Well, my autumn prognosticating failure is nearly complete – I picked against the Giants all three rounds, and wasn’t even CLOSE in the World Series. So, let’s take a look – just how did the Giants manage to win it all? We’ll also review some other happenings around sports.
Last Monday night, the Giants celebrated a 4-1 Series victory, and the look on the Rangers’ faces as they looked on was exactly the same as the look on the Phillies and the Braves…and it seemed to say, HOW did we just get beaten by THAT team, especially that offense? I’ve had a nagging feeling since the end of the first round that this SF team was similar to the 1988 Dodgers…but I couldn’t really quantify that, and being mainly a ‘numbers’ guy I tend to go with what the stats say. Well, two important points: 1.) In any short series, especially in a sport like baseball where the worst teams win 40% of their games and the best teams lose 40%, ANYTHING is possible. 2.) Intangibles are just that – intangible, not really measurable, hard to define…but they DO exist. Anyone who has watched the Dallas Cowboys in 2010 knows that talent and coaching don’t define that team – the ‘intangibles’ of morale, attitude, etc. are dragging that team down (more on them next week). Likewise, over the last three weeks it’s clear that the giants are a tight-knit, loose team. I’ve seen tight-knit teams lose, and teams like the ‘Bronx Zoo’ Yankees have won, but it cannot hurt to really care about each other and enjoy the experience.
Hindsight is 20/20, and I maintain that this Giants team is among the weakest champs of the last 30 years, especially on offense. However, that doesn’t really matter now – flags fly forever, and going back to that 1988 Dodger team (which had an even worse offense than the Giants, especially with Kirk Gibson hurt) – when people discuss that team, they don’t point out that they batted .248 as a team, that their starting shortstop hit .199, or that they hit only 99 home runs all season and 25 of those were by Gibson. No, people remember Orel Hershiser’s magical postseason (1.05 ERA over 42 innings), Gibson’s improbable home run, and…that’s about it, but they are SPECIAL memories. Twenty years from now, I think it will be similar with these Giants…no one will remember that Pablo Sandoval was terrible, that their cleanup hitter was picked up off waivers, or that they hit .237 as a team over 15 playoff games. People will remember Lincecum’s dominance, the relievers’ beards, and Cody Ross hitting like Albert Pujols for 3 weeks. So, congrats to the Giants, they were the best team in baseball when it mattered most, and they definitely earned their championship.
An early look at next season reveals that the Giants have as good a chance as anyone in the NL West – I expect San Diego to regress a bit, the Dodgers and Dbacks are a mess, and that only leaves Colorado as a major threat (depending on offseason moves, of course). The Giants are still offensively challenged, but their pitching is extremely deep – and as they just proved, once you get into the tournament, anything is possible. We’ll revisit this division in our spring preview.
On to the NHL – our preview was abbreviated a few weeks ago, so let’s take a more in-depth look at the Penguins, and some other teams of note in the East.
-The Flyers needed a minor miracle just to make the playoffs last season, but proceeded to make the Cup Finals – again, ANYTHING is possible if you make the playoffs. Goaltending always seems to be a problem in Philly but rookie Sergei Bobrovsky is off to an incredible start between the pipes. If he is the real deal, the Flyers are legit contenders for the Cup – they have plenty of skill, grit, and defense.
-The Caps this year look much like the Caps last year – TONS of scoring, iffy defense. Expect some major in-season moves here to try to shore up the defense, but they will breeze through the regular season and I consider them the favorites in the East.
-New Jersey is even more of a mess than I expected – the Kovalchuk contract wrecked their salary cap situation, Zach Parise is out for months with a knee injury, and Brodeur appears to finally be showing his age. I cannot see this team turning it around this year.
-Boston has been the early pleasant surprise in the East – their trade of Phil Kessel last year appears to have paid off, allowing them to draft Tyler Seguin and free up some cash to keep key players. I still think they need a bit more firepower, but they won’t allow many goals and are in position to trade a goalie mid-season to obtain some scoring. This is a team to watch in 2011.
-Now, Pittsburgh. I liked their offseason moves on defense – Michalek and Martin are seasoned vets who move the puck well and in Michalek’s case, provide a shot-blocking, steady defensive presence. Kris Letang is showing he was ready to take Gonchar’s place on the power play. Up front, the injuries to Jordan Staal are starting to be felt – as usual there is no scoring depth, and the forwards have been a bit iffy in their own end.
The real issue, however, is in goal. Brent Johnson started hot but he is what he is – a very capable backup who is NOT a top goaltender. By the end of the season his numbers will be average. Fleury, however, continues his downward slide that began in 2009 – he has been flat-awful so far this season, and until/unless he turns it around, this Penguin team is suspect. I look for Fleury to be given every chance to turn his game around between now and February – but if he’s still struggling then, a trade would not shock me at all. GM Ray Shero has shown he is not afraid to pull the trigger on big moves in-season.
The schedule has been rough – lots of back-to-back games, followed by long breaks; hockey players prefer a regular schedule, every other day works well for them – but that’s no excuse, especially when they fail to show up at all (see Wednesday’s 5-2 beatdown in Dallas). The Pens are on an 0-25 power play skid – unacceptable for a team with Letang, Crosby, and Malkin. There’s too much talent here to not make the playoffs, but for the first time since 2007 I’m beginning to wonder if it’s time to shake up the core group here a bit.
Next week, we’ll take a look at the NFL at the halfway mark.
Dave Glass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.