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6.30.2005

A Rush and a Push and the Dodgers Are Ours 

By the time fireworks light up the sky on July 4, the Giants will be exactly half way through this wretched 2005 season. A sweep of the AzBacks notwithstanding, the Giants are nine games behind the NL-West San Diego Padres. They are nine games behind the wild-card leading Atlanta Braves, with nine other teams between them. If the Giants sweep the Pods this weekend, led by the Second Coming of Kevin Correia, we may have a little action, or at least the illusion of daylight from our view at the bottom of the swimming pool.

But the real motivation for a Giants fan this summer lies with this shorter-term goal: Finish ahead of the Dodgers.

Call it the Prime Directive, the Three Drumstrokes from the Center of Our Reptilian Brain: Beat-L-A.

Only 3.5 games behind. If the Giants finish this season ahead of the D.F.'s, they will provide us with a smug glow in the off-season, knowing that College Boy DePodesta couldn't put together a team to top our own Barry-less, Benitez-less French vanilla meltdown.

Such a finish will whip the normally comatose fan base of Los Angeles into something that resembles furor, and prompt my 91-year-old Grandma Ida to call DePodesta a putz. That's bad, because she actually knows what putz means, unlike most Americans who bandy the word about to make themselves feel more Yiddish.

(Tangential note: There's nothing more embarrassing than a Gentile who pronounces the word "spiel" like "speed" or "spelunker," without the "sch" sound at the beginning. Zey shutt all geyt ein schpenkink!)

The Giants and Dodgers have many similarities: well-paid closers down for the count, slap-hitting Venezuelan Gold Glove shortstops, laconic dudes in the rotation who've never realized their potential, and an aging star who's still productive but can't do it all himself.

Of course, the clubs' biggest difference is that DePutzdesta is a saberhead and Brian Sabean is a mullethead. Many have called for Sabean's pelt to be nailed to a certain 24-foot-high brick wall because he often thumbs his nose at number-crunching, instead maneuvering by "feel" and "intuition" and "chemistry," not to mention how a guy takes a fastball to the choppers without a complaint despite spitting out a gallon of blood and three molars. (If anyone can find a link to the video that shows then-Brewer Mike Matheny's infamous hit-by-pitch in the face, let me know.)

Meanwhile, DePo trades Paul LoDuca (leadership, spunk, chemistry) for Hee Seop Choi (power, patience, very marketable in K-Town), a sabergeek move if there ever were one. He goes out and gets the talented but volatile Milton Bradley, who has thrown more objects at fans and umpires than runners out on the bases. He promised Derek Lowe and Odalis Perez $60 million for multi-year contracts.

The Dodgers' stumble below .500 has happened despite highly touted statistical minds on their side. It means either 1) DePodesta is a greatly overrated statistical mind; 2) Shit happens that statistics can't predict; 3) The season isn't half-way over and the Dodgers have time to right the ship and prove that sabers trump mullets.

I'm usually loathe to devote this much blogspace to the Dodgers, lest I break out in a rash or feel my bowels spasm, but I'm doing so for instructive purposes.

Purpose #1: Finishing ahead of the Dodgers is always good; hearing Dodger fans whine is even better. Root for the Giants with this in mind.

Purpose #2: All this venom directed at Brian Sabean (some of it by me, even) often presumes a baseline of 100% success. In other words: anything he doesn't get right we take as a sure sign of his cluelessness. We often measure him (and any GM) as if he were the only variable in a pristine environment. In other words: the inability to land superstar X (Vlad Guerrero, Carlos Beltran, Steve Finley, um, Vlad Guerrero) was simply Sabean and the Giants' fault and not the product of the player's whim, the geography, the weather, unspoken injury concerns, etc. Yes, yes, yes, the Giants should have gone after Vlad, but did Vlad really want to come to S.F.? Was the cold weather a dealkiller because of his tetchy back?

Perhaps we should evaluate a GM's decisions more along the lines of basketball jump-shooters: a success rate of 50% is something to be proud of, and anything beyond is a run of good luck, or a temporary advantage, or the limitations on others wrought by injury, market forces, and player viccisitudes.

With the smarter set -- the type of minds we all implicitly clamor for when bellyache about Brian Sabean -- now running the A's, Padres and Dodgers, perhaps from here on out we should simply measure Sabean's decisions against those made by Towers, Beane and DePodesta. If those guys consistently run SABRcircles around him, let our voices cry out as one for his head.

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