SaberCats open 2012 AFL season with high hopes

684392.jpg

SaberCats open 2012 AFL season with high hopes

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Watch the SaberCats take on the Arizona Rattlers on Saturday night at 9:30 p.m. in HD on Comcast SportsNet California.

Nick LainoCSNBayArea.com
The SaberCats open their 2012 campaign with the goal of returning to the top of the Arena Football League. Last year San Jose returned from a two-year hiatus with high hopes but a six-game losing streak in the middle of the season resulted in a disappointing 7-11 record. For the first time since 1999 the SaberCats were unable to compete for an Arena Bowl title.

The road to redemption begins with Saturdays opening night matchup against the Arizona Rattlers.

Here are some things to watch for Saturday night:

QB Matchup - Mark Grieb vs. Nick Davila

Grieb, a two-time Arena Bowl MVP, set the league record last season with 5,312 passing yards. The 2011 AFL MVP led the league in pass efficiency with 127.6 yards. Grieb has passed for over 42,000 yards in his 12-year career, Both Arizona and San Jose finished in the top-10 in scoring in 2011, with the SaberCats finishing No. 1 in total offense. Expect more fireworks Saturday when these two gunslingers battle it out for QB supremacy in 2012.
San Jose's New Defense Philosophy

New defensive coordinator Cedric Walker may have the toughest job in Arena Football. In a league that promotes offense, he has to find ways to stop it. The SaberCats allowed a league-worst 320.4 yards per game in 2011 and gave up a third-worst 60 points per game. The Cats also brought in former NFL assistant coach Kerry Locklin, who helped the 2009 New York Jets defense post a league-low points allowed per game (14.7), while recording 32 sacks. Newly signed Tim McGill, who last year with Tampa Bay, became the first nose tackle in Arena Football history to post 10 sacks in a season, joins the returning two-time All Arena and 2010 Defensive Player of the Year Gabe Nyenhuis to form what could turn out to be the most feared front line in the league.

A New Beginning with Some New Faces

The SaberCats are used to attracting the top players in the game. Last season they had to adjust to being an expansion team with expansion players. Head coach Darren Arbet hit the recruiting trail hard this season and it paid off with the signings of two-time All-Arena WR Huey Whitaker, 2011 All-Arena DB Andre Jones, 2011 All-Arena DL Tim McGill, 2011 AFL Offensive Lineman of the Year Rich Ranglin and 2010 All-Arena DB Vince Hill. WR Hank Edwards broke numerous school records on his way to a DII All-American First Team selection. WR Taurus Johnson brings three years of NFL experience to an already deep receiving corps. Aligning all the stars on both sides of the ball will be the key to making this a successful season.
Looking In the Mirror

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The Rattlers are led by former SaberCats defensive coordinator Kevin Guy, the AFLs 2011 Coach of the Year. Omarr Smith, who won three of his four Arena Bowl rings with San Jose, coaches the Arizona defense. They brought the SaberCat Way to the desert and it paid off with a 16-2 record and a trip to Arena Bowl XXIV. It is always tough to beat a rival, and in this case, it is even tougher to beat an image of yourself.

As it is every year, expectations are high in San Jose. This organization expects nothing but the best from its players and coaches. That is why players come here. That is why coaches want to coach here. And that is why the fans pack the Pavilion on game nights. The San Jose SaberCats begin their 16th season Saturday night with every hope of a trip to New Orleans and another Arena Bowl championship.
Nick Laino is a tape playback operator with Comcast SportsNet Bay Area and the HP Arena public address announcer for the San Jose SaberCats.

Manaea dazzles, A's offense comes on late to beat Yankees

Manaea dazzles, A's offense comes on late to beat Yankees

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- Masahiro Tanaka struck out a career-high 13 to rebound from the worst stretch of his major league career but wound up a hard-luck loser when reliever Tyler Clippard's wild pickoff throw sparked a go-ahead, two-run eighth inning in the Oakland Athletics' 4-1 win over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

Sean Manaea (3-3), starting because Kendall Graveman was scratched with a sore pitching shoulder, matched Tanaka and allowed four hits in seven innings with six strikeouts and a walk. Ryan Madson pitched a perfect eighth and New York loaded the bases with one out in the ninth against Santiago Casilla before Didi Gregorius hit a sacrifice fly and pinch-hitter Gary Sanchez popped out.

Tanaka (5-4) left with the game scoreless after allowing Adam Rosales' one-out single in the eighth, and Jed Lowrie and Khris Davis followed with run-scoring hits off Clippard. Stephen Vogt added a two-run homer in the ninth against Jonathan Holder.

With Aroldis Chapman sidelined by left shoulder inflammation and Dellin Betances moved from setup man to temporary closer, the Yankees' bullpen has stumbled of late.

Squaring his shoulders more than in recent starts, Tanaka allowed five hits, walked none and threw 76 of 111 pitches for strikes. He got 25 swings and misses - his most in the majors - and the usually undemonstrative 28-year-old tipped his cap to applauding fans while he walked to the dugout.

Tanaka was booed loudly in his previous home start, when he was chased by Houston after allowing three homers and eight runs in 1 2/3 innings. And he had been pounded for 14 runs over 4 2/3 innings in his previous two outings.

His return to form not surprisingly took place with Austin Romine behind the plate. Tanaka has a 2.21 ERA when pitching to Romine and a 12.27 ERA to Gary Sanchez, New York's No. 1 catcher.

Tanaka struck out eight of first 11 batters and nine of his opening 15. He fanned Mark Canha in a 10-pitch at-bat leading off the eighth, then was replaced after Rosales' hit to center.

Clippard threw past first baseman Chris Carter for an error that allowed Rosales to reach third, and Rajai Davis hit a two-hopper to third baseman Chase Headley, who threw to the plate in time for Romine to tag Rosales, who slid headfirst.

Matt Joyce, who had struck out his first three times up, drew a walk and Lowie singled to right as Rajai Davis came home and Joyce took third. Khris Davis grounded to Gregorius, who stopped the ball with a slide deep in the hole, and Davis just beat the shortstop's throw.

FLEET WEEK

The crowd of 39,044 included many sailors in their naval whites.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Athletics: Graveman and RHP Jesse Hahn are likely both headed to the DL with ailing shoulders. ... 1B Yonder Alonso missed his second straight start because of a sore right wrist, an injury sustained when hit by a pitch from Miami's Jarlin Garcia on Tuesday.

Yankees: A day after CF Jacoby Ellsbury went on the seven-day concussion DL, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said it was hard to predict when he will return . The medical staff was determining what Ellsbury can do. "It won't be much for a few days," he said. ... Chapman is to play catch Saturday, his first baseball activity since May 12.

UP NEXT

LHP CC Sabathia (4-2) pitches Saturday for the Yankees after winning consecutive starts for the first time since June 10 and 16 last year. RHP Jharel Cotton, 3-4 with a 5.68 ERA before he was optioned to Triple-A Nashville on May 11, will be recalled to start for Oakland. We was 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in a pair of minor league starts.

Draymond fully appreciates 'witnessing greatness' of Warriors-Cavs trilogy

Draymond fully appreciates 'witnessing greatness' of Warriors-Cavs trilogy

OAKLAND -- The hoops historian Draymond Green has a message for those with short memories and cynical outlooks.

The NBA is never better than when The Finals have legendary potential, as is the case with the Warriors and Cavaliers, who next week become the first teams to meet three consecutive seasons to determine a champion.

“It’s a great thing for the league, contrary to popular belief,” Green said Friday after Warriors practice.

Warriors-Cavs Part III is, in fact, a fantastic boon for the league. Interest will peak. Ratings will soar. Storylines will cascade down every mountain, knoll and molehill.

“Right now, you’re witnessing greatness -- two great teams, great players,” Green said. “That’s what it is. It probably won’t be appreciated until it’s over. Say we meet again next year? It still won’t be appreciated -- until we don’t meet again and you realize what you had.”

What fans have is history made, with more in the making.

The Warriors enter The Finals after an unprecedented 12-0 start to the playoffs, becoming the first team to complete three four-game sweeps in a single postseason.

Another sweep, and it’s not inconceivable, would make these Warriors the first team in NBA history with a perfect postseason -- give them the distinction of having the best postseason in American sports history.

The Cavaliers enter The Finals after a 12-1 start and, moreover, with the reheated debate over whether LeBron James has a body of work that equals or surpasses that of Michael Jordan. James is one game removed from surpassing Jordan to become No. 1 on the all-time list for playoff scoring and will make his seventh consecutive appearance in The Finals, something Jordan never did.

Though a Cleveland victory would bolster any argument in James’ favor, a Cleveland loss might be enough to close the case in Jordan’s favor insofar as his Bulls reached six NBA Finals and won them all.

Warriors-Cavaliers has the potential to go beyond what most believe to be the most epic of postseason rivals, that being the Magic Johnson and the Lakers versus Larry Bird and the Celtics. They met only three times (1984, ’85 and ’87) but the NBA went a full 10 seasons with one team or the other in The Finals.

Being a student of the game, Green quite likely knows that -- as well as having a complete understanding of the possibilities ahead.

Even if he suspects others may not.

“But you usually don’t appreciate something until you don’t have it any more,” he said. “Maybe there’s just a lack of appreciation for greatness. When you look at the situation, most people have never reached greatness. So, maybe there’s just not an understanding of what you’re watching.

“I appreciate it. I’m happy we’ve been able to steam-roll people, and I love the fact that they’ve been able to steam-roll people. I just love great things. And I think right now we’ve found two great teams.”