Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Things Are Looking Up, If You Look Closely

Although the Giants' record doesn't prove it too much (31-25, 3rd in the NL West), there have no doubt been changes for the better in the last week or so for this team.

The call-up of Buster Posey not long ago headlines them all. He made his 2nd coming to the Majors by putting up intense numbers in his first 2 games an then some and has bolstered this offense that needed it so bad.

But it's more than just Posey, although he is the sexy name to pin it on. Aubrey Huff may be responsible for this sudden change in aerial scenery that the Giants needed so badly a few weeks ago. Arguably the hottest player on the Giants right now, Huff has made the gracious switch to left field making way for Posey at 1st base and giving Benjie Molina one last try at catcher before the Posey Era officially begins. Which may be sooner than we thought.

Another bright spot for the Giants in the last week or so has been the return of Freddy Sanchez. Sanchez is the hottest Giant average-wise batting .379 since his return, and has been a bright spot defensively as well. He sparks that line-up giving them something that the Giants were not seeing in the first month or so of the season, contact with the baseball.

We have managed to see bright spots offensively on this team while the Giants' best asset, its pitching, is struggling, to some extent. Lincecum is not himself lately for several reasons that could be pointed out, one of which is that the opposing batters are just plainly bringing their better game when facing him because he is a 2-time Cy Young winner. They have figured him out, or so it seems. The challenge here for Lincecum is figuring out how to get back to form and make batters miss again. That's what the great pitchers do, learn.

But despite the bright sides of the offense right now, there have been a few who have been stuck in slumps, which is an understatement, especially if your name is Pablo Sandoval. Yes, we are getting a little greedy saying that Sandoval batting .281 is in a slump, but this isn't like him. It's not something we have seen before out of him. The Giants have tried just about everything to try to pull him out of this slump, even sending him down to the 8th spot to prove a point, I guess. Didn't work. The only thing left is the one punishment that should have been used first and maybe we wouldn't be having this issue...sit him down. Let him take a look around and see the game, learn the game. He has 30 more at-bats than the closest Giant, give him a rest. Sure, fatigue is probably not his problem right now, but the bench may be swift kick in the ass he needs to snap out of it. Then the Giants have a line-up.

Another swift kick in the ass needs to be headed Molina's way. It appears as if Molina is on the way out, at least to the back-up role. The only thing keeping him starting right now is his feel for the pitchers, and if you have noticed, the Giants are trying to get Posey up to par with the pitchers as well, making it a easier transition for when Molina gets the boot.

But we have to look at the numerous bright spots right now. The Giants are winning...at least more than half of their games. That is with their best hitter and best pitcher not producing as they should. Posey got called up, Sanchez is on point, Uribe is doing his thing, Torres is a spark, and we might see Bumgarner sooner than we think.

Things are a'changin for the Giants, they've gotten younger and seem to be playing a better style of baseball than we have seen in months past. Seems like this should have been done a lot sooner. Blame that on the call-up of Posey or whatever you want, but if the Giants get the rest of the team up to par with the guys who are going out there every night and contributing, they might have something here.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Just What the Doctor Ordered

It's amazing what a series against the Arizona Diamondbacks can do for a ball club's morale. The Giants swept the D-Backs over the weekend behind 3 solid starts by Cain, Sanchez, and Wellemeyer.

It's also amazing what bringing up your #1 prospect from the minors can do for a ball club. The Giants brought up Buster Posey on Saturday in an attempt to add some much needed fire power to a line-up that lacks sexiness.

Coming into this weekend, the talk was about how in trouble the Giants were that they could not hit after enduring a road trip that just about sent Giants fans over the edge, where runs came at a minimum and good pitching took the road trip off.

But everyone and their mother knew what was coming next. It was the Giants' organization's only move, and that was to call up Posey in an attempt to hype the line-up as well as their fans.

He's captivating, I'll give him that. Not since Bonds have I taken time out of my day to watch his at-bat and his at-bat only. And his start to the 2010 season didn't let anyone down. Honestly, if he hadn't had success in these first two games, I'm not sure what the fans would have done. But no disappointment from Posey, he's not like others. Raw ability and good contact with the baseball is what the Giants' line-up has been needing their players to do all year, they just left it up to a 23 year old kid in AAA to show them how to do it.

Posey has seemed to psyche up the rest of this line-up as well. I haven't seen the Giants make so much contact with the baseball in days. It's not like them. In that D-Backs series they played like a real line-up. Granted, it was against the D-Backs, but as a Giants fan you have to take 'em where you can get 'em. And we got 'em this last weekend.

After a road trip that spelled disaster, it's amazing what a couple good starts and a stud prospect can do to make a fan base forget how awful you played against the Oakland A's...

No matter, the Giants are playing well right now and I will accept that. Posey is a Major League ball player who can spark a frachise in two starts, at 1st base mind you. And for the Giants, Posey is just what the doctor ordered.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Treading Water

Is it just me or is a sense of panic come over the city of San Francisco? May has not been kind to the San Francisco Giants. Last night's loss at the hands of the Washington Nationals put their record at 10-13 for the month and 1 game over .500 for the season. Not to mention 4th place in the NL West.

But last night's game may have sent Giants fans over the edge, because even though the Giants were slumping after a terrible road trip, there was still the thought of Tim Lincecum pitching and all being right with the world once again. Except this time, things couldn't get more worse. Lincecum struggled with 5 walks and 6 runs allowed, and Giants fans went home thinking disaster for this team that was so promising.

Even this early in the season, the Giants have experienced more ups-and-downs than any team in baseball. Sure, they need a bat, but that won't solve all their problems. Freddy Sanchez came back from injury, but he hasn't produced to the extent that everyone wants him to, let alone your #3 hitter.

It seems like all the hopes that the Giants had may be running out. There was the pick-ups of Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa, but DeRosa is hurt and Aubrey Huff has done his job, even moved to the outfield, but the most you're going to get out of him is what you're getting already, a .270 average with moderate RBI numbers.

Then Freddy Sanchez came back and hope sprang again. But if you thought a contact hitting 2nd baseman batting 3rd was going to change this team around, you were sorely mistaken. He may have even hurt the Giants more because now they must find a place to put him while cutting time from someone else.

Then there was Lincecum, the go-to guy, the guy you can count on when things just aren't going right. The Freak. But not last night. For the 2nd straight start, Lincecum did not have a good outing, and he received the loss last night. Is he just in a bit of a 2-time Cy Young slump? Or have teams slowly began to figure him out? We'll find out in his next several starts.

So Giants fans are holding on to the 2 hopes they got left, Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner.

Bumgarner may not be needed right now, plus there may be a few AAA pitchers that are in line ahead of him. But let's talk Buster.

Posey is the jolt they need right now, maybe to save their fan-base at the moment. The team is struggling, they need changes. Posey isn't tearing up AAA, but it seems like he is ready enough for the big leagues, and now is the time because they couldn't need him more.

The Giants will find a place for him, they must. But Posey is the kick in the pants the Giants need right now, for morale purposes.

The Giants need a bat and Posey is probably the 2nd or 3rd best bat the Giants have, then why is he stuck in AAA?

You are going to see several more ups-and-downs coming from this team during the rest of this season, so get used to it and just go with it. Sure, they're going to tug at your heart strings but hopefully it will all pay-off in the end. But for now, changes need to be made, and quick.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

That's It And That's All

The San Jose Sharks' season is over after a disappointing series against the Chicago Blackhawks resulting in the Sharks being swept 4-0.

A long season for the Sharks came down to this dream series featuring the Western Conference's top 2 teams. After this series, we found out who truly was the #1 team.

The Sharks could not have had more momentum coming into this series after previously defeating the Red Wings in 5 games. Yet, the Blackhawks seemed to be the wrong team for the Sharks. This series simply came down to match-ups, and the Blackhawks were a horrible match-up for the Sharks. It's the only way to describe it.

The Blackhawks were too quick, too prepared and too good for the Sharks. It felt that way from the drop of the puck in Game 1.

What impressed me about the Blackhawks was several things, but one stands out. Each game of this series, the Sharks came out with intensity, wanting to get on the Blackhawks quick. Every game, the Blackhawks answered and made the adjustments needed to turn the pace of play around, as well as momentum, in their favor.

Even in the games where the Sharks had chances to win, like Games 1, 3, and 4, the tempo for the game was still controlled by the Blackhawks, it sure seemed that way, and you were just waiting for Chicago to score, and they did.

Antti Niemi, what can you say, hot goaltender, wrong time for the Sharks. The Sharks could simply not figure him out, the 40+ shots on net in Game 1 shows that, as do clutch save after clutch save at the end of every game.

All around, the Sharks were outplayed and it is extremely disappointing to see as talented a team as the Sharks look so befuddled as to how they were going to solve the Blackhawks. No answer.

Where do the Sharks go from here? Patrick Marleau has been rumored to leave the Sharks for the last couple seasons, but that was because he was who everyone put the blame on for losing in the playoffs the past several seasons. Now, he is the only bright spot, and there are several other players who you can blamed for this one. Yet, he is a free agent. The Sharks would be wise to sign him, but maybe he rather not.

Evgeni Nabokov has played his last game as a Shark, that's my opinion. The free agent will depart San Jose in disappointing fashion, as he was never able to get the Sharks over that hump to greatness or the Stanley Cup Finals. Some would say it was because of him. Duh.

Lucky for the Sharks, the free agent goalie class of 2010 is impressive. With guys like Ray Emery, former Shark Vesa Toskala, and Marty Turco headlining, as well as several other starting goalies for other teams, the Sharks should have no problem replacing Nabokov. There's not much to replace.

In my opinion, the Sharks should sign Marleau and let Nabby walk. This is too good of a team to split up, and for the Sharks to go out and let Marleau leave along with others would set this franchise back even farther than a series sweep at the hands of the Blackhawks would.

With possible free agent pick-ups and the best top-line in all of hockey hopefully staying together, expect the Sharks to be back contending again next season, but the Stanley Cup Finals still looming.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

All Uphill From Here

The Sharks are in trouble, plain and simple. They were defeated for the 2nd straight game on their home ice last night by the Chicago Blackhawks, who have a commanding 2-0 lead in this best-of-7 series heading to Chicago.

The Sharks seemed to have no chance in this one. They were outplayed by the young and quick Blackhawks, who behind their red-hot goalie Antti Niemi looked like a team that could take the Cup.

From a Sharks angle, something has to change. After a game in which the Sharks were able to get the puck to the net at will, the complete opposite happened on Tuesday night as the Sharks couldn't get anything started, let alone anything to the net.

Evgeni Nabokov wasn't much help either. After letting a goal up in the 1st period, he let his guard down for a whole 3 minutes in the 2nd period, and the Blackhawks took full advantage netting 2 goals in that time span.

Nabokov would finish with 18 saves on 22 chances, definitely his worst effort that we have seen in awhile.

It's all uphill from here. The Sharks are down 2-0 headed on the road, a position nobody wants to be in. The good thing is that they will have an extra day off, with their next game being on Friday. It will give them an extra day to find out what in the world they can do to stop this Blackhawks team from rolling completely over them.

In Chicago, Niemi will continue standing on his head. But if the Sharks' goal coming into Game 2 was to put bodies in front of the net to get in the way of Niemi's vision, that didn't happen, at least from what I saw. Something needs to change because the Hawks look quicker, more skilled, and more prepared for this series than the Sharks do.

Do the Sharks have it in them to make a comeback in this series? We'll find that out on Friday, won't we? It won't be enough just to come out of the gates firing like the Sharks have done in these first 2 games. They will need to carry it throughout the entire game if they are going to defeat a Blackhawks team that seems ready for a Stanley Cup birth.

The only upside for the Sharks, the Blackhawks are 3-3 at home in these playoffs, which isn't saying much because they are 7-0 on the road, but we'll take it. The Sharks will take it. But they will take whatever they can right now in a series that is in their hands to keep alive.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Niemi Hot As the Sharks Fall in Game 1

If we found out one thing in Game 1, it was that this is going to be as exciting and gut-renching a series as we have seen in a long time. Another, a hot goalie is going to beat one that has been solid the whole playoffs 9 out of 10 times. It's just the way it is. Unfair if you're a Sharks fan, at least in this Game 1, but these NHL Playoffs have been unfair to many teams this year.

The final four teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs are lopsided for each conference. In the West, you have the top 2 seeded teams, while in the East, you have the lowest-seeded teams. A little unorthodox but you cannot deny that these are the best 4 teams going. And in a series that boasts the top 2 teams for the West, we expected nothing different than a thrilling game to the final buzzer, and we got that in Game 1.

Disappointing is a good word to describe this game from a Sharks angle. 5 power plays and one result. That is 5 PP's more than Chicago had, which you can also take as a plus because that would mean the Sharks did not commit a penalty.

Still, the hotter goalie came out on top. If there was one lesson to be learned from this Game 1, play the full 60 minutes because if you are out of position for a second, as the Sharks found out on Dustin Byfuglien's game-winning goal, it will hurt you.

Respect Blackhawks' goalie Antti Niemi, though. The Sharks have run into another hot goalie, and that's all you can say. He out-dueled Evgeni Nabokov who was having himself a very nice game as well. But at the end of the game, the 1st star went to Niemi and the 2nd star went to Nabokov.

The Blackhawks are no joke, and neither are the Sharks, but Game 1 showed who was more prepared for this series, and it wasn't the team who had 5 PP's and didn't convert on any of them. Rusty.

2 things to take from this game for the Sharks, though. They managed to draw the 5 penalties while committing 0. Also, Nabokov is playing very well between the pipes, and 38 saves shows that. The only problem, Niemi had 44 saves. That remains the only difference in Game 1.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sharks/Blackhawks Series Preview

It's on. This is the way it was supposed to be, right? The two top teams in the Western Conference will face off in a 7-game series to decide who will go to the Stanley Cup Finals and be the overwhelming favorite.

That is true. No matter who comes out of the Eastern Conference, whether it's the Bruins/Flyers or Canadians, the team that wins the Sharks/Blackhawks series will be without a doubt the clear favorite to win the Cup.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The Sharks are the best team going, the only thing knocking this team is the fact they have been at a stand still since they defeated the Red wings in 5 games in what feels to be a month ago. They want to get out on the ice while they're hot.

Honestly, the Blackhawks are the favorite in this series. They have recent momentum since beating the Canucks, plus they went 3-1 against the Sharks during the regular season.

But the Sharks have several things going their way that have not been talked about. How about the fact that Blackhawks' goalie Antti Niemi has never played against the Sharks? Or how about the Sharks are playing a much better form of hockey than they were in the regular season?

The tipping point in this series may be that one point that separated the Sharks as the #1 seed in the West and the Blackhawks as the #2 seed. The Sharks have home-ice advantage, and we all saw what that team and those fans can do once in their home arena. The "Nabby" chants start going, the Jaws music start playing. Everything is better at The Sharks Tank. Unless you're the opposing team, then that stuff just gets annoying.

Bottom line is this is going to be a series for the ages. Two teams who have similar styles of play, and just as much equal talent on the ice. The last time we saw this sort of match-up was, well, last series when the Sharks played the Red Wings.

One thing bothers me, though. I cannot help but think back to the game on November 25th when the Sharks and Blackhawks met up. The final score was 7-2 in favor of the Blackhawks in a game where the Blackhawks made the superior Sharks look ridiculous. They outhustled and outperformed the Sharks. Will there be a difference in how the Sharks prepare for this team in this series? There better be, they would have had 8 days between series to do so.

If the Sharks are to knock off the Blackhawks, they will need more contribution from their 1st line than ever. We saw this in the last couple of games in the Red Wings series. The Red Wings' primary focus was on Joe Pavelski since he was tearing them up in the previous games. In response, the Sharks' 1st line showed up and was the reason why the series didnt go to a Game 6 or 7.

Fasten your seatbelts for this one, folks. This is a series made for it to go the distance, and I don't doubt we will see anything but that.

My prediction: Home-ice will play a huge role in this series and the Sharks will be fortunate that they got that last point to get the #1 seed in the West and home-ice advantage in the playoffs. Sharks in 7.