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.

The neck-breaking rise and fall of daily fantasy sports


The neck-breaking rise and fall of daily fantasy sports

The apparent cratering of the Draft Kings/Fan Duel phenomenon is largely a tale of greed gone wild, with coatings of arrogance and bullying through advertising, not to mention naked avarice, raw cupidity and what the Greeks used to call “pleonexia,” which is Greek for greed, avarice and cupidity.

It is a tale of what happens when you try to game a system that’s bigger than your own without cutting the people who run the bigger system in on the goods. It’s alleged wise guys finding out that it’s easier to skirt the law when you make the law. And it’s very definitely guys who got out over their skis trying to dominate a market that was doing fine on its own.

And hey, what’s better than smart guys getting theirs?

But there is actually a greater lesson in this for all of us, and it is this: Fantasy sports leagues are best left as small, interactive tribes whose competitors see each other, talk with each other, exchange money with each other and socialize (re: drink beer) with each other. The phenomenon began as an entirely holistic and communal idea in the 1960s in Oakland surrounding the still-larval American Football League, and grew on the ground level in other sports, in bars, rec rooms, bars, office break rooms, bars, vacations, bars, taverns, and ultimately, bars.

It was a way for friends to gather and ignore the bigger issues of living (like, say, families, which are far too time consuming, expensive and always end up with the parents battling desperately for a tie in a game once it becomes clear that they cannot win).

It was not meant to be mass-produced, let alone dominated by the guy with the best algorithms. That’s not sports, that’s math, and when was the last time you said, “Honey, I’m going out. Some math teachers are getting together to raise a little hell, and I don’t want to miss it”?

So never mind the “The DraftDuelers and FanKings tried to pull a fast one” angle, even though they did. Ignore the “They got too big and too grabby too fast” narrative, even though they did that, too.

What happened here was a perverse monetization of something that didn’t actually need improving or enlarging, because it was perfectly good the way it was. And perverse monetization is the path to perdition, I think we can all agree.

The fantasy industry also made a fatal error by trying to say for legal reasons that it wasn’t gambling, which it clearly was – except in one very granular way that nobody ever addresses.

Gambling, as in finding a bookie who will let you bet on games in any manner of exotic fashions, is meant to be a solitary pursuit left best for quiet brooders. If you have Seattle plus the 1½ when everyone else is bitching about the evils of a 6-6 overtime tie, you quietly accept your incredible good fortune and start to handicap Broncos-Texans, which you probably lost.

Fantasy sports, on the other hand, are meant to be shared, but only with those in your particular fantasy league as opposed to all other people, who do not give a steaming chalky damn about your made-up aggregation of athletes and actively hate you for breaching their worlds with your relentless yammering about your alternate-universe imaginings.

Put another way, people who tell you about their fantasy teams are people who need to be taken into the desert and abandoned. And people who commit these crimes should be allowed to avoid hypothermia, dehydration and coyote dinner only by making regular offerings of alcohol and foodstuffs to those whose peace and quiet they have thoughtlessly breached.

And the industrialization of fantasy sports was the last frontier of that obnoxio-hateful social development. It used commercial television to beat us all to death with something only a few of us cared about, and it reminded us that our culture loathes two things above all others – people trying to pull a fast one, and people telling us repeatedly about things we’re not remotely interested in hearing.

In other words, even if you were planning to be saddened by the collapse of the first wave of industrialized fantasy sports, don’t. They were people trying to cut themselves in on action that wasn’t theirs, and make a national phenomenon out of a social development best confined to a single room with six-to-20 people, all of whom had the good sense to bring wine and snacks.

I mean, seriously. Why would you want to screw with that setup?

Very bad 49ers stay tumbling in truly lost 2016 season

Very bad 49ers stay tumbling in truly lost 2016 season

You can almost hear the sound whistling between the 49ers’ teeth at this point, beneath the droned platitudes and vague responses to what is a fully lost season:

“Look, what do you want from us? This is who we are.”

You can almost hear it, that is. They wouldn’t dare express such rampant defeatism – I mean, if they didn’t after Sunday’s 34-17 muzzling at the hands, arms, torsos and feet of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it’s unlikely you would hear it at any point.

But they must surely know by now that this is a season already in the rear-view mirror. There are no secret plans, or stashed players, or untried ideas left to unearth, sign or try. The coming bye week will not clear their heads and give them new inspiration, save that of having a week off from the steady beatings. They are 1-6 on merit, and proved it again yesterday before another dispirited two-thirds-of-a-sellout crowd which is coming to realize that their hope is a mile wide and an inch deep.

[MAIOCCO: Kelly: No changes to 49ers defensive staff after loss]

Sunday, for example, Colin Kaepernick was their best running back, Shaun Draughn was their best receiver, the downed kickoff was their best special teams play, and their best strategic decision – well, they lost the coin flip so they didn’t even get a chance to defer the opening kickoff.

And their defense? It only allowed whatever Tampa Bay wanted, and only on demand. Jacquizz Rodgers became the sixth running back to gain 100 yards against them (and the first to do it in one half), which is noteworthy only because they allowed five all last year in a bad season, and nine in the four seasons before that, four of those by Marshawn Lynch.

And quarterback Jameis Winston threw the ball to wide-open receivers and into coverage with the same sense of well-placed bravado. Though his numbers didn’t exactly aurora the borealis (21-of-30, 269, 3/1, 117.2), he never emitted a sense that he couldn’t do whatever he wanted – save get the officials to give him a better spot when he snapped and cost his team a potential touchdown with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for headless-chickening.

In other words, this was not materially different than the Buffalo game, or the Seattle game, or the Carolina game. The only game that has been different is the opener against Los Angeles, when everything worked and made sense and life was happy and Jed York hummed “I Am 16 Going On 17” all through the suite all night long.

That game was 50,000 years ago. These are who the 49ers are now, and who they are going to be for awhile to come.

They speak of consistency, and yet they are the very model of it – leading the league in punts, and ranking second in three-and-outs, 27th in first downs and 31st in plays per drive. They don’t stay on the field, in other words, and when on defense, they allow 118 more yards per game than their offense gets them.

And they swear with unanimity that they are together as a team, and work hard each week to achieve the acme of their talents and learning. So this, if that is so, must be at or near the top of their game – which, as head coach for now and the future Chip Kelly (stop thinking this is just a coaching problem, please) put it, “We’re not doing what it takes to be successful right now.”

That was in response to a question about whether the 49ers were going backwards. He ducked the issue by saying, “I don’t think forwards or backwards,” which is probably a lie, but we can help anyway.

They have gone dramatically backwards since Game 1, and essentially stagnated since Game 2. It’s how they have gotten to where they are right now, and how they have become who they are right now.

It may be that stranger things have happened in the NFL than a team starting 1-6 and rallying to win eight, nine or 10 in a row, but on this team, based all the available evidence, this team won’t be that strange. They have revealed themselves for what they actually are, which is not good enough to change what they actually are.

And if that is too tough a sentence for you to swallow, well, go out and write some of your own. You can tell any tale you want, but this is the tale of the 2016 San Francisco 49ers, a team awash in unpleasant self-realization and the knowledge that there is nothing to be done but to go out each week and do it again.

Except next week, of course. Bye may be a favorite, but Bye must be played, just like all the others.