Monday, August 26, 2013

One Fond Hope

Let's get this out of the way right up front -- this has been a disaster of a baseball season. It's bad enough that here it is the last week of August and the Giants are languishing in last place in the NL West -- one season removed from winning yet another delicious, thrilling World Series championship in 2012. For weeks we have known that there will be no Giants World Champions repeat in 2013.

But what has made the disaster far worse has been watching week in and week out as the hateful Dodgers climbed up from inside a little hole at the lowest point of the cellar (30-42) in mid May all the way up to first by going FORTY TWO AND EIGHT over the past three months. 42 wins and 8 losses. Ridiculous. That really has been just about the most horrible thing one could ever have imagined. And as a result, like the rising whine of a swarm of approaching locusts, we were treated to the spectacle of legions of fair-weather Dodger fans suddenly jumping on the winning blue bandwagon -- fans who were barely paying any attention in May or who were contemplating various ways to kill Don Mattingly and/or looking to score some coveted Angels tickets.

So as we close out August I know even some of us diehards here in the 415 are starting to eye the 49ers schedule with impatience. But me, well, I still have one fond hope for this baseball season. And this is the part where I share that not so secret hope with others.

Let's start with the Giants. The non rational part of my brain imagines the Giants suddenly catching fire and closing out the season on a terrific run of winning baseball. A winning streak like we haven't seen all season. If The Giants managed to go, say, 23-9 over their last 32 games, they would finish the season dead even at 81-81. It's been that kind of season where it would take a remarkable run like that just to claw up to .500. Finishing there would also have the salutary effect of having us finish in the middle of the pack -- most likely in 3rd place. SO much better than the cellar. Yeah yeah, I know all too well a .500 finish for the Giants isn't likely. Please see the the title of this post. But finishing someplace other than last IS certainly possible. But this post isn't about the merely probable or attainable, I am aiming higher -- I'm rooting like hell for .500! Let's go!

And the Giants fighting their way up to .500 is not even the most important part of the fond hope. And I think you all know where I am going with this. I mean, come on, the Dodgers' sustained winning streak was absolutely one of the most unlikely things I have ever seen. I don't think any of us have ever seen a team stay THAT ridiculously hot for THAT long -- certainly not a team that was on pace to lose 95 games. I don't know if the Dodger turnaround set some kind of record -- but it's got to be close. They damn near broke the all time road winning streak number (held by the New York Giants).

So what happened? Well, MAYYYBEE the Dodgers really were that good during all that losing in April & May and were playing way way below their potential. [Hard to believe that though as for the most part they featured the same lineup that was so very lackluster over the latter half of 2012.] Or maybe somebody at Dodgers HQ made a deal with the Devil/Lola a la "Damn Yankees." Or maybe Mr. Puig really is that good and the addition of ONE player turned their whole team rightside up.

But I think it's much more likely that while Puig energized them and the Dodgers have played better they also have had everything fall their way. And some reversion to the mean is coming.

Now to be completely honest, I have been expecting a Dodgers slump since sometime in June. And though Mr. Pythagoras agrees with me -- he's a temperamental old cuss and he's been giving us all the finger for the past couple of months. Will he finally come around? Well this past week, finally, FINALLY we saw perhaps the beginning of a reversal. The Dodgers had been winning at an .840 clip (the eye popping 42-8 record I mentioned earlier.) However, this week, the Dodgers went just 4-3, a much more terrestrial .571 record. They lost consecutive games & lost a *series* for the first time since May.

Yes, I realize that it would take a collapse of BIG proportions for the Dodgers not to win the NL West this year. Having said that, LA has to play the Snakes 4 more times this season -- in Phoenix -- and the Giants get 7 more cracks at them (3 at home, 4 in LA). That's 11 games against teams that really, REALLLY want to Beat LA. And if the losses start happening more frequently, the doubts start creeping in... well we have seen teams collapse horribly before. And there will be no Wild Card from the NL West, so if the Dodgers don't win the division, they'd be out of the post season altogether, even after their historic hot streak. NOW WOULDN'T THAT BE A GREAT WAY TO END THE 2012 SEASON? Why yes it would.

Here are the numbers -- 1.) Dodgers lose ~ two out of every three games the rest of the way... Let's make it 9-23 over the last five weeks. LA would end up with an 85-77 record, which will put them in second place, provided that 2.) Arizona finishes 20-13 the rest of the way, giving them an 86-76 record. (The Snakes finishing close to that mark is probably the least unlikely thing in this entire post.) And for fun 3.) the Giants have gone on a 23-9 tear to finish at 81-81 to end the hangover season.

Of course, more losing by LA or more winning by AZ takes the pressure off the other part of the formula. Complicating matters is that LA has 2 series apiece (home/away) against the mediocre Rockies and Padres. (Hey, nobody said this was gonna be easy.)

On the other hand, in addition to the 11 games against AZ and the Giants, LA does have to play three on the road against the Reds, who are fighting for their lives in the Central and who are very tough in their building.

Another factor in all of this is that The Dodgers feature several players who were part of the historic 2011 collapse of the Boston Red Sox: Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett (DL) & Nick Punto. Who's to say they can't bring a little of that Epic Fail mojo to the LA stretch drive? And don't underestimate the effect our sleeper agent Brian Wilson will have on LA's fortunes. Things are not always what they seem, my friends. The Beard may be down there on a covert mission. Shhhhh.

So that's it -- my Fond Hope for the end of the 2013 baseball season is that the stars re-align such that the hateful Dodgers are denied the post season. It's a stretch, but it could happen. And it delights my black and orange baseball heart tremendously to imagine all the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the Southland if that should happen. Mmmm, those salty tears would taste so so good. Yes, friends, Schadenfreude is a real and powerful thing.

It's true that a big rounded scoopful of Schadenfreude at the Dodgers' expense is certainly not as satisfying as another World Series title for the Giants. But on the other hand, it would be pretty damn satisfying. And as a finale to this weird regular season, I would certainly take it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Back of the Baseball Card

A common phrase repeated in baseball circles is how one needs only to look at a player's baseball card to see the type of ballplayer that particular individual was when performing on the diamond. This applies to Tim Lincecum. The Giants' brass knows this and may refer to the back of #55's baseball card when it comes time to negotiate a contract to keep the beloved hurler in the city by the bay.

I think baseball cards are fascinating because, as a boy trying to learn something about a game that arrested my interests from any outlet of recreational activities outside my home, this was the beginning to discovering facts about those who played the game well enough to make the big leagues.

I remember how the 1960s had shortstops who were there because of their ability to field the position as nobody ever hit double-digit home runs. And if there was such a player he would be recognized around the league as someone who was changing the game. Every kid would want to get a bat with his name on it because chances are he wasn't as proficient fielding as he was hitting if this shortstop was knocking 10-20 homers in the big leagues.

Shortstops like: Don Kessinger, Bud Harrelson, Bobby Wine, Maury Wills, Hal Lanier, Enzo Hernandez, Gene Alley, Dal Maxvill or Terry Harmon were all punch and judy hitters with respectable gloves. Then in 1969, another shortstop not known for his slugging prowess belts 22 home runs. That player was Campy Campaneris, the former Kansas City-Oakland Athletic. Remember him and that ridiculous nickname Monte Moore attached to him. "Beep, beep, the Roadrunner!" Moore would say again and again. What happened that year?

Then you look around the league and in Boston there was shortstop by the name of Rico Petrocelli who blasted 40 homers that season. He usually hit around 15 homers a year so 40 was a freakish display of power. Was something happening that would change the game forever? Probably not for another 20 years or so (wink, wink) would suspicions ring doubt into the minds of baseball fanatics.

But you could see a trend happening simply by looking on the back of someone's baseball card and noticing how a player would hit 1, 3, 4, 2, or 5 home runs and then all of a sudden 22. (Golly gee Wally, did they eat cans of spinach like Popeye?) Just the sort of thing that captured this boy's imagination into the world of baseball.

It's what got me hooked for life.

Kevin Marquez