Postseason on the line as Giants open with D'backs


Postseason on the line as Giants open with D'backs

Sept. 2, 2011

GIANTS (72-65) vs.
ARIZONA (78-59)

Coverage begins at 6:30 P.M. on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) A series that for so long has been billed as an early September showdown between division rivals has suddenly turned into San Francisco's last stand.

If the reigning World Series champion Giants want to keep any hopes alive of defending their title, they had better show up - and score runs - in this weekend's crucial matchup with the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks.

The D-backs (78-59) hold a six-game lead in the NL West race with 25 to go for each club and are riding a nine-game winning streak. Both teams had the day off Thursday to rest up for what most certainly will be an intense, entertaining three days at sold-out AT&T Park.

Even the Giants acknowledge this very well could be make-or-break.

"I don't see how it couldn't be," outfielder Pat Burrell said. "I think this team responds better when all the chips are out on the table. There's no secret, these guys are coming in and they've proven they deserve to be where they're at. And we've slipped, no doubt about it. But it isn't over. We're going to fight this thing out."

URBAN: Giants on the brink vs. Diamondbacks
General manager Brian Sabean shook things up Wednesday when he designated for assignment veterans Aaron Rowand and Miguel Tejada. Promising shortstop Brandon Crawford is among the reinforcements expected to arrive Friday as September callups for the reeling Giants.

San Francisco swept a three-game home series against Arizona from May 10-12 with three one-run wins, then the D-backs took two of three here Aug. 1-3 by beating All-Star aces Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum.

"Playing there is always really exciting," Arizona 17-game winner Ian Kennedy said. "Their pitching staff, you know they're going to throw well there. It's kind of like a playoff atmosphere. I think this time is going to be a little more interesting because it's flipped around. We were chasing them the last time there, now they're chasing us."

As always, Arizona skipper Kirk Gibson insists his team is sticking to its mantra: handling business that's within the D-backs' control, not worrying about what the Giants might be doing to tweak their roster and make a last-ditch run.

Even if that's been challenging to do lately.

"It's tough to not look at the Giants every day and what they're doing, but I'm sure they're doing the same thing, watching us," Arizona center fielder Chris Young said. "We have a lot of tough games coming up and we have to prepare for those. And I feel like if we can do that, we'll be all right."

Nobody expects this division to be won just yet.

But Arizona has surprised the skeptics with its staying power and exceptional pitching under first-year general manager Kevin Towers. The banged-up Giants haven't helped themselves by stumbling since the All-Star break, either.

"We're pushing a big rock uphill," Sabean said. "We know that we're running out of games. But we've all been involved in seasons that have turned on the dime - 1998 was an example, last year was an example. You never know what's going to happen in the last month of the season. Strange things happen, so there's still hope."

San Francisco clinched its first NL West crown and playoff berth since 2003 on the final day of the 2010 regular season against San Diego. Then, the club made an improbable run through the Braves and favored Phillies on the way to capturing its first World Series championship since moving West from New York in 1958.

The Giants got a big boost from Madison Bumgarner in Wednesday's 4-0 win over the Cubs, which snapped a three-game losing streak and avoided a three-game sweep.

RELATED: Insider gallery: Giants defeat Cubs

Manager Bruce Bochy can only hope the strong day by his hitters will "send some confidence throughout the lineup."

Bumgarner did his part, and now San Francisco has its top three pitchers lined up to face the D-backs: Cain on Friday night, then Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong.

"It's going to be close, maybe not make-or-break but it's the biggest series we've got so far," Bumgarner said.

Arizona wrapped up a three-game sweep of the Rockies with a 4-2 win Wednesday night.

Gibson surely will stick with what has been working.

"Whoever we put out there, whoever we put at a position, I think we have a belief that we expect to win," he said. "Not that we will every day, but we understand that our competitors have to respect us. There's no overconfidence, but an expectation. The preparation has been excellent. They've been on board with every different thing that we've tried in preparing, and it's worked out well."

For the Giants, it has been a different story.

Many of those "castoffs and misfits" - as Bochy so fondly called them - who won over the fans last September have faltered: Aubrey Huff, NLCS MVP Cody Ross, Mike Fontenot. Burrell just returned from a strained right foot that sidelined him for 43 games.

This year, Carlos Beltran came aboard at the trading deadline from the Mets and he has been a disappointment. He spent time on the DL with a wrist and hand injury.

San Francisco lost reigning NL Rookie of the Year catcher Buster Posey to a season-ending broken leg after a May 25 home-plate collision with Florida's Scott Cousins. Then, sure-handed second baseman Freddy Sanchez was done for the year after labrum surgery on his right shoulder last month.

During the club's recent 4-6 road trip, San Francisco placed five players on the DL and six others missed time with injuries.

That has made for a lot of mixing and matching by Bochy to piece his lineup together each day.

"The one trait that all these guys have that I really appreciate, especially this year even though it's been a haywire year, is they come in wanting to play," Sabean said. "They try to get ready to play. They put their work in. It's not an easy situation. The juggling act has been very difficult, maybe because we've been moving pieces or maybe because nobody's been good enough to hold onto a job or stay consistent enough to be established in the lineup."

On some days, they flat out can't score. There are missed chances with runners in scoring position, or else costly mistakes.

The Giants managed only 78 runs in August, their lowest monthly total since scoring 77 in April 2009, and their 11-18 record marked the club's fewest wins in a month since getting 10 victories in April 2009.

San Francisco plays at Arizona during the season's final week - but those games might not matter.

"I see it as the glass (half-full)," Mark DeRosa said. "Six games is not insurmountable. We've played as poorly as we can play the last month. We've definitely got our work cut out for us, but we've been in this position before. We're going to fight."

Report: Shanahan 'almost certain' to accept 49ers' offer

Report: Shanahan 'almost certain' to accept 49ers' offer

Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is reportedly “almost certain” to accept the 49ers’ offer to become head coach.

Shanahan is the lone remaining candidate among the six individuals who interviewed with 49ers executives Jed York and Paraag Marathe. The 49ers plan for a second interview with Shanahan and a job offer, a source told Shanahan is expected to accept the 49ers’ offer, reports Michael Silver of the NFL Network, citing sources familiar with both parties.

The 49ers continued to work Tuesday evening on the process of narrowing down the general manager choices, a source said. Shanahan is expected to play a role in the select the team’s next GM, sources said.

On Tuesday, Seattle offensive line coach Tom Cable and Seahawks co-director of player personnel Trent Kirchner removed their names from consideration for the vacant coach and general manager positions. The 49ers fired Chip Kelly and Trent Baalke after the 49ers' 2-14 season.

One source said Cable and Kirchner believed the 49ers were using them as leverage to hire Shanahan. Cable interviewed with 49ers co-chair Denise DeBartolo York over the phone on Tuesday, NFL Network reported.

The 49ers are allowed to interview Shanahan for a second time after the Falcons’ NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. The 49ers are prohibited from hiring or making a formal contract offer to Shanahan until the Falcons' season has concluded.

The top remaining candidates for the general manager job are believed to be Green Bay executives Brian Gutekunst and Eliot Wolf, Arizona's Terry McDonough and Minnesota's George Paton.

Wilcox embracing challenge, will change the way Cal looks on field


Wilcox embracing challenge, will change the way Cal looks on field

BERKELEY — With more than a half-century without a Rose Bowl berth, tougher academic standards than most Pac-12 schools and lackluster fan support in a pro-sports focused market, there are plenty of hurdles for a football coach at California.

Coach Justin Wilcox took the job for the Golden Bears because he embraces those obstacles and he wants players who feel the same way as he seeks to rebuild a program that has one winning record in the past five years and no conference championships since 1958.

"When you come here, there are challenges," Wilcox said at his introductory news conference Tuesday. "You don't come here and go through school and just go through the motions. You'll be challenged in the classroom, challenged on the football field and learn to interact in a dynamic society. I believe in that and that helps guys grow."

Wilcox faces many hurdles in his new job replacing the recently fired Sonny Dykes less than three weeks before national signing day. He has to put together a coaching staff, evaluate the players already on campus and try to keep together, and even add to, a recruiting class that committed to a different staff.

Athletic director Mike Williams fired Dykes after four seasons on Jan. 8 because he wanted a coach committed to Cal instead of flirting with other jobs and needed someone who could excite a fan base that often stayed away from Memorial Stadium in recent years as the Bears teamed porous defenses with sometimes exciting offenses while posting a 19-30 record.

Williams had five finalists for the job but chose a former Cal assistant with a defensive background and familiarity with the Pac-12 as an assistant for seven years at three schools in the conference.

"He truly gets this place, he truly gets coaching in the West," Williams said. "He came in and was very organized and thoughtful. He knew what he wanted to do and who he wanted to hire. ... It's a special place and I think he'll treat it as a special place."

While Dykes flirted with job openings at Houston and Baylor this past offseason in part because of his concern about increased academic standards for recruits, the Bears hope Wilcox is someone who wants to stick around after more than a decade of being on a self-described "windy" path as a top defensive coach.

The former Oregon defensive back began his coaching career in 2001 as a graduate assistant at Boise State. He spent three years as linebackers coach under Jeff Tedford at Cal from 2003-05 when the Bears nearly ended their Rose Bowl drought during a 10-win season with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback in 2004.

Wilcox has spent the past 11 years as a defensive coordinator with stops at Boise State, Tennessee, Washington, Southern California and finally Wisconsin, where he helped the Badgers field a top 10 defense and win the Cotton Bowl.

Wilcox has worked and played for many successful coaches, including Tedford, Chris Petersen, Dan Hawkins, Mike Bellotti, and Paul Chryst.

"I've been extremely fortunate to work for and with people I learned so much from," he said. "Each step along the way, I've seen it done a lot of different ways. I'm not trying to be any of those people. I always try to take pieces and make it my own."

Wilcox has begun putting together his staff, having hired former Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin as offensive coordinator and longtime Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood to fill that role on the Bears.

The Bears will look very different under Wilcox than Dykes. Wilcox said he will recruit tight ends as Cal moves from the spread "Bear Raid" offense that relied on four receivers almost exclusively to a more balanced offense with tight ends and more power concepts.

While he will delegate most of the offensive responsibilities to Baldwin, Wilcox said he will be more involved on defense where he wants to find players who can fit into his base 3-4 system.

Cal ranked 125th in total defense, 127th in scoring defense and 122nd in yards per play out of 128 FBS teams last season on the way to a 5-7 record.

"Every second is critical right now," Wilcox said. "I will not sacrifice the long-term good of the program for what everyone wants which is certainty. Things will happen quickly. I understand the recruits have some anxiety about the situation and there's emotions involved. That's totally understandable. I'd feel the same way."