Ray Ratto

Ratto: Giants now playing to finish above .500


Ratto: Giants now playing to finish above .500

Sept. 9, 2011


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Deny it all you want, but the Giants really do have something to play for these final 17 games.

Its called .500.

After tonight's colossally predictable 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Clayton Kershaws, in which the Giants assembled five entire baserunners, two in the last eight innings, and scoffed derisively at one of Tim Lincecums best starts, they got a clearer view of what they can still potentially defend. And it requires a rear-view mirror.

Never mind Arizona. Thats done, and done dead. The Diamondbacks squeezed a late run against San Diego to win, 3-2, and now lead the NL West by 8 games.

In fact, its bordering on a coin flip whether they can hold off the Dodgers for second. Theyre probably still safe from Colorado, although the Rockies are closer to them than they are to the Diamondbacks.

But lets get down to cases here. The Giants are now 14-25 since July 28, when Lincecum choke-slammed the Phillies in Pennsylvania to put them 17 games over .500, and in the ensuing 39 games are averaging a preposterous 2.74 runs per game.

RECAP: Giants' offense anemic, fall to Dodgers 2-1

Lets focus, though, on the games left. The Giants, rolling along at their .359 clip, can still end up with 81 wins by going 6-12, which is .333. They can play .333 baseball averaging 2.7 runs a game weve seen them do it.

In fact, weve seen all but 30-some-odd teams in the history of the game do it. Two-point-seven is obnoxiously low, the domain of teams like the New Haven Elm Citys, the Elizabeth Resolutes and the Fort Wayne Kekiongas. All quarks and mesons from the late 19th century.

So the Giants need a goal at this point, even after watching how they died Friday night. Even after suspecting that after the first inning, when Justin Christian reached on Dee Gordons throwing error, stole second and scored on Pablo Sandovals base hit, they would fail to press their advantage against the Lord Kershaw.

And then, having watched Lincecum grind through nervous second and fourth innings without damage only to be undone by a two-out swinging bunt by Matt Kemp that hugged the third-base line, a stolen base and a Juan Rivera single, that new goal became all the more important.

And yes, its a lousy goal after what they accomplished a year ago, and how close to the lead they were that Sunday in late July.

But as a practical matter, it is all thats left them, because Friday night was not an unusual occurrence at all. They have scored two or fewer runs in 27 of their last 52 games going back to the All-Star Break, and they havent faced Clayton Kershaw 27 times.

Maybe the desire to hold off the Dodgers burns in the players enough to get them that elusive third run more often in the final three weeks. But we dont think desire has been the issue. Bad at-bats in Costco-sized palettes have been the problem, and we see no evidence that a steady diet of youth will change that. IN other words, this wont be solved by the lineup card, if it can be solved at all.

This is a simple matter of lowering ones expectations to a level considered unfathomable in April, laughable in June, and embarrassing in August. This is about not finishing with 82 losses, and if that seems like too modest a goal in your eyes, well, you havent been watching.

And all credit and glory to you for your judgment.

Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy


Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy

Dusty Baker’s face tells a lot of different stories, but there is only one it tells in October.

Disappointment. Deflating, soul-crushing, hopeless disappointment.

With Thursday night’s National League Division Series defeat to the Chicago Cubs, the Washington Nationals have reinforced their place in the panoply of the capital’s legacy of failure.

But Baker’s agonies extend far further. His 3,500 games rank him 15th all-time, and only one manager above him, Gene Mauch, is not in the Hall of Fame. His 105 postseason games ranks seventh all-time, and his nine postseason appearances ranks sixth.

But his postseason record of 44-61 and no World Series titles curse him. He has been on the mailed backhand of eight series losses in 11 tries (plus a play-in game loss in 2013), and been marked by the media-ocracy as an old-school players’ manager who doesn’t wrap himself in the comforting embrace of statistical analysis.

He is now Marv Levy and Don Nelson – the good manager who can’t win the big one.

Only Levy and Nelson are in their respective halls of fame, and Baker probably won’t be. Having no World Series titles (his bullpen dying in 2002 being as close as he ever got) dooms him as it has doomed Mauch, although Mauch made his reputation as a brilliant tactician with bad teams.

But even if you take Baker’s worst metric – the postseason record – he still ranks in the 90th percentile of the 699 managers in the game’s history, though even then there’s the caveat of the 200 some-odd interim managers who you may choose not to count.

This is not to claim he should be in the Hall of Fame. This is to claim he should be discussed, if only to determine if reputations in the postseason are the only way managers are allowed to be evaluated. Because if that’s the case, Dusty Baker’s world-weary October face makes that conversation a very short one.


U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance


U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance

So Bruce Arena resigned as the U.S. National soccer team coach Friday. Big damned deal.

Oh, it is to him. He probably liked the job, and might have wanted to keep getting paid.

But whether he’s there or isn’t doesn’t matter. In fact, whether the people who hired him are there or not doesn’t matter either. U.S. Soccer is the definition of sporadic interest and patriotism-fueled frontrunning, of imbedded self-interest and general indolence, all born of inexcusable arrogance.

Bruce Arena didn’t bring that to the job, nor does he remove it by leaving. He’s just another head on a spike, like Jurgen Klinsmann was before him, and Bob Bradley before him.

But that would also be true if the head of U.S. Soccer, Sunil Gulati, quit or was fired too. Even the people bleating that the U.S. shamed itself by losing to Trinidad and Tobago display the same kind of blinkered ignorance and arrogance that dogs this sport in America.

Being in CONCACAF is a gift from the heavens, and the U.S. has decided as a national collective to replace that with actual achievement. Beating Germany in friendly is proof of long-term worth. The fact is, we don’t know how to evaluate America’s place in the soccer world except as an audience, let alone how much massive structural change is required to change that.

And change must be massive, and can’t be evaluated by the next cheap win or the next galling loss, or television ratings. America is good at watching soccer, good enough to catch on the actual chasm between its national team and development structure.

But that’s where it ends, because knowing what’s bad because you just watched it, or what is actually good (like, say, a UEFA or CONMEBOL qualifier) is light years from knowing how to fix a system built on the flawed concepts of work rate without creativity and money as a solution to crippling organizational problems.

So Bruce Arena does the decent thing given the circumstances, falling on a sword that should actually be a kebab skewer. But it makes no difference. The American soccer structure needs to get what it needs before it can get what it wants, and there are no more shortcuts to take in a short-attention-span world.