Monday, July 29, 2013

Get Used To It

Giants fans, it's pretty bad right now. That sweep at the hands of the Cubs--all one-run losses, all marked by painful moments of failure--is the low point of 2013. For now.

So pardon me for rubbing salt in those open wounds. But have you been keeping an eye on the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig?

The 22-year-old Cuban has put up eye-popping numbers since he arrived in LA in early June. Not coincidentally, the Dodgers have gone from last to first with Puig manning right field. They were 9 games under .500 the day before he arrived. Since then, the Dodgers have been playing out of their minds. They're 17 games over .500 (33-16) in The Puig Era.

But it's not just wins and losses and stats. With Puig, you're talking about a bona fide Big-Time Star. This guy elevates showboating to a level you don't see very often. His latest exploit: the punctuation mark on his first-ever walk-off home run. Check it out:

Puig conducts his interviews in Spanish, so it's possible things get lost in translation. But here's what he said afterward about his unusual arrival at home plate: "Some people jump, some people slide, some people run."

Really? Because I don't remember ever seeing a major-leaguer end a game by hitting one over the wall and then sliding home.

It's the part of Puig's game that gets opposing fans red in the face and causes opponents to grind their molars. It's probably not a coincidence that Puig was in the middle of the big Dodgers-Diamondbacks donnybrook in June, a few days after his arrival in the big leagues.  Old-school guys like Kirk Gibson and Matt Williams have very little use for Puig-style cavorting.

Yep, it annoys people (including, it's been reported, some of Puig's own teammates). Nope, it's not likely to go away. This guy is a singular talent whose backstory is still being revealed (this excellent Yahoo! Sports piece brought new details to light). Puig is...well, he's Yasiel Puig. And he's made it clear he's damned well going to do what he's going to do.

As long as he's hitting .372 and swaggering with the hottest team in baseball, don't look for him to suddenly go all Buster Posey on us.

Better get used to it.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Best of Times, Worst of Times

Let's roll the calendar back a few months. Here we are: it's the fall of 2012. The two Bay Area big league baseball teams are in tall clover: the Giants have followed a 94-win regular season with Mr. Toad's Wild Ride through the postseason to a second World Series title in three years.  The plucky A's have posted 92 regular season wins, surprised both Texas and Anaheim to win the AL West, and extended the big, bad Tigers to a 5th and deciding playoff game.

Wow, the future looked bright, didn't it?

Turns out it was only half-bright.  The A's have gone from plucky to scary and lead the AL West again (with the league's second-best record). The Giants? Well, they're summoning up memories of the Bad Old Days. Sure, they're only 6-1/2 games out of first--but that's only because the NL West has but one team over .500, and division-leading Arizona would be 6-1/2 games behind the A's were they in the same division.

What the heck happened here? Essentially, the A's just kept being the A's, adding a few pieces here and there (Eric Sogard, Jed Lowrie) and watching young talent like Josh Donaldson blossom into a budding star. Of course, the A's continue to parade out young pitchers--although the ace is Bartolo Colon, an old man with a PED stain in his past and the shadow of another one looming (the Florida Biogenesis case).

The Giants? Well, if it could go wrong this year, it probably already has. Let's go back to spring training, where Brandon Belt went on a homer binge--then got sick in time for Opening Day and has never really recovered. Injuries? Plenty of them: Angel Pagan, Pablo Sandoval, Marco Scutaro, Ryan Vogelsong. Subpar work from Matt Cain. Barry Zito's bizarre home/away split (a home ERA of 2.45 vs. a road ERA of 9.38; opponents hitting .241 against him at AT&T Park and .423 elsewhere). And on and on...

To a man, Giants players say they aren't giving up. But you can see they don't have an answer (if they did, wouldn't they have tried it already?) and GM Brian Sabean has been hinting very strongly that the Giants are more likely to be a seller than a buyer in the trade-deadline sweepstakes. In short: the odds grow stronger with each loss that 2013 will be a Lost Season in San Francisco.

And across the bay? Call these the Best of Times and enjoy the ride.