Giants Insider notes: Making most of meager offense


Giants Insider notes: Making most of meager offense

May 23, 2011GIANTS PAGE GIANTS VIDEOMychael Urban

Our MLB Insider takes a look back at the Giants' sweep of the A's in a three-game interleague series at AT&T Park, and a look forward to the defending world champions' upcoming three-game series against the visiting Marlins.As expected: With Oakland's top three starters lined up to face the Giants, who have the luxury of throwing out a quality starter every day, most folks figured the games would be tight, low-scoring affairs. And they were right, though Sunday's nine-run, 24-hit (combined) finale represented a fairly dramatic departure from anticipated form. The end result wasn't really a departure at all. Yes, both teams rely heavily on their respective pitching staffs, and both teams have offenses pocked by players under-performing relative to their career norms. But an objective look at both lineups shows that the Giants have a better chance of pushing across a few runs against above-average pitching, and that was essentially the difference for the weekend.
RELATED: Giants complete sweep in dramatic fashion
Freakish: Tim Lincecum never ceases to amaze, but it's particularly amazing the way he bounces back from outings that fall short of the ridiculously high bar he's set for himself. Anyone who didn't expect him to come up with a phenomenal game in front of a national television audience on Saturday, one start removed from matching his career high by issuing six free passes and a rare public show of negative emotion (he growled at the home-plate umpire), hasn't been paying very close attention to his career. It's one thing if he has a game in which his numbers don't look all that great but he actually threw the ball fairly well; it's quite another when the numbers truly reflect the quality of his performance. After the latter, he seethes. And then he turns things right back around. That he didn't walk anyone during his masterful three-hitter against the A's spoke to the talent and determination of the Bay Area's most compelling athlete by far.Riveting recall: Sunday's victory was San Francisco's 11th by one run at home this year, its seventh in walkoff fashion. Some might chalk that up to the heart of a champion. More likely, it's the product of the memory of the championship itself. During much of the regular season, down the stretch and throughout the playoffs last year, the Giants thrived on the "torture" that came with such triumphs, and by bringing back everybody who really wanted to come back for the tittle defense, general manager Brian Sabean kept together a group of players that long ago learned not to panic when the proverbial chips are down. The result is another team that cowers not in the face of a late-game deficit, nor against the game's top pitchers, but instead expects to overcome whatever apparently dire straights present themselves. And they expect these wins to come in much the same manner they came in 2010 -- with help from every man on the 25-man roster. All the while, they're making more deposits to the memory banks from which they withdraw, to the point that soon they won't even have to think about Game 6 of the NLCS in Philadelphia or Game 162 of the regular season against the Padres. They'll simply remember last week, or even yesterday. Invaluable. Lesser lights, shining bright: Nate Schierholtz was the epitome of a role player for the 2010 team. Darren Ford's only real contribution was a mad dash that stole a big regular-season game against the Rockies. Manny Burris didn't seem to contribute much at all. Ryan Vogelsong wasn't even around. Yet when this season comes to a close, and if the way it closes warrants another commemorative DVD, whatever mention of the weekend sweep of the A's will be all about the aforementioned foursome, with Lincecum's gem a mere footnote in part because he'll surely pitch in bigger games down the road. Vogelsong, Schierholtz and Burris played huge roles in Friday's win, and Burris and Ford were the extra-inning stars Sunday. Sure, plenty of bigger names had a hand in it all, but when a team gets heroic turns from the back of the rotation and roster, you get the feeling -- again -- that something special might be afoot.Welcome words: When Sabean told KNBR last week that injured Barry Zito will be competing for his spot in the rotation upon starting his rehab stint with Triple-A Fresno, Giants fans who've fallen in love with Vogelsong surely rejoiced. That old baseball adage about not losing your job to injury doesn't apply here, after all. An easy case could be made that Zito is in danger of losing his job based solely on performance issues; he posted a 4.15 ERA in three starts before going down, and Vogelsong has a sub-2.00 ERA in five starts (plus a pair of relief outings). And as the Giants proved by leaving Zito off last year's playoff roster, they're no longer in the business of letting the size of one's contract correlate to the length of the rope he's given while struggling. What happens, though, if Zito kills on his rehab assignment and Vogelsong is still killing for the big club? Short answer: Who cares? That'd be a helluva problem to have, and in anticipation of such, the Giants would be wise to make sure Zito makes at least a couple of his outings for Fresno in relief, because if the reasoning for putting him back in the rotation is that he's a slave to his career-long routine as a starter, the good will Sabean built up with his semi-tough talk about the star-crossed lefty having to "compete" for his gig will disappear in a flash. Speaking of Fresno: We're still in the process of figuring out the contractual complications that would come with such a bold move, but it might be time for the Giants to consider sending lefty reliever Jeremy Affeldt to the minors for a couple of weeks. The best setup man in baseball in 2009, Affeldt hasn't been the same since signing a two-year contract worth a reported 9.5 million after his breakout campaign. Injuries contributed to his regression last season, but he's been healthy this year and, as evidenced by Sunday's ugly outing, something's just not right. Affeldt essentially admitted as much when he recently copped to a serious lack of confidence, and it seems like that's an issue that could very well be remedied by a successful stint with the Grizzlies, where he'd be under far less pressure and could be worked into games in a more controlled environment. The risk, of course, is in the possibility that he'd continue to struggle in Fresno, or feel slighted by the organization, but what we know about Affeldt as a teammate and as a person seems to suggest that he'd be willing to at least consider a scenario that would help his team in the short and long term.No time to count chickens: The Marlins are coming to town for a three-game set that starts Tuesday, and in addition to being a pretty good threat to the Giants' season-long streak of sellouts, Florida is a legitimate threat to cool everyone's jets on the shores of McCovey Cove. Tuesday's starter for the Fish, for example, is Ricky Nolasco, who not only is pitching well this season (3-0, 3.32 ERA) but has a lifetime ERA of 1.91 over 28 13 innings against San Francisco, and he's 2-0 with a 0.59 ERA at AT&T Park. A pitching reprieve of sorts comes Wednesday in the form of Chris Volstadt (2-3, 5.73 ERA this season), but his career ERA against the Giants over 15 innings is 1.20, and on Thursday the Giants have to contend with Anibal Sanchez, whose career numbers against the Giants are identical to those of Volstadt, and whose pure stuff is obviously no-hit caliber. The Marlins can swing it a little bit, too; Hanley Ramirez, their biggest star is scuffling, but Gaby Sanchez is a hitting machine, Greg Dobbs has been on fire for much of the year, and Mike Stanton is a budding slugger of the highest order. By no means can the Giants put this bad boy in cruise control for the rest of the homestead before hitting the road (for Milwaukee) again Thursday night.

Stanford star McCaffrey boosts NFL Draft stock with special teams skills

Stanford star McCaffrey boosts NFL Draft stock with special teams skills

INDIANAPOLIS -- More and more college coaches are putting their starters and even their stars on special teams as they seek to pile up every possible point in an era of pedal-to-the-metal shootouts and never-safe leads.

Fading fast are the days when superstars would catch their breath on the sideline when the kicker or punter trotted onto the field with the scrubs.

NFL teams love it.

Watching how players handle themselves as a blocker, gunner or returner provides a glimpse into a prospect's range, selflessness and versatility. It also delivers a sneak peek into how coachable he'll be, says Phil Savage, the SiriusXM NFL Radio host who spent two decades as an NFL coach, scout and executive and now oversees the Senior Bowl.

"I think because of the landscape of college football where scoring is at a premium, you've got to figure out a way to put points on the board not only on offense but through your special teams and defensively, as well," Savage says. "These coaches want to get these young players on the field as soon as possible, and a way to do that is utilize them on special teams."

These tapes provide a bonus to pro scouts.

"Now you have a vision of what that player might forecast to in the NFL as a young player and, specifically, as a rookie," Savage said.

Offensive and defensive coaches have a better idea of the types of players they're integrating into their schemes, and special teams coaches no longer get blank stares and blank canvases from the rookie class.

"Not only do you like the fact that they come in and have experience doing it, but you love the mentality if you're a coach and a decision maker that this guy isn't a diva, he's got no ego about it, he understands the team and puts team before self," says ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay.

"And he comes in with the mindset of 'What can I do to help the team and how can I contribute?' Those are the guys that seem to make it and last longer in the league because they're just willing to do different things and whatever it takes."

The prime example in this year's draft class is Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey , a "dynamic player than can do it all," according to Broncos GM John Elway.

McCaffrey gained more than 5,000 yards from scrimmage in his college career and added almost 2,000 more as a returner.

"There's just a lot of big plays open in the return game," McCaffrey says. "You see special teams have such an impact on the game today. Any time I can have the ball in my hands, I feel like I can do something dangerous, and that's really why I love the return game."

Other highly touted draft prospects who polished their resumes on special teams include Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers, LSU safety Jamal Adams, Washington wide receiver John Ross, and USC cornerback Adroee' Jackson, all of whom are projected as high selections.

McShay says "we're seeing more and more programs put an emphasis on special teams and having their key players contribute in one or more areas on special teams."

He pointed to Ohio State, where Urban Myers coaches special teams himself.

"It's a major emphasis there, and so you'll see some more guys typically lined up and contributing that are starters and stars," McShay says. "It's an honor to be on special teams."

Not a burden.

"It is not uncommon now to see people that are going to be picked in the first round having 100-plus special teams plays," suggests NFL draft consultant and former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt.

He pointed to the University of Florida, where Gators defensive backs cover kickoffs as well as they do receivers.

"Everyone's always trying to get their best guys on the field," Brandt says.

That's a change from years past when coaches feared exposing their star players to the extra hits.

The added value benefits the players, whose multiple talents allow NFL general managers to address many needs.

"We're seeing more emphasis on it in college, and I think NFL teams love to see it because if just means you're getting a bit more for your buck," McShay says.

Top talents who bolstered their value by playing special teams:

CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY , RB, STANFORD: He shined at the combine working out with the running backs and was as impressive running routes. Asked if there was anything he couldn't do, the son of former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey said then: "I can't sing."

JABRILL PEPPERS , S, MICHIGAN: He worked out with safeties and linebackers at the combine, where teams talked of him playing RB and WR in addition to returning kicks. "The bottom line is I'm a ballplayer and I'm a hell of a ballplayer," Peppers said.

JOHN ROSS , WR, WASHINGTON: He caught 81 passes with 17 TDs last season but actually posted more return yards (2,069) than scrimmage yards (1,924) in his college career.

ADOREE' JACKSON , CB, USC: One of the best special teams coverage players in the NCAA, Jackson also scored eight TDs on punt and kick returns in college. His punt return averages rose from 6.0 yards to 10.5 and 15.8.

JAMAL ADAMS , S, LSU: Another star in coverage, Adams' defensive mentality extends to special teams. "I love being on the field and just playing football," said Adams, whose father, George, was a first-round pick by the Giants in 1985.

ALVIN KAMARA , RB, TENNESSEE: In a deep running back group, Kamara separates himself with his special teams acumen. "A lot of teams have been bringing up special teams," Kamara said.

DESMOND KING , CB, IOWA: He had eight interceptions as a junior and three as a senior. "I had a really good special teams season," King said. "Not being targeted as much, I still went out there and competed the best I could and was still making plays."

CHRIS WORMLEY , DE, MICHIGAN: Wormley touts playing for Jim Harbaugh as one of his attributes. "Coach Harbaugh came in and ran our program like an NFL program, like he had with the 49ers," said Wormley, who blocked three kicks his senior season.

ZAY JONES , WR, EAST CAROLINA: Like McCaffrey, he has good NFL bloodlines (son of Robert Jones, brother of Cayleb Jones). He caught 158 passes as a senior, but spent his first two seasons in college also making his mark as a returner.

Whether Brown or Kerr coach, Warriors sticking to same blueprint

Whether Brown or Kerr coach, Warriors sticking to same blueprint

OAKLAND -- For the first time since he joined the coaching staff last summer, Mike Brown on Wednesday morning arrived at the Warriors facility a man in charge.

As acting head coach, he would decide when practice started and when it ended, and conduct proceedings in between.

The general activity was not much different for anyone else, though, as it continues to become evident that everything the Warriors do for the foreseeable future will be a Brown-Kerr, or Kerr-Brown, production.

“Steve is going to be a part of this process the whole time,” Brown said after practice. “Almost before I do anything, I’m going to consult with him. The only time I won’t consult with him is probably during a game.”

Since Kerr’s announcement last Sunday that he was taking an indefinite leave to attend to personal health issues, Brown has been wielding the clipboard. He actually coached Game 3 against Portland last Saturday, in Kerr’s absence, before knowing in advance he’d also coach Game 4 Monday night.

Brown is 2-0, with the Game 4 win clinching a Warriors sweep of the Trail Blazers. Yet Brown is quick to remind anyone that he is following the plan laid out by Kerr. The two exchanged texts Tuesday and, according to Brown, “spoke at length” after the game between the Jazz and the Clippers -- one of which will face the Warriors in the next round.

Though the Warriors are operating under a different head coach, all indications are the atmosphere around the team remains stable and relatively unchanged.

“Obviously it’s different personalities, but when you make it about the players, when you make it about winning, all that other stuff really doesn’t matter,” Kevin Durant said. “He coaches us. He coaches the game of basketball and he does it very well. Our whole coaching staff does the same thing.

“When it’s about basketball, it’s not about trying to have authority over us. He’s just coaching us. He’s just coaching us up. He’s just telling us the proper way to do things on the basketball court. It’s pretty simple when you try to do that. Then it’s on us to try to execute.”

Execution has gone well, particularly over the last six quarters of the series against Portland. The Warriors wiped out a 16-point deficit in the second half to win Game 3, and then rolled to a 35-9 start in Game 4 before coasting to the closeout victory.

Brown was on the sideline in Game 4, with Kerr watching the game from the locker room.

It’s fairly apparent, though, that everyone involved feels a heightened sense of accountability and ownership.

“Mike has had a pretty big voice throughout the whole season,” Durant said. “He’s been a head coach before, understands what it takes to be a head coach. And the coaching staff is just so smart, and they empower each other.

“Anybody, if you’re around us on a day-to-day basis, anybody can tell that they work well as a group. Coach Kerr does a great job. He spearheads it all by empowering everybody, from the coaches to the players.”