Ratto: Giants' blueprint has no precedent

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Ratto: Giants' blueprint has no precedent

June 28, 2011

RATTO ARCHIVEGIANTS PAGE GIANTSVIDEO

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What with the Giants scoring three days worth of runs in three innings Tuesday afternoon, this seems an odd time to bring it up.So what the hell? Lets do it anyway.When day dawned Tuesday, the Giants were the worst offensive team in baseball in the only category that truly matters runs scored. This would seem to eliminate them from postseason play just because the inability to produce runs ought to render your team Octoberifically useless.In fact, though, there are two models for success the Giants can cling to in this, their year of living Amish-ly. They are the 1985 Kansas City Royals and the 1973 New York Mets.

Going back to 1960, before the first expansion, only 15 teams have reached the World Series while having run support below the league average. Thats in 51 years and 102 league competitions. Most of those were near the league average, so the margin of error would seem to take care of them.But the 85 Royals, who beat St. Louis in seven games, ranked 13th in runs scored (of 14 teams), and the 73 Mets, who ranked 11th of 12, were bad by any measure, and as such become the templates for whatever dreams you might have about a repeat in the Thing on King.The Mets also hold the worst record of any team to make the postseason 82-79 so it can truly be said they achieved what they did by dealing directly with Satan. Indeed, they had no hitting, ranking last or next to last in every sensible metric, from batting average to OPS-plus, but their pitching was surprisingly uninspiring as well.The rotation started well enough, with Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack, and fourth starter George Stone went 12-3 with a 2.80 ERA. The bullpen, though, was even more problematic, with closer Tug McGraw being set up by the magnificent group of Ray Sadecki, Harry Parker, Phil Hennigan and Buzz Capra.In short, we can say that the 73 Mets essentially cheated all logic, which would be a harsh analysis when applied to the Giants.So lets consider instead the 85 Royals, who averaged 4.24 runs per game (almost .85 runs more per game than the Giants), were above average only in steals and almost never walked. They did play in a spacious ballpark, but were still average in extra base hits and only slightly below in home runs. So it can be said the Royals were better offensively than the Giants, even after you factor in the designated hitter.But the Giants, who arent even the best pitching team in the NL this year (Philadelphia and Atlanta have better numbers), had a similar starting staff and less inspiring bullpen.Bret Saberhagen went 20-6 in his second year in the big leagues, which is dominantreminiscent of Tim Lincecum, and the rest of the rotation was equally comparable. Charlie Leibrandt would be the Matt Cain, Danny Jackson the Madison Bumgarner and Buddy Black the Jonathan Sanchez, which all due respect to Black. After all that, Mark Gubicza outranks either Barry Zito or Ryan Vogelsong reputation-wise, making the starters roughly even.Dan Quisenberry is surely Brian Wilsons equivalent, if not his superior, but the setup men Joe Beckwith, Mike Jones, Steve Farr and the redoubtable Mike LaCoss dont compare with San Franciscos. Some of that is due to the fact that bullpens are constructed more completely than they used to be, but only Farr, who pitched in just 16 games, had presentable numbers. That may explain the 27 complete games (slightly above league average for 1985), two less than the Giants have had since 2006.Comparing statistics in this way is a fairly dodgy way to go, because the baseball of 26 years ago is, well, the baseball of 26 years ago. But as there is no recent parallel for the Giants excelling this way, one has to go well back to find teams that might.So until we get furtherbetter evidence, lets say the Giants have the rotation of the 85 Royals, the hitters of the 73 Mets, and the bullpen of neither. If that helps. Which it probably doesnt.

Raiders' magic dissipates, but valuable lesson about contending learned

Raiders' magic dissipates, but valuable lesson about contending learned

So the Oakland Raiders are good, but not magical, let alone soaked in destiny. So they can make every game a hard slog for the opponent, but they are not invulnerable. So they can be inefficient, and too sure of themselves, and terribly wasteful when they’re cold.

In other words, they are part of the National Football League – no longer too good to be true.

Their performance against the Chiefs in Kansas City was a pyramid of blown opportunities, opportunities made necessary by a terrible start. A week ago, against a borderline playoff team, they could get away with it. Thursday, on hostile ground, against a team that has lost three of its previous 23 regular season games and has a defense that specializes in standing on your chest until you whistle Yankee Doodle through your navel, they couldn’t.

The result of the 21-13 loss in a game with 12 more points than degrees of temperature is that the Raiders are now the fifth-best team in the American Football Conference rather than the first-best team with four more chances to change that position.

In other words, Thursday’s defeat only provided this much wisdom: The Raiders are a good team vulnerable to other good teams with an iron-plated sense of purpose, stubborn defenses that can apply and maintain a chokehold for hours on end, and offenses that don’t feel compelled to imitate Oakland’s offense by getting into a shootout.

And also this: There is nothing that would necessarily prevent them from beating the Chiefs in case of a third match, even though Kansas City held them to fewer points in two games than they scored in every other game save one. They are still, as the pedants say, “in the argument.”

But they have flaws to be exposed against the right team in the right situation. Kansas City has been that team twice, and New England probably is, but there the list probably stops. Nobody in the AFC North or South seems terribly capable of matching them in neutral conditions, but here’s the other bone spur:

The playoffs are not about neutral conditions.

The Raiders have come a long way in what most people think is a long time, but in fact in terms of team construction, you can throw out everything before 2013, and almost everything before 2015. They are just now getting a full understanding of the hardest part of becoming a Super Bowl contender – the other Super Bowl contenders.

Yes, Kansas City has an indifferent playoff history under Andy Reid, but it is clear that under current conditions the Chiefs are serious players. And while we have no link to how the Raiders would fare against new England, we are pretty sure that they wouldn’t want to play the second weekend of January arse-deep in snow in Foxborough.

The point? Now they get how hard this contender stuff really is. They could not have learned that lesson any other way – not anyone they’ve played yet save Kansas City.

Their next lessons come in Weeks 16 and 17, when they face the frantically desperate Indianapolis Colts in Oakland and then the Broncos in Denver the week after. Desperate teams can be very difficult indeed, especially to teams that are safe and dry and home, playoff-wise.

And then there are the actual playoffs, which if they were played today would have the Raiders traveling to Houston for a very winnable game against the stultifying Texans. The week after, they could be either in Kansas City again or in New England, getting a gut full of visiting field disadvantage.

But as a learning experience, the Raiders may have come out very well indeed. They now know in very real and personal ways the real difference between where they think they should be and where they are, as well as how many ways this can go terribly wrong between now and then.

And also how well it can go, if they learn what the Chiefs taught them again Thursday.

Marshall's admission a reminder culture of health doesn't exist

Marshall's admission a reminder culture of health doesn't exist

Brandon Marshall of the New York Jets had one of his greatest games ever against the San Francisco 49ers two years ago and remembers almost none of it, because, as he told reporters Wednesday, he was cloudy-minded on painkillers.

This admission is one more reminder that sports are not necessarily good for one’s health, in large part because the culture of health in sports really doesn’t exist.

There is, rather, a culture of ordnance, and the players are the weaponry.

Marshall’s acknowledgement that he was masking pain from a high ankle sprain that should have kept him out of action for “four to six weeks,” by his own estimation but had him returning to action 10 days after the original injury.

“I’ll say it: I took a couple pain pills, so . . . I took a couple of pain pills to mask the pain,” he said on a conference call with CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco. “I really wasn’t supposed to play. So I don’t remember much from that game. I just remember catching those balls. That was pretty much it.”

We now re-enter the culture of playing when it isn’t prudent, either out of a misplaced sense of bravado or employer-based pressure to perform (there is no direct statement from Marshall saying that the painkillers were given to him by the team). The sense of bravado, which most athletes have, probably can never be legislated, and the culture of downward pressure to perform no matter what the infirmity has proven immensely difficult to conquer.

But there is another factor here, and that is the general lack of efficacy of painkillers. Warriors coach Steve Kerr took to using a form of medicinal marijuana because the painkillers he was taking for long-lingering symptoms from his back surgery were doing more harm than good. He said he found the marijuana was equally lacking, but he had enough concerns about the deleterious effects of Vicodin, OxyContin and other standard medications assigned to athletes in pain.

“I’m not a pot person; it doesn’t agree with me,” Kerr told CSN Bay Area’s Monte Poole on the Warriors Insider Podcast. “I’ve tried it a few times, and it did not agree with me at all. So I’m not the expert on this stuff. But I do know this: If you’re an NFL player, in particular, and you’ve got a lot of pain, I don’t think there is any question that pot is better for your body than Vicodin. And yet athletes everywhere are prescribed Vicodin like it’s Vitamin C, like it’s no big deal.”

He later expanded on that after the initial “Kerr Is A Sparker” headlines hit the Internet.

“Having gone through a tough spell over the last year with my own recovery from back surgery, a lot of pain, a lot of chronic pain, I had to do a lot of research,” he said. “You get handed prescriptions for Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet . . . NFL players, that’s what they’re given. That stuff is awful. That stuff is dangerous, the addiction possibility, what it can lead to, the long-term health risks. The issue that’s really important is how do we do what’s best for the players.

“But I understand that it’s a perception issue around the country. The NFL, the NBA, it’s a business. So you don’t want your customers thinking, ‘These guys are a bunch of potheads.’ That’s what it is. To me, it’s only a matter of time before medicinal marijuana is allowed in sports leagues because the education will overwhelm the perception. If you do any research at all, the stuff they’re prescribing is really bad for you and the stuff that they’re banning is fine.”

It is instructive, then, that when Marshall was asked for his position on the NFL’s stance not to include marijuana as a permissible substance for pain management, substance, a Jets public-relations employee who could be heard in the background of the call saying that Marshall “knows better than that.”

But Marshall did answer the question, saying in essence that he fully intends to know better, period.

“That is something that I actually want to research more this offseason when I have time,” he said. “I’m not a guy that knows about the benefits of what it can do for pain and other things. But I’d like to hear others’ opinions and really research the effects it can have on us – positives and negatives.”

In the meantime, sports soldiers on, using increasingly debunked methods for dealing with the pain their businesses inflict upon their employees and issuing warnings about breaching the silence of the workplace. But tales like Marshall’s will continue to surface until the businesses that require him and his like come to grips with the toll of their shortsightedness and, in some cases, neglect.