Carbon copy Giants can't get complacent


Carbon copy Giants can't get complacent

One of the things that has always motivated baseball teams when they go to the winter meetings is, “When can I get the hell out of here?”

In other words, urgency is high early to accomplish the things on the bucket list, so that by mid-week they can be at the airport. I mean, Nashville’s a nice town and all, but for as much as baseball people see of it, it might as well be Cedar Rapids.

So it is that the Giants had a great winter meetings. They got their two wish-list items fulfilled – Angel Anthony Pagan and Marcos (yeah, with a –s) Scutaro – and so their work is done.

[RELATED: Giants bring back Pagan | Scutaro signs for three years]

Plus, they did it while Brian Sabean was home miserable with what the team described as a respiratory problem. It’s probably that bastard flu that’s been going around, but far be it from us to pretend to be a doctor to a patient we haven’t seen.

Now turn your head and cough.

Sorry. Got lost for a moment there.

What they did was fill the holes they could fill. What they didn’t do, though, is make many changes in the team that sprinted best to the finish line in 2012, and therein lies the burning question, “Is this team too much like the last team?”

This was a problem in 2011, when several members of the All-Parade team didn’t stop celebrating when the streets were cleared. While most folks believe that Buster Posey being knocked into fresh angles was the thing that undid the season, the Giants turned out to be substandard at almost every everyday position, in part because their offense became a lethargic, out-of-shape mess.

There is no metric for it, trust us, but self-satisfaction in several places manifested itself as poorer numbers, with the result being a team so offensively deficient that it was a testament to Bruce Bochy’s skill that he could choke 86 wins out of it.

Sabean swore he would not do that again if he could help it, but the 2013 team looks remarkably like the one that finished 2012, and no, we don’t have any delightful alternatives to that result. We merely point out that the 2013 Giants start out as the 2012 Giants, and this was something the organ-eye-zation had hoped to avoid. But let's compare:

 2012  POS. 2013
 Buster Posey  C  Posey
 Brandon Belt  1B  Belt
 Marco Scutaro  2B  Scutaro
 Brandon Crawford  SS  Crawford
Pablo Sandoval  3B  Sandoval
 Gregor Blanco  LF  Blanco
 Angel Pagan  CF  Pagan
 Hunter Pence  RF  Pence


Oh, and the rotation will be the same, too. Maybe in a slightly different order, but the same five gentlemen will take the ball.

If there is still some tweakage to come, it will be subtle, maybe even imperceptible. Maybe they bring Brian Wilson back at a reduced salary and restore him to the closer’s role (why else would you bother?), and maybe they trim the branches on the low end of the bullpen tree.

And there is the matter of depth, which is always going to be an issue. Hector Sanchez and Joaquin Arias, sure, but Blanco will probably need a co-equal in left, and a power-hitting pinch-hitter who has not yet manifested himself would be a nice touch.

But for the most part, those Giants are these Giants. Rosters are not set in stone, and we have seen how midseason course corrections have helped them win two World Series, so this isn’t a crisis.

The lesson that needs to be imparted, repeated and hammered home to any and all is that 2011 happened because such a chunk of the roster was so happy and secure after 2010. The urgency that helps create great teams had gone, and even had Posey not been freight-trained in May, this was too flawed a team in too many places to make the playoffs again. They got, ultimately, what they deserved.

Thus, the Giants will have to be particularly vigilant this winter for signs of sloth, because those who enjoyed the fruits of victory are the same ones they will see come February. If this wants to be one of those teams with dynastic aspirations, it cannot lose a sixth of its offense as it did in 2011, and it cannot keep the party going forever. Winning requires many numbers, but it also demands a keen edge that the 2010 and 2012 teams developed and that the 2011 team never achieved.

And the first test of the 2013 Giants has begun – how to remember the day when 2012 ended, and not try to recreate it in all the ways that turned 2011 into a such a slovenly mess.

NFL disregards domestic violence, as Giants extend its tolerance scale


NFL disregards domestic violence, as Giants extend its tolerance scale

The National Football League has been reminded yet again that it neither understands nor cares to understand about domestic violence.

But it will do better, you may rest assured. They’ll have a week where all the on-field personnel wear purple to commemorate the bruises.

That’s what the NFL does when it can no longer ignore its own tone-deafness – they turn their stupidity into a marketing opportunity. After all, every social problem can be solved in the league’s eyes by figuring out a way for the league to monetize it.

The latest example of the NFL’s slack-jawed world view comes from New York, where the Giants could not and still cannot figure out what to do about kicker/serial domestic abuser Josh Brown except not let him go to London for the weekend.

This means the league has learned nothing from the Ray Rice incident, even as Rice of all people is showing on a regular basis how to learn from it. More than that, it means it has no interest in learning anything about it, and will never prioritize it beyond crisis-management level – “Uh-oh, something bad just happened. Quick, put it behind us.”

Then again, the league has been so relentlessly ham-handed on so many things that, as convenient as this may be for it, we should stop expecting it to do so, to the point that when someone from the league wants to explain some social issue to us we should simply say with one voice, “Oh, shut up, you yammering frauds.”

It is difficult to prioritize the number of ways the Giants failed to comprehend the problem currently smacking them between the numbers, although owner John Mara’s “He admitted to us he'd abused his wife in the past. What’s a little unclear is the extent of that” may summarize it nicely.

Put another way, one could make a case that the Giants extended the universal talent-tolerance scale (if you have the talent, anything can be tolerated until it can’t) to include placekickers.

That seems less likely, though, than the more obvious point that the league doesn’t regard domestic violence as something worth concerning itself with, while bloviating all the time about all the things with which it is concerned. The league is the beat cop who never gets out of his car to see what is happening on his beat, and is shocked when something does.

And while it will be handy to pile this atop the list of reasons why Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t get it, the truth is he is merely the painful rash that reveals the league’s case of shingles. The league’s 32 constituent elements are culpable here because ignorance in the face of so much evidence becomes willful, and Goodell’s skill is not in guiding the league but in figuring out where his 32 bosses want him to go, and avoiding all the places they don’t.

Hence, domestic violence. This is not an easy problem to solve, as any expert will say, but Mara trying to decide how many punches are enough isn’t it. The league’s six-game suspension guideline that is now four years old has never been imposed on any player. It wants the power to use the talent-tolerance scale at whim to do what it wishes when it wishes to do it.

Or in this case, not do anything at all until it has to, and then in as minimal a fashion as it can manage.

So, Josh Brown loses a week in a foreign country on the company dime as a trade-off for continually terrorizing his wife. The league says it punished him for a game but was powerless to do anything else while knowing all along how severe the problem had become.

In short, it did the minimum. Now that everyone knows the fullest extent of Brown’s abuse, and how much the league knew without doing anything, it will now extend the minimum out to what it thinks is a new minimum.

So we now know that the NFL is looking for some metric that will determine the transactional “extent of that,” as John Mara so eloquently put it for us. When it comes up with that formula, it will surely ignore that standard, because the real standard is still “talent-tolerance,” and the world is made up of concentric circles surrounding the people who make the league and its members a dollar more tomorrow than it made today.

And spouses are a long way from the center.

Silent but effective Sharks look to be an under-the-radar power

Silent but effective Sharks look to be an under-the-radar power

The National Hockey League began its 685th season (or whatever the hell it is; the other reason to know is for the yobs who have to authenticate the shoulder patches), and apparently is going to belong to Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid and the new focus on speed and attack and goals.

At least that was the talk after Night One of 179, in which the first three games of the new season featured some mid-‘80s level run-and-run play. The Ottawa-Toronto game gave us Matthews’ first four NHL goals in a game his Torontos lost, 5-4. The Edmonton-Calgary game finished 7-4, with the nonpareil McDavid scoring twice. Even the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks engaged in some fun-time up-and-down play in a 5-2 St. Louis victory.

But here, we get cold, hard sanity – the discipline and territorial integrity that is the hallmark of the new-ish and ever-so-slightly improved San Jose Sharks. They opened their defense of the Not-Quite-Stanley Cup with a very grind-y 2-1 win over the allegedly declining but still obstinate Los Angeles Kings.

[KURZ: Instant Replay: Couture, Burns push Sharks past Kings]

Guess which game won’t be talked about come the morning’s national rehashes. And guess who won’t give a farthing’s worth of damn.

Matthews and McDavid will of course dominate – Matthews, because he is a Toronto Maple Leafs and all things Leaf trump all things anything else in this still-defiantly Canadian league, and McDavid, because he helped usher in the brand new civic boondoggle . . . err, arena in Edmonton with two goals and the quote of the night.

“I don't think I touched the puck four times in my first game,” McDavid said, telling what is clearly a monumental whopper because he knows a good story when it is thrust upon him.

That will get run.

The Sharks, on the other hand, have resumed their plan running silent and running deep. Despite having the territorial and chance edges, the Skating Selachimorpha needed to stay true to their truth, which is that 11-goal games are not to their advantage, and that the sum of the whole must exceed its parts.

That’s how they got to hang a new banner from the rafters of The Old Grey Girl on Santa Clara Street – by keeping their heads when all about them are scoring theirs off.

Then again, the Sharks have older legs in key positions, greater expectations than Get The Puck To The Young’uns and Try Not To Finish 13th, and a coach in Peter (Chuckles) DeBoer who has the pressure of taking last year’s stealth success and finish the job the Pittsburgh Penguins prevented them from doing a year ago.

In short, the Sharks are likely to be just as under-the-radar this year as they were last, and assuming health and focus, they are still one of the two or three best teams in the Western Conference.

It’s just that they can’t run hither and yon chasing whatever puck looks tempting to them. Their first duty is to maintain defensive integrity, which they did with fervor and purpose Wednesday night, and their second is to see to it that goaltender Martin Jones is not oppressively treated by the opponent (San Jose outshot Los Angeles 31-22, and totally outshot the Kings, 73-58).

There was, in short, relatively little to make anyone wax euphoric about this team off one game, and in fairness, Kings coach Darryl Sutter knows how to keep games into the race-to-three stage, which may color the judgment some.

But the Sharks are playing the way they have learned works best for them, and that means gumming up passing (15 takeaways) and shooting lanes (21 blocked shots). They are like the Kings – well, the Kings of a couple of years ago – than they are the newest incarnations of the Oilers or Leafs, and based on history, that shall be considered a good thing.

Of course, the game, she is a’changing, and at some point in the next couple of years the changes that every season brings will become substantive ones, the old core will give way to a new one, and the current orthodoxy that speed is the most important component to happy-happy-win-joy will overtake San Jose.

DeBoer, though, showed against last night that is perfectly comfortable dancing with who brung him, as the kids no longer say, and making the most of what Providence has offered him. And Wednesday, as it did for most of the past year save the lost fortnight in Pennsylvania, that philosophy once again came up trumps.

Well, maybe that’s a saying we should probably forgo for awhile. Let’s just leave it at “Sharks, twice as many as Kings.” That’s a good enough result to get paid off in this league, and until DeBoer is asked for style points, that will more than suffice.