When The Raiders Are In Town, Enter At Your Own Risk

What on Earth was going on at Candlestick Park last Saturday? Is this the same venue my dad took me to watch the Giants and Niners play when I was a kid? A place where I never felt unsafe? If it had not been for fans wearing 49ers and Raiders gear I would have thought I was watching the madness that is usually seen at an international soccer game, minus the bonfires in the stands.

This was a preseason game, right?  Means nothing, right?  For a game that means nothing, it certainly brought out the worst in a lot of fans.

I am big on tradition.  As a 49ers fan I even look forward to watching football on Thanksgiving broadcast from Dallas and Detroit, of all places.  That’s just the way it has been for so long and it’s a cool tradition.  This annual preseason meeting between the Niners and Raiders, though, needs to go away.  What happened to some of the fans in attendance and outside the stadium should be enough for the teams and the league to look for other preseason match-ups for years to come as well as what to expect when the Silver-&-Black come to town.

We’ve seen pictures and videos of the fights in the stands.  I would venture to say that there were plenty of other altercations not captured on film.  We also have heard the reports of the two fans shot in the parking lot (isolated incidents) and the fan who was beaten unconscious in a stadium bathroom.

The cause of the violence and how to prevent it from happening again has been the big talk this week.  Most who know anything about the two teams and their fans would quickly say that the influence of the Raiders was the main reason for all that went down that night.  To be fair, the 49ers don’t play in the safest of areas (Bayview-Hunters Point) and the images and videos show fans wearing crimson-and-gold taking swings at those of the visiting team.  As much as I don’t want to blame this mess on the Raiders and their fans…..I’M GOING TO ANYWAY!

A fight in the stands? It must be a Raiders game.

My dad used to tell me and my sister when we’d get into a fight, “it takes two to tango.”  In most situations, Saturday’s game included, the saying is true.  With that theory in mind I almost gave Raider Nation a pass by trying to make this as little about their presence as possible.  However, I highly doubt the atmosphere will be similar this Saturday when the Niners host the Houston Texans.

Only the Raiders and their fans bring the mentality which leads to shootings in the parking lot, beatings in bathrooms, brawls in the stands.  Only the Raiders and their fans cause their hosts to go back to the drawing board when it comes to stadium security.  In San Diego, Qualcom Stadium won’t open the gates of the parking lot until two hours before the start of a Chargers-Raiders game to prevent the kind of problems we saw at “The Stick.”

Many will propose limiting the amount of alcohol sold at games.  Unfortunately there is way too much revenue generated to further limit the sale of beer, wine, etc (most stadiums stop selling alcoholic beverages at the end of the third quarter).  But the Niners’ management seems to be on the right track.   There have been talks of limiting tailgating before and after the games, setting up DUI checkpoints outside of the stadium parking lots along with an overall increase in security.  History has shown that there isn’t a need for these measures during the regular season and all preseason games which don’t include the Raiders.

Whether last Saturday’s violence is related to a rivalry, alcohol or the area surrounding the stadium it is going to be hard for teams to look past the influence of the Raiders and how they are known, something to the effect of  villains who will rob you and then knock you ‘round and upside down and then laugh.  That’s the message of the Raiders theme song, which ends up implying that the team actually wins.  If the team can’t win, their fans sure are doing a good job of making sure to live up to the rest.


Giants Beat Up But Aren’t Knocked Out

The Giants are on a downward spiral and getting shut out Friday night by the Houston Astros, one of the worst teams in baseball, is just one example of how bad things have been going for the World Champs.  The lack of timely hitting, most of the season, has been one of the biggest thorns in the team’s side.  The health of many players has also been a season long issue and the injury bug has recently spread further across the clubhouse. Nearing the end of August, the timing could not be worse.

 

All may not be lost for San Francisco.  Before I become a cock-eyed optimist, which is usually my impulse when engaged in verbal debates with friends whose allegiance lies with rivals of my beloved Giants, let’s run down what is standing in the way of a return to the playoffs.

 

The season didn’t start off well with regard to team health.  Opening day’s roster, for example, didn’t include outfielder Cody Ross and closer Brian Wilson.  Both had been injured during spring training.  Then, just after the start of the season center fielder Andres Torres missed time with an injured foot.  Torres, who had given the Giants an unexpected offensive lift in 2010, was one of the team’s only sources of speed.  The biggest blows, though, came in late April when third baseman Pablo Sandoval went to the disabled list with a broken hamate bone in his right hand and second baseman Freddie Sanchez was lost requiring shoulder surgery.  Finally, who could forget Buster Posey’s tragic season-ending injury in late May?

The Giants will need a healthy Brian Wilson down the stretch

Ross, Wilson, Sandoval and Torres have returned since their initial ailments however Torres returned to the DL, Sandoval has recently been nicked up enough to miss a couple of games, Wilson has inflammation in his throwing elbow and that’s not all.  Newly acquired Carlos Beltran (15 Day DL) and Jeff Keppinger (both with sore wrists) have also missed time.  Add to the list: Sergio Romo, Pat Burrell, Barry Zito (all three on the 15-Day DL), Aaron Rowand, Jonathan Sanchez and Eli Whiteside (all three day-to-day) and what’s left of the roster looks even lighter than the Giants team batting average (ranked last in the NL).

 

With Beltran resuming baseball activies today, the Giants are closer to regaining his bat in the middle of the order

One has to wonder how the Giants are fielding a team each day. Surprisingly they are eight games over .500 and only 2 ½ games out of first place in the NL West.  That’s right, just 2 ½ games out of first place.  As promising as that sounds it would be easy to count the Giants out given their circumstances and how well the Arizona Diamondbacks are playing as of late.  Here’s where my typically negative (I like to call objective and realistic) opinions of the Giants take a positive turn!

 

There are still 37 games left in the season.  Only six of those games are against a team with a winning record.  All six are against the first place D-Backs.  I find it hard to believe that a schedule has ever favored a team as much as it does the Giants, and they need it.

 

Another reason for hope, players who have been sidelined are expected to come back soon if not by the first part of next month.  Carlos Beltran will resume baseball activities Saturday, Andres Torres is already on a rehab assignment, Jeff Keppinger was able to pinch hit Friday night and Brian Wilson’s inflamed elbow shouldn’t keep him out of action too long.

 

The Giants still have time for their ailing players to get healthy.  This should give the offense the shot in the arm it desperately needs (averaging 2.5 runs per game in the month of August) as well as a solidified back end of the bullpen.  Along with one of the best starting pitching staffs in the game, the Giants may still have a chance to limp in to the playoffs and make another run at the World Series.

 

By, Steve Bostwick


49ers Looking Like the Same Old 49ers, Especially Up Front

We’re only a few days away from the second preseason game of the year and I’m sick of the Forty Niners already.  With only one game in the books, I may need to get a grip.  It’s early, right?  In fact, compared to previous seasons, it’s fair to say that it is earlier than normal considering the lockout, lack of OTA’s and Minicamps.  However, just watching the first quarter of the Forty Niners’ preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints, to me, served as enough of a preview to put my expectations in their proper place.  Very low.

It seems the Niners will continue to be consistent in an area which will prevent yet another winning season.  They cannot protect the quarterback, which has been the case for quite a while in San Francisco.  This is where a lot of those who have followed the Forty Niners during the Alex Smith era say, “Here we go defending Smith for the sixth straight year”.  When he has had time in the pocket to throw, he’s not effective.  In fact, he’s been totally inaccurate.

I know this is not a news flash.

Maybe this is “couch time” for me.  I, and a ton of others, had big hopes for the number one draft pick of 2005.

Sometimes a quarterback is only as good as his offensive line.  The Niners’ O-line is not ready to protect anyone, especially against a squad designed by Saints Defensive Coordinator Greg Williams, if only for a quarter.  That much was evident from the start of Thursday’s game.  Alex Smith did not have time to set and throw at all.  In fact, San Francisco quarterbacks were sacked 6 times by the Saints.  An inability to pass protect for the duration of a regular season game will have a huge impact on the Niners’ defense.  We could bring back a young Ronnie Lott, Charles Haley, and Michael Carter along with eight other Pro Bowl players to fill out the rest of the defense.  If they are on the field for the majority of the game, they wouldn’t stand a chance at the rate the offense seemingly will go three-and-out.

The defense showing they can hang with the high octane Saints offense. The Niners offense will have to stay on the field long enough for the "D" to sustain such prowess.

It is evident that the Forty Niners’ offensive front five (no pun intended) do not have what it takes.  It was the same story last year.  Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati, both first round picks, were not up to the challenge.

But they were rookies.

Davis (selected 11th overall in 2009) has not made strides to become an effective pass blocker.  This has forced the Niners to look for an alternative.  Enter second year tackle Alex Boone.  Although undrafted in 2009 he is having an excellent camp and will start at right tackle when they meet the Raiders this Saturday.

Iupati, a second year player like Davis (chosen 17th overall in 2009), seems to be a legit stud for years to come which is something the Niners are banking on.  First round players are making first round dollars and need to play accordingly.  Chilo Rachal, a second round pick in 2008 has been a complete disappointment and will be replaced by versatile veteran Adam Snyder.

The Saints' defense was in the Niners' backfield early and often

According to Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman, the best five will play going forward.  The good news for the recently demoted linemen, they can earn their jobs back with high levels of play.  But if Anthony Davis and the rest of the Forty Niners O-line don’t figure something out soon, it isn’t going to matter which QB is taking snaps.  The passing game will continue to suffer, along with the Forty Niners record.

By Steve Bostwick


Oh No! It’s August Again: Giants Are Slippin’

The San Francisco Giants used to be in first place in the National League West. They had a four game lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks not too long ago.  Are the defending World Champions on vacation?  Many folks might think so just by looking at  the two game deficit in the standings.  Giant fans, on the other hand, are watching the games, looking at the stats and probably experiencing a case of deja vu.

Let’s look at August.  The Giants are off to a 4-11 start this month.  I’m reminded that last year’s August (13-15) wasn’t so great, either

I’m going on a witch hunt to look for the cause of the Giants’ issues with the month of August.  Most Giants fans will quickly point to last year’s collapse of the pitching staff.  When ace and two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum was out-pitched by the likes of Barry Zito, need I go further?  To make more sense of the situation, I did some digging.

"He didn't just compare me to Barry Zito, did he?"

The 2010 Giants ended their season not only as World Series Champions but their pitching staff ranked 1st in era, 1st in avg and 3rd in whip in the National League.  For August, though, they were ranked 13th, 14th and 13th  in those three categories.  That was the one month the Giants pitching staff would like to have back.  Fortunately for the team and Giants faithful, things turned  around big time in September and the Giants cruised in the playoffs and on to their first World Series Championship since coming to San Francisco.

This season, though, the 2011 Giants pitching staff can’t take the majority of the heat, even though August has not looked as good as they do during the season as a whole (August rankings of 5th in era, 2nd in avg and 5th in whip compared to season rankings of 2nd, 1st and 2nd respectively), the Giants offense has been horrible.  Almost nonexistent, in fact, even with a healthy Carlos Beltran (newly acquired—although currently sidelined with a sore wrist).

The Giants’ offense didn’t strike fear into many opposing pitchers last season, either.  With Buster Posey having a shot at his first full year at the Major League level and a shaped-up Pablo Sandoval rebounding from a disappointing 2010 campaign, they were supposed to be more potent this go-round.  Posey, of course, was injured and lost for the season, but even with Sandoval’s resurgence, things have not worked out that way, even with the big-time, middle-of-the-order bat (Beltran).

Last August the offense ranked 8th, 8th and 7th in average, home runs and slugging percentage.  This month?  Don’t look if you are squeamish. The lineup is 10th in avg, 14th in hr’s and 14th in slg.  Pretty much on track with how things are going for the entire season to date (14th, 12th and 15th).  You’d have to wonder how it could get worse.  Well, wonder no more.  The Giants are currently extending their streak of hitting home runs with NOBODY ON BASE!!!  There has not been a runner on base during a Giant round-tripper since before the All-Star break.  (“UGH” doesn’t even begin to describe it.)

Aubrey Huff's "Please get out of play so I don't foul out with runners on, again" look

No National League World Series winner has come back to repeat as champions since the 1976 Cincinnati Reds.  If the Giants have any hope of doing the same, their pitching is going to have to remain dominant.  And with 18 games left in this year’s August, they are going to have to get Carlos Beltran healthy and the rest of the bats hot or they just may look back at this fateful period as the month when the playoffs slipped out of reach.

by Steve Bostwick


Rangers’ Young Not Happy with Role….SHOCKER! Revisited

Here is a piece I wrote about Texas Rangers’ Michael Young back in February.  It is now August and Young’s offensive numbers are .334/10/76.  Not bad for a guy in his mid thirties.  It looks like the Texas Rangers know their player and in what role he’ll have the most success.  Hey, even I may know a thing or two???  With less than two months left in the season, it will be interesting to see how well Young was able to transition from a starting position player to the regular DH.

Michael Young (.334 avg, 10 hr, 75 rbi)

 2/8/2011

 Rangers’ Young Not Happy with Role….SHOCKER!

Michael Young has spent his entire ten year major league career with the Texas Rangers.  The third baseman’s ascent to MLB stardom was as fast as a flight from Houston to Dallas.  That flight better be one that doesn’t charge for baggage because there is A LOT between Young and the Rangers.

Over the last couple of weeks the Rangers have asked Young to consider becoming the regular designated hitter and filling in as a super utility player when needed. This is not the first change Young has been asked to make.

Young has played three positions during his ten seasons with the Rangers.  Each one has brought an increase in offensive production the first year in the new position.  It has also brought its share of drama.

Young was brought up to the majors as the regular starting second baseman.  In his first three years he was able to bring offensive numbers of .276/34/183 to the plate.  After the departure of Alex Rodriguez in 2004 Young took over at shortstop for the next four seasons and his numbers jumped to .311/81/469.

In ’09, to make room for a younger Elvis Andrus with more range at shortstop, Young was asked to play third base.  This request did not go as well as the Rangers had hoped and culminated in a trade request.  No team was willing to bite, however, and forcing Young to back-peddle and accept the hot corner assignment.  The result?  Young had yet another jump in offensive production.  His batting average raised 38 points to .322 and almost doubled his previous home run total from 12 to 22 bombs.

With the 34 year old Young becoming the Rangers designated hitter room is made at third base for the recently signed Adrian Beltre – an upgrade both offensively and defensively.  And with Vladimir Guerrero now with the Baltimore Orioles, Young can be a great fit in the DH spot.

The result could be another increase in offensive production for Young and the Rangers.  Instead it has resulted in another trade request.  Is anyone surprised?

 

By Steve Bostwick 


Critical Stretch for NL West Leading Giants

The San Francisco Giants will end the month of July on the road against the first place Philadelphia Phillies and the fourth place Cincinnati Reds.  This six game road trip could prove to be the toughest the Giants have left on the schedule.

Today’s game is the first game on the road for the NL West leading Giants and is a rematch from the 2010 NLCS.  Like last postseason, the Phillies are regarded as the best team in baseball and have the best record in the game to back up such a claim.

The Phillies pitching staff’s ERA is second only to the Giants’ in large part to the starting rotation.  The Giants come into Philly at the right time as they will not have to face Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay or Roy Oswalt.  You might like the Giants chances but they will still have to face Cy Young candidate Cole Hamels who is 12-5 with a 2.62 ERA.  With Tim Lincecum scratched from today’s start with a stomach illness things are looking better for the Phillies.

The Giants then travel to Ohio to face the Cincinnati Reds for three games.  The Reds are having a down year compared to last year’s record but are always tough at Great American Ballpark.  The Reds have NL rankings of second in runs, fifth in batting average and fourth in home runs.  With 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto in the middle of the lineup, the Reds offense continues to be formidable.

When the Giants return home, they will open up a very tough home stand on August 1 where they will play host to the second place Arizona Diamondbacks (three games), four games with the Phillies and three games with the NL Central leading Pittsburgh Pirates. 

As teams stand now, there is not another stretch on the Giants schedule which include more teams with records above .500.  With the Giants ranking near last in all important offensive categories, the next 16 games will tell how great the pitching staff is, how badly the Giants need to acquire a middle of the order bat or both.

Either way, today the Giants start the most critical stretch of the 2011 season.

Steve Bostwick  


Will the Giants Have a New Rival?

I am one of many transplants in Southern California.  I am originally from the San Francisco Bay Area and have been away for ten years.  I miss it but hey, the weather in SoCal is awesome!  It’s a beautiful place so I can’t complain.

Another fun thing about living in SoCal is hearing the opinions of the sports media of opposing cities, especially when they are a rival of my favorite team the Giants.  Yep, the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants.  I love to say it and type it.  It never gets old.

With the recent controversial “ball spiking” by San Diego Padres relief pitcher Chad Qualls after tagging out Giants Andres Torres at home plate, the San Diego sports radio station is wondering if the Padres will take the place of the Dodgers as the Giants arch rival.  Giants players and their fans took issue with Qualls’ taunt but keep dreaming San Diego.  You wish!

Since I’ve followed baseball the Giants have had one rival and it is the Los Angeles Dodgers.  This rivalry dates back much longer than my life span.  They’ve been bitter rivals since both residing in New York.  With so many years as rivals it would take the Dodgers changing leagues or completely folding as a franchise, not just declaring Chapter 11.

So San Diego, it’s a nice thought but you may want to start barking up the tree of the Arizona Diamondbacks or add a little spice to Inter-league play’s “natural rivalry” between your Padres and the Seattle Mariners.  Or better yet, try to draw more Padres fans than Giants fans when the World Champs visit Petco Park next.  You may have a better chance at accomplishing that than trying to replace the Dodgers as the Giants closest rival.  Both are a stretch!


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