Giants, D'Backs to battle for first in NL West

505513.jpg

Giants, D'Backs to battle for first in NL West

August 1, 2011

ARIZONA (59-49) vs.
GIANTS (61-47)

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

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Seeing the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants atop the NL West shouldn't come as much of a shock.

After back-to-back last-place finishes, the Arizona Diamondbacks' opportunity to move into first place this late in the season is, in contrast, quite surprising.

With the top spot in the West ultimately up for grabs, the visiting Diamondbacks and Giants open a heavily-anticipated three-game set Monday night.

San Francisco (61-47) has led the division since overtaking Arizona on June 25, but now finds itself just two games ahead of the Diamondbacks following a three-game sweep at the hands of Cincinnati over the weekend. The Giants scored a combined five runs over the first two games before they were held to a season worst-tying three hits during Sunday's 9-0 defeat.

KILLION: A Giant wake-up call

"This club is resilient," manager Bruce Bochy said. "We've been through this before. It's not easy. There are always going to be bumps in the road, and this was a big one. It's up to us. We've got to go out there and play our best ball. We've got the talent. We've just got to do it."

San Francisco could have trouble snapping out of its funk with red-hot Arizona (59-49) coming to town. The Diamondbacks have outscored opponents 49-27 en route to taking six of eight - including Sunday's 6-3 road win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

While Arizona has dropped seven of nine meetings with the Giants this season, manager Kirk Gibson's club will look for its recent momentum to carry over into this series.

"I think we're a different team now and we've developed a lot of character," Gibson said. "This is what it's all about, and guys love it. It'll probably be pretty exhaustive. But it's not do-or-die, and I don't want guys to put pressure on themselves - just continue to grit and grind.

"We just have to keep an even keel, and however we come out of that series, we'll move on to the next one."

Much of the team's recent success at the plate can be attributed to Justin Upton, who's 22 for 46 (.478) with six homers and 19 RBIs during a 12-game hitting streak. Upton's also hurt the Giants of late, going 22 for 55 (.400) with two homers over his last 13 games in the series.

Matt Cain (9-6, 2.91 ERA) is saddled with the tough task of slowing Upton down.

The right-hander has been very sharp of late, going 2-1 with a 1.44 ERA over his last four starts. He held Philadelphia to one unearned run and four hits over seven innings of Wednesday's 2-1 road win.

That same night, San Francisco acquired Carlos Beltran from the New York Mets in an attempt to boost its offense.

Beltran, however, is 2 for 17 (.118) in four games with his new club. He can't be happy about facing Ian Kennedy (12-3, 3.22), who's held him hitless in five career at-bats.

Kennedy is in the midst of a career-best four-start winning streak, during which he's compiled a 2.42 ERA. The right-hander gave up two runs, four hits, and fanned nine in six innings of Wednesday's 4-3 victory at San Diego.

"Fastball command wasn't as good as I wanted it to be but my changeup was probably the best it's been in a while," said Kennedy, 1-2 despite a 1.81 ERA lifetime against the Giants.

Cain, too, has experienced plenty of success in this series, especially at home, where he's 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA in his last six starts against Arizona - including a one-hitter on May 28, 2010.

Upton is 9 for 27 with seven strikeouts against Cain.

Raiders could play in Oakland through 2019, 'if fans would like us to stay'

nfl-generic.jpg

Raiders could play in Oakland through 2019, 'if fans would like us to stay'

PHOENIX – The Raiders were approved to relocate from Oakland to Las Vegas on Monday by a 31-1 vote of NFL owners.

That doesn’t mean they’re leaving anytime soon. The Raiders plan to play two, possibly three more seasons in the East Bay before heading out of town.

The Raiders have one-year team options to play at the Oakland Coliseum for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, and plan to exercise them both while their Las Vegas stadium is being constructed.

Their new stadium won’t be ready for football until 2020, leaving a limbo year in 2019 without a temporary venue.

“If the fans would like us to stay there,” Davis said, “we’d love to be there for that and possibly talk to them about extending it for maybe 2019 as well and try to bring a championship back to Oakland.”

The Raiders are staying in the Bay Area because the Las Vegas area does not have a suitable venue to host NFL games. Sam Boyd Stadium hosts UNLV games, but would need upgrades, especially to the locker rooms and stadium security to host Raiders regular season games. There are talks of the Raiders playing a preseason game there in coming years.

The Raiders could play the 2019 season at other Bay Area venues, including Cal’s Memorial Stadium and Levi’s Stadium. Davis has been adverse to playing in the 49ers’ home park, but may be willing to using it as a temporary venue.

Much of that depends on fan reaction to permanent Vegas relocation. If attendance is down or fans are hostile, the Raiders could look elsewhere for temporary digs outside the Bay Area as soon as 2018 by sprucing up Sam Boyd. The Raiders need to build a practice facility in Nevada as well before moving there permanently.

If fans continue to support a rising squad expected to compete for a division and conference titles over the next few seasons, then the Raiders could stay put.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the Silver and Black will be the Oakland Raiders as long as they play in the Bay Area. The Raiders would like to stay there a while, though they can bail if things don’t work out.

“We’re still the Oakland Raiders and we are the Raiders and we represent the Raider Nation,” Davis said. “As I said earlier there’s going to be some disappointed fans and angry fans. It’s going to be up to me to talk to them and let them know why, how and what has happened. Hopefully we can work things out and work together for the future.”

Davis said any season ticket holders jilted by this move can receive refunds on deposits already paid.

“If any fans who have given season ticket deposits want refunds, we’d be happy to do that,” Davis said. “Well, not happily, but we would do so absolutely.”

Marleau back to the middle as Sharks deal with no Couture, Haley

Marleau back to the middle as Sharks deal with no Couture, Haley

SAN JOSE – All four of the Sharks’ lines have been in a blender for much of the season. 

Now, with Logan Couture out for at least one game and probably longer, and Micheal Haley getting tagged with a one-game suspension, the coaching staff has no choice but to mix and match the remaining forwards in time for Tuesday’s home game with the Rangers.

They’ll hope it’s the right recipe to snap out of what has been a miserable six-game losing streak in regulation, including the last two in which the Sharks have been outscored 13-3 by Dallas and Nashville.

The most notable player to be shifted is Patrick Marleau, who will apparently be centering the second line against New York. It will be just the fifth game he starts at center this season, and first since Feb. 11 in Philadelphia, when he was filling in for an ill Couture.

Marleau, of course, has played plenty of center of the years, including the second half of last season and first handful of playoff games when he was in the middle of the third line.

“I don’t think there’s been a year where I haven’t played center, so it’s just one of those things, move in and out,” Marleau said. “We’re interchangeable throughout the whole lineup, anyway.”

Marleau has been among the Sharks’ better players lately, with three of the team’s last five goals. He has 26 goals on the season, third on the team, and is fifth on the Sharks in points with 44.

“Patty is playing great. I don’t think we could ask for more from him,” said coach Pete DeBoer. “Arguably a lot of nights this year he’s been our best forward. He’s playing hard, he’s playing strong. He’s been a real valuable piece for us. We wouldn’t be in the spot we’re in this year without him and the way he’s played this year.”

Marleau is set to skate with Melker Karlsson and Mikkel Boedker, as Karlsson is good to go after missing the last eight games with a lower body injury. The 26-year-old Swede is having a nice season with 19 points (9g, 10a) in 60 games.

The third line featured Tomas Hertl between Joel Ward and Marcus Sorensen, while Chris Tierney will center the fourth line with Timo Meier and Joonas Donskoi.

Karlsson, who confirmed he was ready to return, said: “Cooch is out, and we’ll see how long he’s going to be out, but I’ll do my best. I’m going to work hard, and hopefully can get going here.”

Marleau described Karlsson as “tenacious on the forecheck, causes a lot of turnovers. He’s hungry on that puck. He’s going to get his opportunities, and I’m sure he’ll put a few in the back of the net.”

* * *

Of course, the Sharks don’t care who scores the goals, just as long as it’s someone. It’s been a season-long issue for them to get their depth scorers to do more, and if they want any chance at reclaiming first place in the Pacific Division while Couture is out, that will be a necessity.

Among the players that will bring their scoring woes into Tuesday’s game will be Donskoi (no points 13 games), Hertl (no points in 12 games), Boedker (no points in 10 games), Ward (no points in six games), Sorensen (one assist in 10 games) and Tierney (one goal in 12 games).

Could Couture’s absence be a wake up call for those guys?

“I would hope it doesn’t take an injury to get that. That’s something we’re looking for, it’s something we’ve challenged the group to get more out of them,” DeBoer said. 

“They’re the first guys to recognize they’ve got to give us a little bit more. That’s been an ongoing process. The good news is they’ve all done it before. I feel that they all have the ability to raise their level another notch here before the playoffs. I think they have enough character that we’ll see that.”

Time is growing short, as the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin in a little more than two weeks.

Marleau said: “When you go into playoffs, [secondary scoring] is usually what makes a difference. We need everybody contributing and guys stepping up at different times. We know that in this room, and guys are looking forward to doing that.”