Niners: Right direction or directionless?

Niners: Right direction or directionless?

Maybe it's the fact that the Lions were awful, the Rams even worse. Maybe it's the fact that 8-8 doesn't feel all that different from 7-9.Or maybe those ugly losses to the Falcons and Titans are just a tad too difficult to forget.More likely, it's that "non-losing season" smacks of earrings on a pig.The 49ers' just-concluded season leaves even those of us who look at our less-than-full sporting glasses as being one satisfying pour from overflowing feeling out of sorts.Alex Smith? The best you can say about him is that he's improved. But given how low he'd set the bar, does that really pump you up with conviction that he's The Man going forward? Probably not.Mike Singletary? You're absolutely dying to climb completely into his corner, and developments such as Vernon Davis' transformation from hotheaded me-guy to borderline elite game-changer -- "borderline" until the drops stop -- give you hope. But admit it: something stops you, be it the Waffle House offense or the oft-empty rhetoric.Jed York? Talks a mean game, doesn't he? Really seems to care, and that's more than you were saying not long ago about the family members who handed him the keys to the franchise.
But that tough talk at the end of last season about making the playoffs now reeks of hollow bravado -- a reminder than Lil' Jed is all of 28 years old. And most of us who've seen both sides of 30 know that at 28 we were unclear on our own future, much less that of a storied professional sports franchise.Simply put, it's an odd time to be a 49ers fan.
You want to be hopeful, but there are just enough red flags -- whatever happened to Paraag Marathe, anyway? -- to stop you from going all-in.You want to point to the team's three wins in its final four games and join the Right Direction Brigade.Then you watch the wins over the Lions and Rams a few more times on your Comcast DVR and realize that only the Lions and Rams would have lost those games. You want to point to Smith's modest improvement and think that with a little continuity -- i.e., working with the same offensive coordinator for more than 45 minutes -- and a stud offensive lineman or two will come more, greater strides.Then you realize that offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye didn't really have a system. He had a different game plan every week. And that O-lineman don't grow on trees; even when you get a keeper, he usually needs a couple of years before making an impact. And that Smith led the 49ers to zero point in the first half Sunday against a team that might very well have given up 28 points to De La Salle in the same span.You want to point to the defense's brilliant play in the closing month of the season and Wait, there's that whole Lions and Rams thing again. Granted, the Niners' D had gems against some decent teams, too, but it also got carved up to the tune of 45, 34 and 30 by the Falcons, Titans and Packers. Only the Packers are playoff-bound, as a wild-card entry.If it's not one thing, it's another. Is this truly a team headed in the right direction, or is it a directionless team that escaped the clutches of another 7-9 -- or 6-10 -- season on strength (rather, weakness) of schedule?Can it be both? Kind of feels that way, doesn't it?

Giants continue embarrassing stretch against rebuilding Padres

Giants continue embarrassing stretch against rebuilding Padres

SAN FRANCISCO — Three years ago, the Giants and Padres were the two teams in it until the very end for Pablo Sandoval’s services. He ended up in Boston, and when he became available again over the past week, the Padres politely backed away. 

They prefer youth and Rule 5 Draft picks. They came into this season knowing they might lose 100 games, and they didn’t mind. If anything, they welcomed the increased shot at the top pick in the 2018 draft. They’re here to tank, but the Giants (who expect to welcome Sandoval back on a minor league deal as soon as Friday) just won’t let them. 

Thursday’s 5-2 loss to San Diego was like so many others over the past calendar year. The Giants didn’t hit, they didn’t come through in the clutch, they did not support their starting pitcher, and they did not guarantee a handshake line. 

The Giants have lost 15 of 20 to the Padres since last year’s All-Star break, including three straight last July to kickstart a tailspin that has lasted over a year now. They have dropped four of five meetings in this second half, which was supposed to prove that a Padre-like rebuild is not needed up here in the Bay Area. They are five games behind the Padres in the race to finish a distant fourth in the National League, and in a season full of disappointment, that stands as one of the more embarrassing facts. 

Not even Madison Bumgarner’s return to AT&T Park could turn the tide. The lefty looked good most of the night, but two homers left him with a rougher-than-hoped line. Bumgarner gave up four earned on two homers. He has allowed multiple homers in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. Both starts have come against the Padres. 

“I’ve got to stop giving up homers,” Bumgarner said of his start. “That’s not going to work.”

Bumgarner said he felt fine physically, and his curveball — the pitch that has backfired on him most often since his return — feels right mechanically. He was facing his last batter in the seventh as George Kontos warmed up with a runner on. Corey Spangenberg hit a two-run shot to the deepest part of the yard to make it 4-2. 

Buster Posey flied out with the bases loaded in the eighth. The Giants brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth but couldn’t score, which has been the norm against the Padres. The Giants are averaging just 3.2 runs per game during this 20-game stretch of futility against a team they once dominated. 

“We need to win ballgames right now,” Bumgarner said. “We’ve got to start doing that. There’s no magic solution. We’ve got to start playing better, all of us.”

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways as homers hurt Bumgarner vs Padres

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways as homers hurt Bumgarner vs Padres

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — A day after he did his press conference from a “Game of Thrones” throne, manager Bruce Bochy said he was happy the Giants won their series finale against the Indians and kept that plan in play. In that respect, he’s lucky his team wasn’t facing the Padres on Wednesday. 

The Giants were on Thursday, however, and they continued their baffling stretch of ineptitude against what is supposed to be the worst team in the National League West. The 5-2 loss to San Diego was the 15th in the last 20 meetings between the two teams, one of which has a $200 million payroll and the other of which is actively tanking. 

The Giants had a shot at a comeback in the eighth, but Buster Posey flied out to right with two outs and the bases loaded. Here are five things to know, if you are the curious type: 

—- Madison Bumgarner has faced the Padres twice since returning. In 13 1/3 innings, he has allowed 10 hits and seven earned runs. He is getting hurt by a familiar problem for the 2017 Giants: The Padres have four homers off Bumgarner in those two starts. Hunter Renfroe and Cory Spangenberg took him deep Thursday, with Spangenberg hitting one out to the deepest part of the yard on Bumgarner’s final pitch. 

—- This is the first time in Bumgarner’s career that he has allowed multiple homers in back-to-back starts. 

—- Kyle Crick showed good stuff — sitting 96-97 — while stranding a runner on second in the eighth. He followed that with a scoreless ninth. The Giants should make it a priority to throw him into some deeper water over the next two months. 

—- There’s an epidemic these days of outfielders making foolish throws to the plate. We see it just about every night, and it cost the Padres in the sixth. Gorkys Hernandez was on second and he took off right away on Denard Span’s single to right. Renfroe had no play at the plate but he threw it anyway and Span took second. He scored when Eduardo Nuñez singled to left. 

—- The Giants announced their second consecutive sellout. That’s a streak. Maybe?