Friday, April 30, 2010

Sharks Come Out Firing, Get Game 1 Win

Is there any argument as to a better start to the series for the San Jose Sharks? The Sharks defeated the Detroit Red Wings at The Tank last night by a final of 4-3, giving them a 1-0 series lead.

Coming into the game, it seemed to be a nation-wide consensus that the #1 seeded Sharks appeared to be the underdog in this series, given their history in the playoffs and the way the Red Wings are playing right now.

But for a stretch of 1:19 in the 1st period, the Sharks looked and played like a favorite as they scored 3 goals in that span. This included another goal from that man again, Joe Pavelski, who is quickly losing his nickname of "Little Joe", and adding the "Big Pavelski" to his assortment of names. He would finish with 2 goals and an assist, including the deciding goal on a 5 on 3 powerplay at the start of the 3rd period.

But back to the jaw-dropping 1st period. For that 1st period, mostly the 1:19, the Sharks looked unstoppable like a team that was prepared, like a team that is the #1 seed in the playoffs, like a team that belongs there.

But you didn't think that would last long, did you? I sure did. Maybe that was what I wanted to happen or maybe that was because of what should have happened, but looking back, there was no way the Red Wings were going to throw in the towel after that 1:19. It would have been nice, but just simply was not going to happen. They are too good of a team for that, and don't expect in any of the other games in this series.

The Red Wings quickly rebounded and put up 2 goals before heading into the 2nd intermission. But back to the Big Pavelski, who again proved he is the best player going on this Sharks team, at least for these 2010 playoffs. He scored on that same 5 on 3 power play and the Sharks had another multi-goal lead. But you didn't think that would last did you? Well I did...again. The Red Wings would score another goal within minutes of Pavelski's goal, and the game was on yet again.

After that, it was a race to the finish, and the finish seemed like forever if you were a Sharks fan. The Sharks seemed to fall back on their aggressiveness in the 3rd and hoped to win by scoring those 4 goals, or so it appeared. But the defense kicked in and Evgeni Nabokov made clutch saves as the Sharks were able to hold off the Wings and get the win.

Although the Sharks won this game, the impression was evident that the Red Wings were the better team, except for that 1:19 of the 1st period. Give it up for the Sharks, though. They came out firing, and that payed off. The Wings were caught off-guard and were not able to stop the Sharks, whose 1st line finally showed up. That was one of the keys to this series, wasn't it? The 1st line? Dany Heatley had a goal and Joe Thornton made his first contribution to the 2010 NHL Playoffs with an assist. All this minus Patrick Marleau, who should be ready for Sunday's Game 2.

The Sharks got Game 1, but there is no doubt this series will go the distance. First priority for the Sharks: Come out with the same fire, and win Game 2 on home ice.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Game On: Sharks vs. Red Wings Series Preview

So the San Jose Sharks get the series no one wanted to happen. The Sharks will play the Red Wings in the Conference Semifinals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with Game 1 starting on Thursday at The Tank.

These two teams have met numerous times before in the postseason, but no one need mention what the Sharks record is in Conference semifinals or even how the Red Wings have faired against the San Jose Sharks in previous seasons.

This series has a different feel to it. The only stat lines that need to be mentioned are the ones pertaining to this season. The Sharks have the #1 seed in the Western Conference, the Red Wings have the #5 seed, the Sharks are playing some of their best hockey of the year, and so are the Red Wings. Game on.

Make no mistake, the Detroit Red Wings are only the #5 seed in the West because of injuries to their premiere players. This is a top 3 team in the West, maybe the best. We got to see that when they were healthy down the stretch, going 16-3-2 after the Olympic break.

Off the top of my head, I see at least one advantage for the Sharks. Jimmy Howard is a rookie goalie. The bad news: he is a finalist for Rookie of the Year.

The Red Wings are skilled defensively and have the players to score anytime they want. If the Sharks are to succeed, they will need help from not just the Joe Pavelski Line, as we have come to know it, but the 1st line as well. After all, they are the Canadian top line. If the 1st line has a series like they had against the Avalanche, granted they were hit with injury... but I dont't even want to think about it.

The main thing is that Evgeni Nabokov needs to continue to stop everything in sight, and the Sharks need to play with the same high energy that we saw in the last several games of the 1st Round. If they can limit their mistakes as well, that would be most beneficial, as the Red Wings are patient and take full advantage of the opposing team's mistakes.

In most people's minds, the Sharks are the underdogs. This could work in the Sharks' favor, or maybe it won't. But the Sharks have not faired well these last couple of seasons being the favorite, so maybe a change of rank will help.

The Sharks went 0-3-1 againgst the Red Wings this season, but that means nothing now. This is the 2nd season where everything gets turned around. Where #8 seeds can actually have a legitimate chance at beating the #1 seed, both in the West and the East. The Sharks main concern, first and foremost, win Game 1.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Giants' Offense Will Have Its Days

If last night's Giants game was any sign, this is going to be a long season. The Giants won last night 5-1, behind Jonathan Sanchez and, well, their offense. That same offense that was verbally bashed this week by everyone and anyone worthy of an opinion.

Last week, the Giants averaged something like 1.3 runs a game, and all panic broke out in the Bay Area. Sure, the offense, on paper, is nothing special. In fact, Brad Penny reminded us of that the other day, while he was pitching and after the game as well. But last night's offensive beating (in Giants talk, not true of any other MLB team) of ace Roy Halladay showed that this team will have its games. They can put the bat on the ball, occasionally.

Is it possible that Penny's verbal beating of the Giants' offense had something to do with their approach to the plate last night? It sure looked like it, and I wish to believe it played a part. There was a new approach going to the plate, and that was "Halladay is going to throw me first-pitch meat pies over the plate, and I am going to swing at them." Halladay's lack of respect (or so it seemed) for the Giants' offense actually worked in the Giants favor last night, and they took advantage early and often. Sure, the whopping 5 runs scored last night is nothing much, but give it up for a line-up that boasts no legitimate power hitters going up against Doc Halladay.

It's just going to be that kind of season for the Giants and their overanxious fan base and those who choose to comment on it. Panic when they don't score, relief when they do.

This week's main topic in Giantsland was when are the Giants going to get some big power hitter to save the team? Not never is what I say. It's not going to happen. Names being thrown out there were Carlos Lee and Jermaine Dye. Sure, it would be great to get another bat in the line-up, and I hope they do, don't get me wrong. But don't expect it. MLB hitters aren't as fond of AT&T Park as the fans that pack the seats every game are.

Honestly, the Giants are lucky they got such a dynamite pitching staff, otherwise this whole "lack of hitting" ordeal would stick out like a sore thumb, and then there really would be pandemonium in the Bay Area, instead of making a story out of nothing.

One week, they will hit great, the next week, nothing. It's a long season, don't panic. Wait until the pitching staff has a bad week, oh man. All hell will break loose. That might happen, although it doesn't seem like it will anytime soon. For now, enjoy the ebbs and flows this line-up will throw at you week in and week out.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Raiders and 49ers NFL Draft in Review

All in all, it was good day for the Bay Area's football teams. Both the Raiders and the 49ers got who they wanted, and no doubt will be improved in the coming season.


As quickly as the Raiders had their pick in, you would have thought that Rolando McClain was the #1 player on their Draft Board. He is a nice fit for the Raiders, and all those people who figured the Raiders would waste their pick like they did with Darius Heyward-Bey (me) were mistaken this year.

McClain is a 6'4" 254 lb. linebacker from Alabama where he won the Dick Butkus Award this last season as the nation's best linebacker. The Raiders had him extremely high on their Draft Board and were sure that he was their guy no matter who was on the Board. Some may argue that McClain was drafted a little prematurley by the Raiders, but the Raiders sure felt something special for this kid. He will fit in nicely.

The Raiders will hope that McClain turns into someone like a Patrick Willis or Ray Lewis, and although all three are built similarly, McClain is taller giving him a higher advantage point. One thing on McClain is that he is smart and will run that Raider defense from the moment he gets there. You will not hear many complaints about this pick, McClain will be a solid NFL player.


49ers GM Trent Baalke said it best when he said, "Happy Birthday to Alex Smith and Frank Gore." The 49ers were hell bent on improving their offensive line, and did they ever.

They played this draft smart. OT Anthony Davis must have been their 2nd rated OT on their Draft Board and they knew that #13 was not high enough to draft him, so they traded up to #11 to ensure that they got him. It was a great move. It seemed like they wanted Davis pretty bad and were not sold on the other OT's like Brian Bulaga.

Davis has some character issues, but I'm sure Mike Singletary will fix that right up if necessary. But this was a pick of the future because Davis may not be ready to start just yet. His upside and potential is through the roof and he will prove to one day play the blind side for the 49ers, if not this coming season. With Barry Sims aging, Davis may get his turn real soon.

While Davis may be an "if," Mike Iupati (pictured) is anything but. Iupati was an excellent draft pick for the 49ers. He combines size with shear strength and will no doubt be starting for the 49ers very soon. He is NFL ready with his 6'5" 331 lb. frame, the all-around biggest guy on the 49ers. Scouts say he is versatile enough to play Tackle later in his career, but for now, he and David Baas will make a good team at the Guard position. No doubt, Iupati will be a great NFL player for years to come, and with the additions of Davis and Iupati, if all pans out, the 49ers weak offensive line could turn special in these next few years.


Overall, both teams had great picks and addressed each of their needs. The Raiders were dead set on McClain and the 49ers were dead set on Davis and Iupati.

I'm not quite sold on Davis yet, but his potential could prove me wrong. Some are going to argue that Jimmy Clausen was there at #17 for the 49ers to take and that they should have taken him there. But obviously other teams also have some concerns about Clausen too because he was not taken in the 1st round. If Clausen is there in 2nd round when its the 49ers turn, they will have a hard decision to make. Honestly, I think they should go for it. He played in the Charlie Weis system at Notre Dame and knows the NFL offense well. It would be a nice pick, actually, for both the 49ers and the Raiders, as both could use some insurance at the QB position.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

49ers NFL Draft Preview

Who really knows how any NFL Draft will end up? It's such a commotion on Draft Day that there is really no way to predict who is going where. I mean, Michael Crabtree ended up with the 49ers last year and no one thought that was possible. It just takes one or two teams to go a different way with their picks, and another team gets rich.

For the 49ers, there are too many ways this team can go, and they are not giving out information on who they have their eye on and what position they would really like filled. Plus, ex-GM Scot McCloughan has left the team, and interim Trent Baalke is forced to take over.

The 49ers hold the 13th and 17th picks, and for me, there are two positions that the 49ers must draft somewhere between April 22-24, an OL and a CB/S. Good news for the 49ers, this year's Draft is full of them.

Let's start with the Offensive Tackles. Russell Okung, Brian Bulaga, and Trent Williams are the big boys for this position. Although I would love to see Trent Williams, who sports a 6'5" 310 pound frame, fall to the 49ers, I don't think we are going to see that. But I will say that the #4 best OT, Anthony Davis, will be there if the 49ers want him. It depends for the 49ers, are they going to go with the best available player? Or with the position that they need most?

Anthony Davis is a junior OT out of Rutgers. He is 6'6" 325 pounds, but questions about his weight and love of the game is what has buried him so far down the Draft Board. Do the 49ers need someone like that? No, but if he turns out to show no problems at all, then a 6'6" 325 pound frame could bolster that 49ers offensive line, most definitely.

Again, this is all depending on if these players are still there come the 49ers turn at #13, but S Earl Thomas out of Texas is projected to go #14 to the Seahawks. I don't see how the 49ers can pass up on as promising a Safety as Thomas. But the 49ers sole goal is to get an OL, and if a worthy one is there, they will go with that.

If the 49ers plan on going with the best available player at #13, you will probably see Jason Pierre-Paul go, assuming he is still there. I think he will, but again, you never know. Todd McShay has him going to the Jaguars at #10 but all other experts have him going somewhere above that. Pierre-Paul is the DE out of South Florida.

But if you're looking for the sleeper pick, I have one for you. After having Michael Crabtree fall in their laps last year, the 49ers will be looking for that same thing in Jimmy Clausen. Clausen can go anywhere from 7-17 in the Draft. If the 49ers want him, he will have to hurdle some teams.

First up, what will the Browns do at #7? They picked up Jake Delhomme during the offseason and traded away Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson. Is Jake Delhomme their QB? Or will they give another Notre Dame QB a try? The Browns would be fools to pass up Clausen here, but if they are set on Delhomme as their QB, who is scheduled to make $7M this season, then Clausen will fall at least till #8.

The #8 pick belongs to the Raiders. With Jamarcus Russell and Bruce Gradkowski fighting it out for the QB position, I doubt they take a QB here, even one that makes as much sense as Clausen. The Raiders have far other priorities they need to fill instead of a QB, and the OL is one of them. I just don't see it happening here.

But if Clausen gets past the Raiders at #8, and possibly the Bils at #9 (no telling if Trent Edwards is their man), I see the 49ers having a legitimate shot at him. Every other team between the Raiders and 49ers already have solid starting QB's. The 49ers don't even need to draft Clausen at #13 because every team between them and their next pick at #17 already has a starting QB as well. So if they don't draft him at #13, don't panic.

Will the 49ers do it? I'm not sure. But there is a logic to be believe that Clausen will be there if they want him. It is a matter of Clausen getting past the #7,8, and 9 picks, which I predict he will. What's better? Todd McShay realizes this as well and has Clausen going to the 49ers as the #17 pick.

My Predictions: 49ers

#13- There is some who beleive that CJ Spiller would be drafted here. I see the best OL available for this spot. To me, it's going to be between OT Anthony Davis and OG Mike Iupati from Idaho. The 49ers need help at OG. My pick: Mike Iupati

#17- If Jimmy Clausen is there, then it's Clausen. If not, look for CB Joe Haden from Florida to sneak down, or even DE Jason Pierre-Paul. My Pick: Jimmy Clausen

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sharks Get Huge Win in OT

How nerve-racking was that? Knowing that the Sharks were down 2-1 in the series, knowing that rarely do teams come back from a 3-1 deficit, and knowing how well Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson was playing, how could you not?

The San Jose Sharks beat the Avalanche in overtime in Game 4 last night, evening the series and heading back to the Bay Area with a sigh of relief. Joe Pavelski scored top shelf on the goalie Anderson in overtime, the only puck that had got past Anderson since the first minute of the 1st period.

Seeing how well the Sharks have played in these last three games, it is about time they come out with a win, and this one is a big one.

But the big story was Dan Boyle. 48 hours after his blunder in Game 3, which after further video review was not his blunder at all, Boyle scored in the first minute of the 1st period to put the Sharks up 1-0. Sweet relief for Boyle who was visibly down on himself for the past 48 hours. Also, sweet relief for the Sharks as they went 0-6 on the power play in Game 3, but scored on the power play in the first minute.

Boyle's goal would fuel the Sharks for the rest of the period as they were no doubt the better team in the 1st period. They were playing like they had played during the games before, except this time they got some points for their effort. The Sharks were scrappy on defense, they got to every puck, and the Avs had no chance on any of their shots taken on Evgeni Nabokov.

The 2nd period was a different story. The Avs came out firing on all cylinders and the Sharks were put on the defensive. Avalanche center Paul Stastny scored on the power play at 3:27 and the game was tied.

The Sharks looked tired walking into the dressing room after the 2nd period and to top it off, Anderson looked like he was at the top of his game yet again. But it felt like equal momentum for both sides as they went into the 3rd period.

Dany Heatley, who sat out Game 3, was visibly tired and not 100% throughout the game, and it showed in the 3rd period. Anderson for the Avs continued to stop everything in sight and the Avs were quicker than the Sharks who seemed to be praying for the dressing room down the stretch of the 3rd.

The game went to overtime and after brilliant saves by both goaltenders throughout the first half of the period, Pavelski finally scored on a lightning fast wrister that sailed top-shelf on Anderson giving the Sharks the win.

You can argue that the Sharks got away with one here, but after all this team has been through in this series, the Sharks will take whatever they can get. In my opinion, the Avs won 2 of the 3 periods, with the overtime period going to the Sharks. Anderson played the way he has played since the start of Game 3 and grabbed 43 saves, some standing on his head. Nabby grabbed 33 saves as well and he continues to be reliable in these playoffs for the Sharks.

This win was much needed for the Sharks and now they return back to San Jose with the home-ice advantage and will be welcomed with open arms in the HP Pavilion.

A couple things need to happen for the Sharks. Heatley needs to get healthy. Even though he played no part on the power play last night, he is a key part to the success of the Sharks getting the puck in the back of the net. Had they had him on the ice in Game 3, we'd be talking about a 3-1 lead for the Sharks. Also, where is Patrick Marleau and the rest of the Canadian National Team's 1st line? They've disappeared. Maybe the rest of the Sharks team is good enough to pull them through, but the 1st line is supposed to be the cornerstone of this team, and they have not shown up in this series.

Game 5 in San Jose at the HP Pavilion on Thursday, 7:30p.m.

The Giants Have 2 Predicaments...

The San Francisco Giants are coming off a 2-game losing streak for the first time this season, both in late-inning fashion. But up until then, the Giants were and are playing very good baseball. They are hitting surprisingly well and 4 of the 5 pitchers in their rotation have pitched near lights out. But, as far as I'm concerned, there are 2 problems that this team will face in the coming future, and Giants management will have to find which side of the spectrum gives them the better chance to win.

Sanchez or Uribe

The first problem is more of a predicament. Freddy Sanchez is the team's starting 2nd baseman, or at least that is what he was expected to be when they obtained him last season and what he was expected to be when he comes back from injury. But when is that? Reports say early-May, but other reports say end of May possibly early-June. Sanchez has missed Spring Training as well as the first 13 games of the season, and he will most certainly need to get back into real baseball shape in order to get back onto the field. To be safe, I would predict an early-June return for Sanchez.

Meanwhile, the Giants aren't missing him much, which is where the predicament for the Giants comes in. Juan UUUUU-Ribe has taken the 2010 season by storm after getting a 1 yr./$3.25 million contract in the offseason. This has turned out to be a great move for the Giants as Uribe is no doubt the team's best hitter this season, including clutch hit after clutch hit. Through the first 13 games, Uribe is batting .348 with 16 hits (tied for the team lead) and has 11 RBI's, which almost doubles Pablo Sandoval's RBI total, who is in 2nd place on the team.

So what happens when Sanchez comes back? There the predicament lies. There's no room for Sanchez. Edgar Renteria is having a fantastic start to his season, so you can't move Uribe to shortstop. Sandoval and Aubrey Huff are really the only legitimate power-threats next to Uribe, so they aren't going anywhere. So where do you put him? How about the trading block?

Sure, Sanchez is an ex-batting champ, but his recent injuries have done nothing to justify his 2 yr./$12 million deal that he signed with the Giants last season. Plus, who knows how he will come back from this injury. Trading Sanchez would only work if the Giants re-signed Uribe, and also pending Uribe continues on this tear. Bottom line is there is nowhere to put Sanchez other than the bench, and who wants a $12 million player on their bench? The Giants will have to figure out something quick, but the worst thing to do would be to put their best hitter (Uribe) on the bench just get their money's worth for Sanchez. It will cost them games, and the Giants will need every win this year if they hope to contend for a division title.

No doubt, the Giants will have some thinking to do in the coming months regarding this issue, but it will make this predicament even harder to decide upon if Uribe continue to swing the bat like he has. It will boost their win total, though.

Wellemeyer or Bumgarner?

The only thing wrong with the Giants pitching staff so far is its #5 starter Todd Wellemeyer who has been the only "if" in the Giants rotation this season. Wellemeyer signed a minor-league contract with the team in the offseason and won the #5 spot in the rotation in Spring Training over young phenom Madison Bumgarner. But with the struggles so far this season for Wellemeyer, when is a good time to try something new? Maybe call-up Bumgarner.

Sure, Bumgarner is only 20 years old and needs to get some routine starts under his belt in AAA this season, but he pitched surprisingly well in however many starts he had last season in the Majors. Plus, whatever he brings to the table is better than what Wellemeyer has brought so far. Unless Wellemeyer's start to the season is just a fluke, there is no doubt someone like Bumgarner, or even Kevin Pucetas, will get called up to replace him for a few starts.

The Giants, of course, will wait this one out and see how Wellemeyer does in his next several starts, but if he continues to be the only hole in a very solid rotation, something needs to change. It is not right for the other 4 starters to go out and have solid outings, but when its Wellemeyer's turn its an automatic 4-5 runs given up. And with the Giants offense, although good so far, that is hard to come back from.

The only thing holding the Giants from pulling the trigger in the foreseeable future is Bumgarner's first 3 outings in AAA-Fresno this season. In 3 starts, he is 0-1 with an 8.31 ERA, and only made it through the 4th inning once.

So expect to see Wellemeyer for a little while longer as long as Bumgarner is pitching like that in AAA, but know that it has got to be on the minds of Giants management to replace Wellemeyer sooner than later if this keeps up. If Wellemeyer continues to be the only hole in that pretty rotation, then expect Bumgarner sooner, no matter how he is pitching in AAA.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sharks Give Avs 2-1 Lead

Still trying to pick your jaw up after watching that game last night? Yeah me too. The San Jose Sharks lost last night in overtime after The Play We Shall Not Speak Of occurred just 51 seconds into overtime.

It was an absolute heartbreaker for the Sharks who were in absolute control of the game from the start of the 2nd period on, and yet no "W."

The news of Dany Heatley sitting out the game had already put the Sharks behind the 8-ball, and wow could they have used his powerplay skills last night. The final tally of the Sharks on the powerplay was 0-6. But the Heater absence was negated, at least a little, with the loss of Avalanche Milan Hejduk who left the game after colliding with his teammate at center ice in the 1st period.

Still, the Sharks played well, in fact, they played great, they just could not find the back of the net, not once, which happens to be the most important part (And by back of the net, I mean the opposing team's net). The Sharks outshot the Avs 51-17, and 43-8 from the 2nd period on. There is no way to relate those stats to the final score.

It was an absolute grudge match that pinned Evgeni Nabokov against Craig Anderson, with Anderson playing the role of a brick wall in front of the net. There wasn't much Nabby could do. He had a couple of huge saves early, and given the opportunity, probably would have been just as hot as Anderson.

Craig Anderson, win or lose, was terrific. It was a performance in net that not many will forget, and could potentially mark this series and maybe his career. He stopped 51 shots, which is unheard of given that these are his first playoffs. The only way to describe his play last night was that he was in the zone. And the Sharks ran into another hot goalie.

How do the Sharks move on from this? They just do. They have to. They need to go back to the fact that they are playing very good hockey right now. They are aggressive, quick, playing solid defense, and getting shots to the net. Getting the puck in the net like they did in Game 2 was not going to happen last night. Anderson was too good, and the Sharks didn't capitalize on the opportunities in front of the net when they needed to, and that may have been the result of no Heater.

If the Sharks score in overtime and win the game, then there is huge momentum going into Game 4 knowing that they just played excellent hockey for the past 2 games. Up until 51 seconds into overtime, they did. In fact, they ARE playing great hockey, but somehow the series is 2-1 in favor of the #8 seeded Avalanche, and the Sharks will have to try to find someway to put The Play We Shall Not Speak Of out of their minds. Someway.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Avalanche Take an Early Bite Out of the Sharks

I could have sworn I was watching a Ducks/Sharks game from the first round of the 2009 NHL Playoffs last night. That's how it felt. The San Jose Sharks lost last night to the Colorado Avalanche 2-1 when Avalanche winger Chris Stewart scored off of Rob Blake's skate with a little less than 50 seconds left in the game.

Is this 2009 and before all over again? Probably not, at least I'm not going to say that out loud. Bottom line was the Avalanche defense came to play last night, and the Sharks offense couldn't put the puck in the net. That's it, don't overthink it. In the playoffs, every team brings it every night. That is why it is called the 2nd season. Teams like the Avalanche, who many predicted would not be in this position, have nothing to lose, so they play their hearts out. The Sharks were a victim of that last night.

Sharks fans should be bummed about this, though. After all, the Sharks are the #1 seed playing a team that could not be a more better match-up for them. The Sharks are stronger, bigger, quicker, and more experienced. Then how come they lost so convincingly last night? Sure, the Sharks lost by just one goal, all be it a goal that was scored with 50 seconds left. But the Sharks were a Ryan Clowe "excuse me" goal away from being shut-out.

Credit Evgeni Nabokov with continuing his hot play and stopping 28 shots. But credit Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson even more for stopping all of the weak shots sent his way by the Sharks' offense. The Sharks couldn't get a good opportunity at the goal, and when they did, they couldn't execute it.

The Sharks had 26 shots on net and that is unacceptable for a team that boasts Heatley-Marleau-Thornton. Where were they? They got shots to the net with 8 shots altogether, but none went in, and that seems to be what counts.

Maybe this was a case of a little playoff jitters, or maybe it wasn't, but the the Sharks played last night like they belonged there, when in fact the scoreboard would say otherwise. The Sharks need to play like they are not the #1 seed, because in the playoffs it doesn't matter. As the Sharks franchise knows all too well.

The only thing you can say is tomorrow is another day. I'm not going to call the game on Friday a "must-win," but it would be highly advised.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

This Is Sharks Playoff Territory

What makes this season different? Another #1 seed, another trip to the playoffs, and yet this team is not a favorite by any means to win the Stanley Cup.

With their playoff track-record, who would pick them to win it all? Year after year, we see this team go into the playoffs and come out with nothing. Last year was a new low, even for a franchise that has had as little success as the Sharks in the playoffs.

But this year will be different, right? At least, that's what we have told ourselves for the last 5 seasons. What makes this year different, then?

For one, the Sharks parted ways with 11 guys from last year's team and replaced them with a nice mix of young players and veterans with experience in the game. Torrey Mitchell, Jamie McGinn, Manny Malhotra, and Scott Nichol will all play key roles in these playoffs to help out the front-line guys.

Two, usually the Sharks are crawling into the playoffs with injuries or end-of-season bad play. This year, there are no injuries to speak of and they went 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. Joe Thornton scared us for awhile with his injury, but I think that was more of a lengthy rest that Coach Todd McLellan used for him. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is one that is key to the success of the defense, but he is back from his injury and back to his normal defensive self.

Three, Evgeni Nabokov usually struggles in the last few games of the season and brings that with him into the playoffs. But this year, some could argue that Nabby is playing his best since before the Olympic break. Nabby is who determines how far the Sharks will go in the playoffs. If he can take his play from the final games of the regular season and use it in the playoffs, the Sharks may have something.

Four, the Sharks offense is usually fire in the regular season, but tends to slow down in the playoffs. The Sharks addressed that to the fullest extent during the offseason, picking up scorer Dany Heatley in a deal. If that won't fix the problem, nothing will. Plus, Joe Pavelski is peaking at just the right time for the Sharks.

So what makes you think the Sharks won't make a run for the Stanley Cup? Nothing. But if you look closer, things have changed in San Jose. The pieces are there for the first time in a long time for the Sharks to win the Stanley Cup. It is just up to the them to put it all together.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Woods: "Not a Big Deal"

How perfect was "family man" Phil Mickelson winning The Masters over the "less than family man" Tiger Woods on Sunday? It fit, and it was too bad the media didn't realize it until Mickelson started to pull away on the back 9, because that should have been a "What If" story that could have been all over ESPN family of networks in the previous week.

"What if Phil Mickelson, who's mom and wife are both diagnosed with breast cancer, wins The Masters over the the biggest story in the world, Tiger Woods'return after having affairs with Pancake-House waitresses?"

But I'm not going to talk about Mickelson's touching win for his family and the way he torched the competition down the stretch making "big boy" shot after "big boy" shot, while everyone else was missing putts and greens on the back 9.

What irks me as a fan of golf is the criticism that Woods is taking for his less than professional on-course behavior, which he said he would clean up. As the final round of The Masters got more down to business, so did Woods, and so did his attitude. He wasn't chucking clubs by any means, but him shouting after a bad shot and letting go of clubs after a miss-hit has caused him to receive some heat for those actions, which he had previously promised to improve.

"People are making way too much of a big deal of this," Woods said. "I was not feeling good. I hit a big snipe off the first tee and I don't know how people think I should be happy about that. I hit a wedge from 45 yards and basically bladed it over the third green. These are not things I normally do. So I'm not going to be smiling and happy. And I hit one of the worst, low quack-hooks on No. 5. So I'm not going to be walking around with a lot of pep in my step because I hadn't hit a good shot yet."

Perfectly said. The only thing I wish he had not done was tell everyone he was going to clean-up his actions on the golf course previous to The Masters because he obviously didn't mean it, as we see by this quote.

Should he have said that? Probably not in the heat of the moment like he did right after the final round because this came across as too strong. But should people be making a big deal of this? No. Anyone who has ever played golf in their lives knows how aggravating the game can get. Woods just happens to have hundreds of microphones around him mixed with a great passion for the game. The camera is always on him, but it is also on everyone else, adn why aren't they shouting at themselves like he does?

Now, should Woods have been thinking about his pubic appearance while committing this on-course behavior? Yeah, he should of, especially since this was his first week back from his obliterated public image. But if he had thought of his image during his rounds, he would have never been in the position he was in on the leaderboard.

It shouldn't be this big of a deal to the media, of course, Woods can only blame himself for it. The Masters was his chance to clean up his image, and show that he was a changed man. But maybe cleaning up his image and trying to win a golf tournament was too much for him...for anybody.

His public image may be worse now than it was at the start of The Masters because of the comment after the final round because it really sounded like he didn't care about his image and his on-course behavior like everyone thought he did.

Of course, this is probably not the case, but who am I to judge? Woods fate lies in the media's hands, and if they choose to make a big deal of his on-course behavior even more, they will. Then Woods' image may be worse than before.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

G-Men's First Week in Review

How to rank the San Francisco Giants' first week of the season? How about the last team to be undefeated in the Majors? The Giants finished their first week going 5-1, while sweeping the first series of the year from the Houston Astros and taking 2 of 3 from the Atlanta Braves this weekend.

The headline for this first week for the Giants, "Pitching, pitching, pitching." And you can say that at least 4 times, maybe even 5 if you want to get greedy. The Giants first 4 starting pitchers threw lights out games in their first starts of the year. None more impressive, or surprising, as Barry Zito's gem in the 2nd game of the year in Houston. Tim Lincecum was impressive in his first start, and Cain was excellent as well, but you can make an argument that Zito had the most impressive start thus far for the Giants. He threw 6 innings giving up just 3 hits and allowing 0 runs, and here's the kicker: 1 walk, something that Zito has had problems with in the past, but not recently, a great sign for the Giants.

Don't overlook Todd Wellemeyer's first start as a Giant either. Wellemeyer is a pitch-for-contact pitcher, so he relies mostly on his defense for help. In the 2nd game of the Braves series, Wellemeyer didn't get much of that as the Giants made 2 crucial errors that turned into runs that the Giants could have used. Wellemeyer would give up 4 runs in the game, but not a bad first start for him considering that is a very good Braves team.

Another surprising occurence was the Giants' offense. They managed to put up 5 runs against Roy Oswalt in Houston, and then they went crazy (in Giants terms) going for 10 runs against Brett Myers in the series finale. Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa have fit in nicely in the 4 and 5 spots in the line-up so far and have started a few rallies for the Giants just in this first week. Whether they are taking pitches and getting walks, or putting the bat on the ball, stuff happens when they are at the plate. Veterans can do that for a team that lacks big hitters.

But the Player of the Week for the Giants was no doubt, Edgar Renteria. He may be in the running for POW for the MLB, as well. Renteria hit .524 with 11 hits and 5 RBI this week and seems to have a presence at the plate that we have not seen since he joined the Giants. His wrist is finally 100% healthy and it seems that the Giants may have the Renteria that they were looking for when they picked him up in 2008 for 2 yrs./$18.5 million. It smells like a break-out season for Renteria who is in the last year of his contract for the Giants.

The Giants are playing well early, which is more than you can say for the rest of the NL West, minus the D-Backs who are off to a 4-2 start and have looked impressive as well in this first week.

Pablo Sandoval is one guy we have not seen or heard much of in this first week, which is unlikely for such a high-impact player on the Giants. Although he had his first breakout game of the season in the finale against the Braves, expect him to step his game up this next week.

The Giants have a three-game set at home against the Pirates starting on Monday, then travel to Los Angeles where the 2010 Giants/Dodgers rivalry begins for a 3-game weekender.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Nastiest Pitch in Baseball

How did Tim Lincecum's filthy start against the Astros on Opening Day not get shown until half-way through Sportscenter? When will this kid get some respect for his back-to-back Cy Young Awards?

Lincecum's Opening Day start in Houston revealed one thing about Tim that the public may not know- he is bored with Spring Training. He must be, right? Maybe he likes to watch his fans worry at the thought of him not performing like he has, then watch them take a big sigh of relief as he throws 7 innings of shut-out ball on Opening Day. Either way, "The Freak" is lights out. And these days, it is his one pitch that may be the secret, yet not-so-secret ingredient to his success.

No, it is not his mid-90's fastball, although that may be the 6th or 7th best pitch in baseball. No, it is not his knee-buckling 12-6 curveball, although that is also a top 10 pitch. It is his change-up, and the one that thrives and inherits most of Lincecum's strike-outs because of all the other nasty pitches he delivers. Batters are so worried about looking dopey at the 12-6 curve, or getting gas-faced at the 97 MPH fastball, that they forget about how befuddled they are going to look when Lincecum fires an.....84 MPH change-up that falls off the table like no other.

I think that Lincecum's change-up may be the best pitch in baseball. It was Mariano Rivera's cutter, the one that everyone knows is coming, yet still can't hit. But the way Lincecum uses his change-up in a variety of ways and how crafty he gets with it may be the extra push to get his pitch to the top of the charts.

Here are the 5 nastiest and best pitches in all of baseball, in my opinion.

5. Brandon Webb's Sinker

Not that the pitch is unhittable, but he throws it with such a consistency that he constantly gets people to ground out. The sinker is a pitch where you go into a start and either you have it or you don't for that particular day. Webb has it on a regular basis, and that is what separates his sinker from any others. He throws it about 85% of the time during his start, and he is so accurate with it that once he is on, it is hard to stop. He can throw it where it starts at the plate and dives down to a right-handed hitter, or he can back-door the right-handed batter and have them not think twice. Either way, prepare for a groundout.

4. Roy Halladay's Cutter

Maybe he learned it from Mariano Rivera, or maybe he didn't. One thing is for sure, it is quickly becoming one of the wickedest pitches in all of baseball. He does have other pitches in his arsenal that baffle the hitter, but the cutter may be his best. The pitch comes in on right-handers and tails away from lefties at such a whippy look that it is hard not to get caught up in it. He can throw it anywhere from 88-93 MPH. His name isn't Doc Halladay for nothing. He is constantly sawing off batter's knuckles with his cutter that seems to never find the barrel of the bat. That's good news for Phillies fans.

3. Jonathan Papelbon's Splitter

Jonathan Papelbon's electric excitement after striking out the last batter of the game is usually preceded by a diving splitter in the dirt that has come to be one of the most dirtiest pitches in the game. What sets it up is his 4-seam fastball nearing triple digits that he dares batters to hit, which may take credit for the success of the splitter. No doubt, when he has 2 strikes on a batter, he goes to the splitter that is thrown just a few MPH under the fastball and in the same location, until it dives off the plate and into the dirt, proceeded by the batter being tagged out by catcher Jason Varitek, and then the signature Papelbon pandemonium.

2. Mariano Rivera's Cutter

They know it is coming, yet still can't hit it. That is the motto for Mariano Rivera's cutter that has dared hitters for years. He dares them to hit because he throws it 90% of the time. The ball goes into left-handers and away from right-handers at around 95 MPH with such a, well, late "cut" that the batter simply has no chance of making contact. And if they do, it's not going very far. Rarely is Rivera's cutter struck on the barrel of the bat. Mostly, you will find, for a right-hander at least, the ball connecting off the end of the bat. That may be the only way of connecting with the ball, and that is why Rivera is the greatest closer of all-time.

1. Tim Lincecum's Change-Up

Okay, it's maybe not his change-up alone, more like the way he uses it to make the batter look silly and why he is a 2-time Cy Yound winner at age 25. I already said he sets the pitch up with his mid-90's screaming fastball and 12-6 curveball, but the change-up itself is not bad either, or why would we be talking about it as the best picth in the game today. It dips, it dives, it is much slower than any other pitch he throws, and it dances straight down with a sort of movement that I have heard as can only be described if you are at-bat against him. The best pitch from the best pitcher in the game.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Opening Day "W"

If there was a game that showed off what the San Francisco Giants could potentially bring to the field this year, it was this game. The Giants defeated the Houston Astros on the Opening Day of baseball today, 5-2, behind the stellar pitching of 2-time Cy Young Award winner, Tim Lincecum.

Lincecum threw straight filth in the game for 7 complete innings. He finished with 7 strikeouts, while surrendering 0 runs on no walks. That seemed about the norm for Lincecum. He struggled for the most part in spring training, but somehow the kid does it when it matters. He was perfect. He really only got into trouble once, in the 6th, but was able to get out of it with a sense of ease. Bottom line, he was in control.

As for that improved line-up we hear so much of, it sure looked like something had changed during that offseason in that 2nd inning when the Giants put up 3 runs, started by the Giants' two offseason pick-ups, Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa. Huff led off with a hit, followed by a walk to DeRosa, and then the flood gates opened with a base-hit by Benjie Molina and then a long single off the short porch in left field by John Bowker.

Bowker, who had won the starting job in right field over Nate Shierholtz a couple days ago after having one of the best spring trainings of any player, finished 1-4 with a run scored, but was a presence at the plate.

Edgar Renteria would later have a clutch single in the 7th inning into the left-field gap to score a run, and DeRosa homered in the 8th to give the Giants a total of 5 runs.

Sergio Romo, Brandon Medders, and Brian Wilson finished off the game out of the bullpen, with Medders allowing the only two runs for the Astros.

All in all, it was the right way to start off the season for the Giants. Then again, whenever you have "The Freak" on the mound, your chances are pretty good to win. Another plus, the L.A. Dodgers lost in their first game of the season today, so chalk it up as a 1 game lead on the Dodgers in the NL West.

Tomorrow's game is at 5:05pm, Barry Zito vs. Wandy Rodriguez.

The Greatness of the Raiders- McNabb a No-Go

It sounds just about right that Donovan McNabb landed with the Washington Redskins and not the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders were the front-runner and were sounding like the only serious team willing to make the deal for him. There was even a bogus trade in the works that would have sent Nnamdi Asomugha to the Eagles in exchange for McNabb.

But this probable mishap in front-office management cannot be blamed on Al Davis or any other personnel, at least not this time. There was no way this was going to happen. There was no chance because there was no way McNabb would go to Oakland...willingly. What was attracting him there?

The media tends to go crazy with the rumors, but this one seemed far fetched even after the "proposed" trade containing Asomugha.

There is one thing that strikes a cord with me though. McNabb could have changed that Raider team around. They would have instantly been a 7 or 8 win team this coming season. It would have made Raider fans forget all about the pathetic and embarassing moves they have made in the past (most recent-Darrius Heyward-Bay drafted #7 overall).

Then why not pull out all the stops for McNabb? He is a franchise changer. Al Davis should have made McNabb an offer he couldn't refuse or promised him things where he felt that this could be a successful franchise.

Turns out, there may have been nothing the Raiders could do to woo McNabb under Center for their team. Reports say if McNabb was traded to the Raiders, he would have retired on the spot and maybe pulled a Brett Favre on them and sign with a different team, sooner or later. Only to the Raiders would that happen.

But Raider fans had hope, even if it was for just a couple weeks. Their team was on the front page of sports, and the attention was on them. But alas, they came out of it with nothing but broken hearts and disappointment, yet again. And instead of dreams of having McNabb leading the Raiders down the field, they'll have Bruce Gradkowski leading them...into a ditch. The same one the Raiders have been in for the last decade.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

SF Giants Season Preview

It has arrived. Opening Day is on Monday and Giants fans cannot be more excited for this year's team. Is it the solid pitching staff getting these fans going? Or is it the so-called upgrade in offense? One thing is for sure, the Giants have a shot to win the NL West for the first time in a long time. Granted, it is just a "shot" at winning the division, but for a franchise that has gone through its ups-n-downs, and a fan-base that has gone with it, this season couldn't look any better.

Several story lines dominate the start of this season. Will Tim Lincecum three-peat as Cy Young winner? Will Madison Bumgarner crack the rotation this season? How will the Giants handle Buster Posey once he is done obliterating the Minor League this season? And will the upgrade in offense pay off for the stretch run? These are the questions that dominate the speculation this season, and I'm sure there are a handfull more.

But let's cover the obvious. The Giants pitching staff, although they lost Brad Penny, is still solid. They might have the best 1-2 in the League, as well as the best 4-5 in the League. What worries me is the #3 pitcher, Barry Zito. We saw glimpses of brilliance during the second-half of last season. How will that carry over into this one. By the looks of Thursday nights game, not so much. Zito is the "if." Zito is the difference.

Todd Wellemeyer and Jonathan Sanchez are going to give you a .500 season, more or less. And Lincecum and Matt Cain are going to get you 15 wins, more or less, depending on the offense. But I have no idea what to expect from Zito. This we will find out soon. My advice, the Giants are one pitcher away from making a run for this division. Whether that pitcher is already in the organization in the form of Bumgarner or a surprise with Wellemeyer, or they have to go pick one up at the trade deadline, we will find out. They may miss Brad Penny.

As for the hitting, I was pleased this offseason to find that for once in long time a Bay Area Sports team, whose name is not the Sharks, went out and upgraded the part of their team that they needed to upgrade. The Giants needed to upgrade the offense, and they brought in Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa. These aren't high-profile names by any means, but it is better than what they had last year, right? I'm still trying to convince myself. The Giants will score more runs this season than last, and if they overcome all expectations hitting-wise, then they will win the West, plain and simple.

Their pitching is moderately strong, their bullpen is just about flawless (knock on wood), and the only thing left is their offense. Which they now have, just not a lot of.

They have a good line-up...until you look at the every other line-up in the NL West.

But there is one thing that the Giants have and will need to resist this season if they want any success. Health is the key. With a pitching rotation and line-up that is as fragile as this team's, pray for good health. They have already lost Freddy Sanchez, who is starting the year on the DL, but Juan Uribe can pick up the slack while he's gone. They're lucky.

If the Giants lose someone like Pablo Sandoval, or Cain or Lincecum, during the season, you can start panicking. Because in this division, there is not much room for error. For any team.

I see good things for the Giants this season, maybe somewhere around 85 wins, more or less. Bottom line, the Dodgers will not be as good this season, and the Rockies will be better. That's all you need to know. And if the Giants can fit somewhere in between those two teams, they may find themselves with a Wildcard birth to playoffs.