Ray Ratto

Ratto: Sharks skate fine line between good, lucky


Ratto: Sharks skate fine line between good, lucky


Ray RattoCSNBayArea.com

The Sharks just polished off another routine, no-sweat-broken one-goal win Thursday night, thereby reminding anyone who follows them, the NHL, or any points between that they are either the hardiest, most obstinate or plain luckiest playoff team there is.
RECAP: Marleau's goal lifts Sharks to 3-2 win over Wild
The 3-2 victory was San Joses 18th one-goal result in their last 27 games, going back to the 5-2 loss to Edmonton that was their official bottoming-out. Of those, they have won 12, six in extra time. In short, they could just as easily be 6-12 as 12-6, and then you wouldnt be talking about the third-best team in the Western Conference, but the seventh-best, which may as well be the 11th-best given the nature of the Western Conference as we know it.But perhaps this is not quite the achievement of mental toughness we think it is. While the Sharks have played 37 one-run games this year, they have averaged 39 per year over the last five full seasons.In short, they are simply slightly better at navigating the close game than they used to be. Not a lot better, just slightly.Many folks have referred to their transformation from high-powered dominators to grind-it-out plumbers and dockworkers (including this folks right here), and that can be seen if you watch game to game.But the numbers suggest that they have actually been better at this all along than we realized.Since 2003, when the Sharks last missed the postseason, they have converted 68 percent of the available points in one-run games to points. They have lost only 54 of 262 such games outright, and took a point from another 62.Thats pedant-speak for, they just improved something at which they were already accomplished.Maybe what has happened in the last 27 games, though, is that they are simply more accustomed to the day-to-day grind of knowing how close they are coming to the third rail. That alone would make them more formidable come the postseason.But the year-by-year numbers say that the players already knew how to do this -- just not in so concentrated a form. And these are they:2010-11 21-8-8
2009-10 20-6-11
2008-09 26-7-11
2007-08 26-7-10
2006-07 13-8-5
2005-06 21-11-11
2003-04 19-7-6
So this late burst of work -- 20-4-3, with a goal differential of plus-22 is their normal workload, squeezed into half a season.The down side of this, of course, is that one-goal games take more energy and create more wear and tear on the body, especially those of advanced experience. Besides, one other thing the numbers tell us is that the Sharks 6-3 loss in Chicago Monday was their first loss of more than one goal since the Edmonton Piefight, so theyre still good (8-1) at running teams when they need to.Yes, Jan. 13 is an arbitrary date, and maybe 27 games is a small sample size. Then again, Jan. 13 was the low point of the season by any measure, and 27 games played almost exactly the same indicates a pretty iron-reinforced trend.So the Sharks arent as new and improved as we thought they were when compared to other seasons, but they are both of those things when compared to the 44 games before it, when everyone was lousy, needed to be traded, fired or both. In other words, if this is about history, theyre about the same. If this is about immediate gratification, theyre wildly different.And all at the same time.

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.