Giants all-business amid Opening Day 'hoopla'

439881.jpg

Giants all-business amid Opening Day 'hoopla'

April 7, 2011ST. LOUIS (2-4) vs.GIANTS (2-4)URBAN: GIANTS WITH A LOT ON THEIR PLATE
Coverage begins at 12 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Returning home for the first time as the reigning World Series champions might be what the Giants need to overcome a slow start.

Opening a weekend-long celebration of last year's achievements, the Giants will raise their title flag Friday before facing the St. Louis Cardinals at AT&T Park.

REWIND: Giants World Series page

Though San Francisco went 2-4 at Los Angeles and San Diego, the atmosphere should be electric for the home opener and throughout the weekend. The Giants will receive their championship rings Saturday, and reigning NL rookie of the year Buster Posey will be honored Sunday.

"For a couple of games there's going to be a lot of hoopla," manager Bruce Bochy said. "It's going to be special."

"I'm sure the guys are looking forward to getting home," he said. "We have to enjoy the moment. But at the same time, you've got to put your so-called game faces on. These games are important. We need to play well. We need to play better."

Bochy, however, knows his team must stay focused on the Cardinals. All four of San Francisco's losses came by two or fewer runs.

RELATED: St. Louis stats roster depth chart

Scheduled starter Jonathan Sanchez believes the Giants not only must improve this weekend, but find a way to play better overall than they did in 2010.

"It's a new year, a new season. We've got to work. We've got to win this year," he said. "We've got to work harder, because there's going to be a lot of teams out there that want to beat us. We're just going to bring the same thing we did last year to this year and go from there."

Slugger Albert Pujols is 4 for 22 with one of those home runs, but isbatting .478 with three homers his last six games in San Francisco. Heis 4 for 5 with a double versus Sanchez.

The Giants should have some momentum after ace Tim Lincecum struck out 13 and Posey, Aubrey Huff and Pablo Sandoval each had three hits in Wednesday's 8-4 win over the Padres.
San Francisco has scored 18 runs in its two victories, but only 10 in the losses.

Posey, 4 for 12 with two doubles versus St. Louis, has hit safely in all six games.
A 13-game winner in 2010, Sanchez hopes for a better result Friday after he allowed four runs -- two earned -- while striking out eight and walking three in 5 2-3 innings of a 4-3 loss to the Dodgers on Friday.
RELATED: Holliday runs Tuesday, swings a bat Wednesday

The left-hander has been solid in two starts versus St. Louis, going 1-0 with a 2.89 ERA.
Sanchez will face a Cardinals' lineup without slugger Matt Holliday, who will miss a sixth straight game after undergoing an appendectomy. Manager Tony La Russa believes Holliday could return later on the team's 10-game western swing.

St. Louis (2-4) also hopes to rebound after a rough homestand versus San Diego and Pittsburgh.

Opening their trip in San Francisco won't make things easier. The Cardinals have lost eight of 12 at AT&T Park since winning their last series there May 22-24, 2006.

"It's a tough road trip," outfielder Lance Berkman told the Cardinals' official website. "We go in there, and the pitching doesn't get any easier obviously when you have the Giants."

The Cardinals, who have not scored more than three runs in any game, are hitting .231 and have two homered twice in 2011.

REWIND: Correia pitches Pirates past St. Louis

Scheduled starter Jake Westbrook has a hit this season, but the Cardinals need him to fare better on the mound after he allowed up eight runs and walked five in 4 1-3 innings of an 11-3 loss to the Padres on Saturday.

The right-hander gave up three runs three runs in six innings of a 6-3 loss in his only previous outing against the Giants on Aug. 20.

Despite loss, Sharks 'in a good spot' headed into bye week

sharks-win-bruins.jpg
USATSI

Despite loss, Sharks 'in a good spot' headed into bye week

SAN JOSE – Despite what was technically their sixth loss in the last eight games, the Sharks seemed to put more stock in the point they gained in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Bruins on Sunday night at SAP Center, rather than the one they left on the table.

They have that luxury. 

The Sharks will enter their bye week five points ahead of Edmonton and Anaheim for first place in the Pacific Division, and figure they’re due for some time off after a short summer followed by a World Cup for some, and a brutal condensed NHL schedule for all.

“[We’ve] showed up and played hard,” Joe Pavelski said. “We’ve been in a lot of games. Games we’ve lost, we’ve battled. There hasn’t been any cheat in [our] game. Defensively, we’ve been strong. There’s a lot of good areas in our game that we like right now.”

Playing in the second of a back-to-back against a Bruins team had was coming off of its own bye week, the Sharks fell behind 1-0 on a first period goal by Ryan Spooner, but notched a Patrick Marleau equalizer in a second period in which they outshot the Bruins 16-9. An evenly played third period gave way to overtime, where Brad Marchand scored on a breakaway to give the Bruins their fourth straight win since changing head coaches.

The Sharks spoke before the weekend about finishing the final two games strong before the respite. They ended up gaining three of four points, including Saturday’s 4-1 win in Arizona, and were pleased with their effort against the Bruins as they capped off 10 games in 20 days since the All-Star break.

“It was an important push into this break,” Pete DeBoer said. “To go in up [five points] on the next closest team is a real testament to our group.”

Paul Martin said: “I thought we played pretty well, considering the back-to-back with some travel, and a team that was waiting for us.”

Perhaps the most encouraging performance came from Martin Jones, who was one of a number of Sharks players that was looking particularly fatigued lately. The goaltender entered the game with a 1-0-2 record, 4.46 goals-against average and .837 save percentage in his last four starts, including getting pulled after the first period in Boston just 10 days ago.

Jones was impressive, though, making a vital pad stop on the dangerous David Pastrnak in front of the net midway through the third period to keep it a 1-1 score.

“It was a good game. Two teams playing hard,” Jones said. “We can take a lot of positives from that one. It was a good hard game, just didn’t go our way tonight.”

Overtimes have been an issue lately, though. The Sharks have lost their last four games decided during the three-on-three, all coming within the last two weeks. As satisfied as they are with their cushion in the division, it could have been cushier.

Against the Bruins, Tuukka Rask denied Brent Burns on a two-on-one in overtime, and Marchand scored off of the ensuing faceoff, blowing the zone past Pavelski and Marc-Edouard Vlasic and corralling a long toss from Torey Krug before sliding it home.

“We get to overtime, shootouts – we expect to get that extra point,” Pavelski said. “We haven’t found it lately. We’ll just keep looking for it.”

DeBoer said: “The points are critical, they’re valuable. I don’t read a lot into [overtime decisions], we’ve won our share over the time I’ve been here. We had a chance to win tonight, too. … I concentrate on the effort, and I thought we got better as the game went on.”

Being focused and energized, as they have been most of the season to this point, shouldn’t be a problem when the season resumes next Saturday in Vancouver. The Sharks are in prime position to win their first division title since 2010-11, and a return trip to the Stanley Cup Final is a distinct possibility.

Losing six of eight won’t be nearly as acceptable coming out of the break as it apparently is going into it, but that’s not something to worry about now, even after another defeat. 

“There are some games you wish you could get back and get those points, but we’re still in a good spot,” Marleau said.

Trading Cousins is the ultimate Kingstastic move

Trading Cousins is the ultimate Kingstastic move

There was a lot of complaining about the lack of defense in this year’s All-Star Game, as though last year’s All-Star Game didn’t happen.

But the Most Valuable Player, which was putatively Anthony Davis for scoring a record 52 points in front of his home crowd, was actually the man with the fewest minutes of all.

Yes, the man, the god, The DeMarcus Cousins. The Very Definition Of A Sacramento King, By Becoming An Ex-Sacramento King.

Cousins, now the second-best player on the New Orleans Pelicans, played only two minutes Sunday, the lowest total by any All-Star since Connie Hawkins in 1971, ostensibly because he told head coach Steve Kerr he was a little ouchy, but more likely because the Kings were frantically trying to trade him and didn’t want him hurting himself in a game with even no contact whatsoever.

Not during the All-Star Break, mind you. DURING THE ALL-STAR GAME ITSELF! Adam Silver must have been vomiting hedgehogs into a bucket at the very thought.

As it turns out, the Kings, who have sworn up and down that they would never consider trading Cousins, did that very thing, closing a deal to send Cousins and forward Omri Casspi to the New Orleans Pelicans for a first and second-round pick in the upcoming draft, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway (who is likely to be waived in true Kings fashion) and 2016 first-rounder Buddy Hield.

You remember Buddy Hield. He’s the guy who clocked Cousins in the joy division going around a Cousins pick during the last Pelicans-Kings game, and got tossed for doing so.

In other words, the Kings prefer the guy who punched their best player in the goolies to their best player. This is so Kingsy.

But on the back end, Cousins’ agent, Jarinn Akana, said Cousins is disinclined to sign a long-term contract with his next team, making him a rental who could some day return to Sacramento in a Groundhog's Day remake that would cause the Oroville Dam to get up and walk off the job.

This too is so Kingsy.

This is the greatness of the Kings. They blew up the All-Star weekend during the game itself. They blew it up trying to get rid of their best player when they are within fighting distance of their first playoff spot in 11 years. They blew it up after saying they weren’t considering trading the dynamite at all.

Kingsy, Kingsy, Kingsy. It’s Kingstastic!

And the best part of it all is that the trade leaves everyone deflated and confused and ultimately angry, while the Kings undervalued their only marketable player to invest in a future they have mocked for decades.

You know what we;’re talking about. Gimme a K! Gimme an I! Gimme an N-G-S, throw an extraneous Y on the end of it what does it spell?

Yeah. Right.

It’s remarkable thing, being a King. While we have all amused ourselves with the machinations of the thick-as-two-short-planks New York Knicks and Carmelo Anthony, the Kings have been Kinging this way for most of the last 35 years.

And now, they have decided to feed their obsession with the Golden State Warriors by running even further away from them, by tossing their only bargaining chip for a future player or players that they typically ruin, and Buddy Hield, who just found out that even at these prices life can still be cruel.

Give them their due, though. The Kings could win the NBA title and hock the trophy. They could be invited to the White House when the President is off playing golf. They could increase their Forbes valuation to $5 billion and declare bankruptcy.

Because they are the Kings, and that sentence has rarely meant more than it does now.

Not because they traded Cousins. Trades happen all the time. Wilt Chamberlain got traded twice.

But the Kings handled this with all the skill of a pickpocket with feet where his hands should be. They lied unconvincingly. They talked hard business and ended up with a nebulous deal that guarantees nothing except more speculation come summer. And they have nothing else to trade between now and . . . well, whenever they stopped being so damned Kingsy.

For New Orleans, it is a roll of the dice, an attempt to make the playoffs with a two-headed monster in Cousins and Davis. It may be too much to giver, but without knowing how the Kings will screw up those picks, it remains speculative at best.

Indeed, this is subtraction by subtraction, the standard Kings deal. And whatever the Kings have gained in this trade (hey, you never know), we remain safe in saying that they did it in such a Kingsy way that they may never top this.

Until the next time they do anything at all. Never doubt the power of Kingsiness.