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?

Bullpen implodes after Cain goes five solid, Giants crushed by Padres

Bullpen implodes after Cain goes five solid, Giants crushed by Padres

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO -- Wil Myers hit a three-run homer to cap San Diego's eight-run sixth inning and the Padres rallied to beat the San Francisco Giants 12-4 on Saturday night.

Myers also singled off Chris Stratton (1-0) to start the big inning and had three hits for the game. San Diego scored 11 runs against the Giants' bullpen following five effective innings from starter Matt Cain.

Allen Cordoba added a three-run homer off Neil Ramirez in the seventh.

The Padres combined for six hits and two walks off Stratton and Ramirez in the sixth. It took the duo 46 pitches to end the inning.

Jhoulys Chacin (3-3) struck out six and gave up three runs, five hits and two walks in five innings.

Triggs rebounds as A's halt 10-game losing streak to Astros

Triggs rebounds as A's halt 10-game losing streak to Astros

HOUSTON — Andrew Triggs keeps checking off all the right boxes in his first season as a major league starting pitcher.

Coming into the year, manager Bob Melvin said the right-hander’s biggest challenge would be retiring lefty hitters. He’s done that splendidly.

On Saturday, the A’s needed to see if Triggs could bounce back after his first rough outing of 2017. He responded with the best of his 11 career starts, holding a potent Astros lineup off the scoreboard for seven innings as the A’s registered a 2-1 victory that snapped their five-game losing streak.

The effective cutter that eluded Triggs when he lost to the Mariners last Sunday was back. Houston’s hitters waved helplessly at the pitch and began their walk back to the dugout all in the same motion, as Triggs rang up a career-high nine strikeouts. His seven innings also were a career high for the 28-year-old.

“We’re not really swinging the bats right now,” Melvin said. “We score two runs and we’re facing a lineup that you expect to score a bunch of runs. So to pitch as well as he did and go through the lineup three times, give us seven innings of work, is pretty good.

“He had the one off-outing, and every outing (besides that) has been pretty spotless.”

Triggs, whose 1.84 ERA ranks seventh in the American League, doesn’t blow people away with his fastball. He throws from a three-quarters arm slot that suggests it might be easy for left-handed hitters to pick up the ball out of his hand. Last season, the batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage were all roughly 40 to 50 points higher for lefties than for righties off Triggs.

All he’s done coming out of the gate this season is hold lefties to an .087 batting average (4-for-46). Another revealing stat: Opposing cleanup hitters are 0-for-14 off him.

Triggs credited catchers Stephen Vogt, Josh Phegley and, when he’s been up with the big club, Bruce Maxwell for their expertise in calling pitches against lefties.

“They’ve done such a good job keeping the sequences unpredictable,” he said. “You command pitches, you’re gonna get guys out. I know the stereotype is when you throw from the angle that I do, you’re gonna struggle with lefties. I’ve been aware, at least of that profile, for a while. I’ve worked on it quite a bit.”

Triggs had his entire repertoire working Saturday, according to Vogt.

“He was keeping them off-balance. Even when it seemed they were starting to sit on his slider, he starts sneaking some heaters by them. He was outstanding.”

But he had help. First baseman Yonder Alonso made a terrific leaping grab of Josh Reddick’s liner in the fifth that might have gone for extra bases. An inning before that, Jaff Decker made an on-the-money throw to third from deep right field to nail Carlos Beltran tagging up on a fly ball.

“He’s got a good arm so don’t sleep on him at all,” Triggs said.

Given how their month has gone, it’s no surprise the A’s got both their runs on homers. They’ve gone deep 31 times in April, their most homers in the month since they clubbed 34 in 2006. Lowrie, who’s spent two stints with the Astros and owns an offseason home in Houston, went deep to right to give the A’s a 1-0 lead. Khris Davis mashed his 10th homer in the eighth for what wound up being an important insurance run when Jose Altuve followed with a homer off Sean Doolittle.

Davis’ teammates by now are accustomed to seeing the left fielder flaunt his opposite-field power. He’s hit three homers this series, all to straightaway right or right-center.

Said Lowrie: “I think at this point it’s fair to call it special.”