback, the 22 point deficit would have been the biggest overcome ever, and the best in Super Bowl history was 10 points.
About the Kapernick-Smith controversial decision by Coach Harbaugh, I didn't know what would happen (I know, easy to say in hindsight, but these were my thoughts), but I put my faith in Harbaugh. I loved that he was willing to make a very controversial move like this in the middle of the season, good leaders make those tough decisions no matter the circumstances, and whether it worked or not, it endeared him to me even further. Of course, it working for the most part really helped. :^)
I find it ironic that most probably 99.999999% of the fans who were supporting Smith in this controversy, wanting him to get back his job, probably 18 months earlier were going ballistic that Harbaugh even wanted to not even keep Smith, but start him. They valued him as much as a dried banana peel lying on the floor, but now they want him back? I had been and was excited about how Kap would work out, even prior to this. Of course, I didn't think it would happen so soon, it took a few seasons before Montana took over, after all. I was envisioning Steve Young II, except that he had even more speed. I was not disappointed.
That said, I thank Alex Smith in many ways. I thank him for staying here and helping with the transition. I admit that he benefited from working with Harbaugh, but nobody except for the toughest people would stay where the fans literally hated him, no matter how tempting it is to work with an offensive innovator like Harbaugh. I thank him for playing very well for us for the time he did as a starter. He had a great QB rating during his time as starter, he took the opportunity and, while he didn't literally run with it, he was very good at it and ran with it. Lastly, I thank him for being the gentleman he has been during his entire 49er career, and particularly after he was demoted. He could have been a cancer and wasn't.
That said, I hope the Niners get a good draft pick(s) in trade for him when that time comes and not release him as his agent has publicly asked for. He is now very valuable because of what he was able to do for Harbaugh, and we should get full value for that. Good QB's are hard to find,
So the 49er story does not turn out to be like Walsh or the Giants, there is no Cinderella championship for them. And that story was actually told last season, when they came up short in the NFC Championship game. And that story was repeated in the Super Bowl this year. Their story appears to be more like many teams: come up short, rise up conquer that to the next level. That, of course, means they need to win the Super Bowl 48 next year.
I was thinking, however, how cool would be be if the Niners won Super Bowl 49? If they win next year, though, then they would need to win two Super Bowls in a row, which is extremely hard, not sure how many times that has happened in history. If I had to chose one, of course, I prefer 48. :^)
Warriors Returns in Competitiveness and to San Francisco
The Warriors has had an eventful time since my last post. Ended up with a losing season again, last season, but the season ended with momentum that carried through into this season's great play, plus another great draft pick, and Bogut hasn't even been part of the equation. If he ever plays regularly for the Warriors, they could be a big factor in the playoffs, probably not the Champs, but they could knock off a lot of tough teams in the playoffs.
Still, in any case, great play by the team. Curry has been much more healthier - though that ankle is still bothering him - and been the leader on the floor we hoped he would be, scoring 21.1 points per game with 6.5 assists and 1.6 steals. David Lee has been who I expected, 19.4 points scoring, 11.1 rebound. I have never understood why people viewed his contract as an bad one. He also had 4.0 assists per game to boot. Klay Thompson has continued to blossom in the starting role, 16.7 points, 4.0 rebound, 2.5 assists, 0.9 steals. And rookie Harrison Barnes has been good, 9.2 points, 4.4 rebound, 1.5 assists, 0.7 steals, while playing 25.7 minutes per game. If he were playing starter's minutes, that's 13.8 points, 6.6 rebound, 2.3 rebounds, 1.0 steals, pretty good.
That's the bigger news, relevancy, because they haven't been in the playoffs or really competitive period for much of the last generation or two of fans. But also big news is the Warriors return to San Francisco, with a new arena being built on the Piers (though not in a joint venture with the Giants across from AT&T, as some had thought). Of course, the City of Oakland is not happy, as the A's has been plotting to leave for Fremont then San Jose, and the Raiders have never set anchor here either, the Warriors appeared to be the one most likely to stay, and here they are, the first to go. Still, Oakland needs to remember that they stole the Warriors from SF in the first place, and at least they are staying in the Bay Area, we forget but they were originally from Philadelphia.
Insert Puck into Mouth
What is the NHL thinking? Another strike not that long ago from the last one? Do they recall at all what that did to baseball, and baseball was once the national pastime, not a sport exported from Canada? Of course, it doesn't help that the architect of many of those baseball strikes is now leading the NHL Players Association, Fehr. I guess he's hoping to drive another sport to the brink of extinction.
Still, the sport is back, and the Sharks have been good so far, before the recent two game losing streak. And that's good because they disappointed again last season, coming up short again. And not only that, but the LA Kings won with our prior former GM and long ago coach who we thought would lead us there long ago. That makes it doubly bad. Hopefully the Sharks can finally go all the way this season.
College Sports: Stanford Suc..ceeds, Wins Rose Bowl
As a Cal alumni, it sticks in my craw to say this, but I must congratulate the Stanford Cardinals on their Rose Bowl victory. Meanwhile, Cal fired their football coach and hired a new one. Roll on You Beeears!!!
Cal basketball has continued to do well, but not great, under Coach Montgomery (I still find that weird, since he was Stanford's long time coach). I know that Cal's rugby team has been doing well too, and recently drubbed the Cardinals by some huge score, like 167-0, or something like that. I'm not really that big into college sports.
The Giants drafted Martin Agosta (me gusto Agosta!) out of local St. Mary's, and he looks like a good prospect, and perhaps will be part of the second generation rotation of this Giants dynasty Team of the 2010 Decade.
Oakland A's Had a Good Season
I must also congratulate the A's for their good season. They had an amazing finish to win their division and get into the playoffs. It was worth it to see the Angels come up short, after buying all their big money free agents, that must have hurt (though not as much as it hurt for them to win the 2002 World Series over the Giants).
I must note here that I have no love lost with the A's. Or really, A's fans, who rarely hesitated to still shove a figurative shiv into my ribs whenever the topic of World Championships came up. One advertises on Zito's page and talks about how "real" fans would prefer championships over high attendance and a nice park. Another, while I was in line to view the Giants FIRST trophy, and enjoying that experience, yakked out loud to his Giants fan friend's son about how the A's had three of them at their park (which showed how big a fan he was, even I know that the A's had won four of them). I couldn't help but notice that the tattered A's jacket he wore look like it came from the 70's. The A's for years have placed a billboard ad on their side of the Bay Bridge pointing out the Giants lack of championships. So I'm enjoying this period, this Giants Team of the 2010's Decade.
So some may view this as sour grapes, but Billy Beane has still not learned completely and the team is not properly built to compete. While he has a great strikeout bullpen, the pitching rotation is full of low K/9 pitchers, which is what he built up previously in his last good run in the playoffs. That is what the BP's study found, you need high strikeout pitchers in your staff. And the A's were third from the bottom in the majors in K/9 on a team basis. Of course, that's no guarantee either, but he's making it harder on himself, based on the latest research. To boot, he traded away the high strikeout prospect to the Nats to get other pieces, he's been trading all around and constantly, and frankly, he has enough shortstops now to field one at each infield position, so I'm not sure what he's trying to do.
But they had to do all these moves to build upon 2012. They were two games over Pythagorean last season - that would have left them out of the playoffs - and thus were lucky in that way. They were also 7 games above .500 in one-run decisions, which is generally lucky for any manager not named Bochy, who has consistently been among the leaders in games above .500 in one-run games during his career. Melvin has had some good years with the D-backs, but also some bad ones. Still, he has 3 very good seasons out of 7, so he is close to what Bochy did in his career, which is a very good season in half of his seasons as manager, not so bad in the others. But until he proves himself, one has to expect regression in that. If you take away 7 wins, that would have put them behind the Angels.
But what is the use of making the team competitive enough to make the playoffs, but not competitive enough to win it all?
On top of that, the A's apparently is giving up on moving to San Jose, at least within Wolff's lifetime, as they just signed a 5 year extension of their lease with the Oakland Coliseum. Wolff will be into his early 80's when that lease is over, and even if they can get the Giants to sell the rights, it will still take a number of years to built the stadium, and that's on top of all the environmental and traffic impact studies that will need to be done, public hearings from people who don't want the ballpark in their neighborhood, and so one. Not that he can't live that long or longer, but the odds do not favor that, I would think. Luckily for him, he's been prepping his son to take over things, at least that is what it seems like to me, so sonny boy can carry on should dad not make it.
Raiders Are Rank
The biggest news was that Al Davis passed away. A true innovator in the game in his youth, the equivalent of Charlie O. Finley in thinking differently in Oakland, for their respective sports, unfortunately he fell into a caricature of himself in his latter years and the team has rarely been a presence, in a positive way, for many years. His son appears to be carrying on his policies from the past, so I can't imagine a happy ending here: at some point, the Raiders are going to raid another city's coffers for a nice new stadium, and Oakland will be left with only the A's, and only because they refuse to move anywhere else but the South Bay, else they could be in Portland or Las Vegas right now.
With a new coach and GM, much like the Niners a couple of years ago, they had no miracle, mainly because, unlike Harbaugh, who had a number of good players in hand, particularly on defense, giving him a great foundation that he could build on, that just needed a good offense to go with it, the Raiders have been screwing things up for years now, and the new guys are building upon scorched ground. Their situation is closer to what Bill Walsh inherited when he took over the 49ers. And thus it will take them a number of years to straighten things out and hopefully they can turn it around. We will have to wait and see if the new owner decides to move the team, however, before that hope comes to fruition.
Looks like it could be another good year for Bay Area sports. The Giants and A's should be competitive again, and most likely make the playoffs. 49ers too, Raiders not so much. The Warriors look like they should make the playoffs this season, and maybe get home advantage if they can get Bogut back. The Sharks are sharp again, but will they finally win the Stanley Cup after so many years of near misses? Stanford looks like they could come back to defend their Rose Bowl and Axe. Cal is licking their wounds and hoping to get better. That's football, and I think both are OK to good in basketball too, maybe Montgomery can finally do it with the Bears.