Here's to rooting for the Marlins to make the playoffs


Here's to rooting for the Marlins to make the playoffs

As someone who is leery of fans to the point where distrust and annoyance are in the rearview mirror and abject fear is dead ahead, let me walk you through the final six days of the major league baseball regular season.

First, though, let me tell you who you’re rooting for to make the playoffs.

Miami. Pure and simple.

Under normal circumstances, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria would be the representative of everything you root against in sport – and that’s saying something given the already low owner/likeability scale we apply. But sometimes even detestability must take a back seat to the demands of a nation, and the Marlins both helped their city start the process of grieving and help hasten its end with a performance that we needn’t remind you was a triumph of dignity through empathy, with a side of “Are you kidding me with that?”

Now the Marlins, like nearly every other team, has only six games left to play and are four games to the bad of the Giants, the team who only this past weekend passed the Minnesota Twins for the honor of having the worst record since the All-Star Break, and the Metropolitans, whose lovability begins and ends with Bartolo Colon. Plus, there are the St. Louis Cardinals, who seemingly cannot pitch or field but hit metric tons of home runs, and probably have a healthy dose of humble coming their way.

Frankly, and I am allowing for Giant fans and their understandably blind allegiance to a team that by rights really should be out of the race by now and survive only through the kindnesses of strangers, but the truth is that they really should be out of the race by now and survive only through the kindnesses of strangers. And objectively speaking, that’s not a sufficiently compelling reason for anyone other than the truest orangy-black fans to not prefer the Marlins instead.

As for the Mets, well, they’re the Mets. And the Cardinals have alarmingly offended their own fan base, where manager Mike Matheny is savaged daily as though he were actually Robin Ventura.

Look, this is all about feel and mood and impulse, and two days ago it wouldn’t have mattered at all what Miami did one way or the other. They could have wondered about what might have been had Giancarlo Stanton not gotten hurt, or if they hadn’t lost eight games to .500 since the break themselves.

But it matters now, because we’ve seen the restorative powers of unity in grief, and the intrinsic value in magic.

Plus, as we all know, I’m a sap for a good narrative (this last bit, of course, being a monumental lie).

But it does matter. It matters far more than whatever emerges from the primordial ooze of the American League, where Detroit and Seattle fight daily to see which team is not going to catch the struggling Baltimores, or whether the underachieving Bostons (the second-best team in baseball by record and since the break, yet still five games below their Pythagorean number of 97-59), the stealthy Clevelands (no real weaknesses), or the improbable Texii (who ought to be barely ahead of Kansas City for ninth rather than a half-game behind the Red Sox).

So yes, Miami’s needs are greater, and no, the Giants acquiring Gordon Beckham (if that deal, the first six-day rental in available memory, actually happens) does not somehow increase their attractiveness. Their desperation in the face of the Eduardo Nunez injury, yes, but not their attractiveness.

Now this is not some sort of command that Giant fans should abandon their lifelong Kool-aid addiction, or some cheap form of defiance to our Comcastian overlords. You want to root for the Giants, go ahead – just so long as you do it where I can’t see, hear or read you (except for McCovey Chronicles’ Grant Brisbee, the one fan/typist who has diplomatic immunity).

But at least you should all have the minimal human decency to be genuinely melancholy when the Marlins are eliminated, which could conceivably happen as soon as Wednesday night. Just so you remember that you have no call to sorcery or sympathy when your not-quite-the-Twins heroes gimp into the weekend trying to explain why a team that is not-quite-the-Twins still is in play.

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

PEORIA — Jeff Samardzija spent a couple minutes after Thursday’s start talking to reporters about how deep he thinks the Giants lineup can be. It’ll be a hell of a lot deeper if Hunter Pence keeps hitting like this. 

After a slow start to the spring, Pence is charging. He had three hits against the Padres: a triple that bounced off the top of the wall in right-center, a hard single up the middle, and a double to center. The more encouraging plays for the Giants happened in left field. Pence chased down a drive to the line in the third inning, leaving the bases loaded. He opened the fourth by going the other direction and gloving a fly ball to left-center. 

"A good game for Hunter, both ways," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's getting more comfortable out there. You can see it with the jumps he's getting right now. It takes a little while when you change positions, but I think he's going to be fine out there."

The Giants appear set to have Austin Jackson and Pence atop the lineup against left-handed starters, and that duo could see plenty of time early. Seven of the first nine games are against the Dodgers, who have four lefty starters. 

--- Evan Longoria had a double off the right-center wall on Wednesday after missing a week with a sore ankle. He had a single the same way in his second at-bat Thursday. More than the at-bats, Longoria has impressed with his soft hands and steady arm at third. The ankle looks fine, too. 

“My ankle feels pretty good,” Longoria said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue going forward.”

--- It’s been a quiet spring for Andrew McCutchen, but we saw the wheels tonight. McCutchen easily stole second after a two-run single in the fifth. When Evan Longoria bounced one to the left side, shortstop Freddy Galvis tried to go to third for the lead out, but McCutchen beat that throw, too. He got up and put his hands on his hips, as if to say, "Why'd you even try that?"

--- Samardzija allowed three homers in a six-batter span in the third. He allowed three homers in an inning in his previous start, too, but he said he’s not concerned. Samardzija deemed it a sequencing issue. He’s working in a new changeup and threw it in situations he normally wouldn’t; Eric Hosmer took advantage of a floating one, crushing it to deep, deep right for the third homer. 

--- With a runner on, Brandon Belt put down a perfect bunt to foil the shift. Belt does that every spring, particularly against NL West teams, but rarely during the regular season. Maybe this will be the year?

Belt later crushed a homer to deep right. That had to feel good for a number of reasons. Belt is fighting a cold and he learned earlier in the day that his college coach, Augie Garrido, had passed away.

Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential


Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For most pitchers, spring training is a time to experiment and add a pitch or two. Josh Osich is using this month to go the other direction. 

Osich spent the offseason watching film of his 2015 season, when he looked like he might one day be the closer in San Francisco, and decided that he needed to get back to his roots. That means the curveball, which he tried so hard to mix in last year, is now far back in the cupboard. The four-seam and two-seam fastballs are once again the focus, with an emphasis on changing eye levels more than he did a year ago. The changeup and cutter will round out his arsenal for the most part. 

Osich’s raw stuff is still as good as just about any lefty reliever in the league, and he hopes to take advantage of that while putting a rough 2017 season in his rearview mirror. He had a 6.23 ERA last season and 1.73 WHIP.

“It’s just one of those learning years,” Osich said. “I tried to live at the bottom of the zone and I was, but I was actually below the zone. So then I would fall behind and need to throw a strike and that’s when guys would hit me.”

Osich, 29, had a 2.20 ERA and 1.12 WHIP during that 2015 season that he keeps going back to. He walked eight batters in 28 2/3 innings, a far cry from the 27 he walked in 43 1/3 last year. While watching the 2015 version of himself, Osich saw that his hands were higher, and that’s something he’s working to replicate. He’s also trying to slow his pace to the plate. So far, the results are nothing but encouraging. Osich allowed one hit and struck out one in a 2 1/3 inning appearance on Wednesday night. Manager Bruce Bochy let him extend himself to keep the good vibes going. 

In six appearances this spring, Osich has allowed just four hits over seven scoreless innings. He has seven strikeouts and one walk. 

“O, it just seems like he’s got confidence,” Bochy said. “He’s kept it simple, he’s not tinkering with different pitches. He’s throwing more strikes, and more than anything he’s just trying to pound the strike zone now with quality strikes. That’s all he has to do. You look at him and he’s hitting 95 with a couple of good off-speed pitches. That works here.”