Ray Ratto

Sharks maddeningly inconsistent once again

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Sharks maddeningly inconsistent once again

The Sharks will be the last team in the NHL to play their 30th game, a qualifier of little meaning given their current habit of skating in sand.But if youre looking for a bright side to their current flat spot, remember that they did this for another month last year before it dawned on them that all their available wasted time had been used. With Colorado coming down on the back-end of a home-and-home Thursday, San Joses record is eerily similar to the one it had a year ago 14-10-4, as opposed to their current 15-10-3. Their goal differential was worse, plus-two as opposed to this years plus-10, and the goals against is the only real difference 68 this year as opposed to 82.But this Sharks team seems as maddeningly inconsistent as last years, and as difficult for a fan to enjoy. Too many nights where they take lots of shots and dont score, or win faceoffs and dont hold the zone, or complain that the little things that win hockey games arent being done.Which makes us wonder if maybe this isnt the team it was advertised to be.

Of course, it also makes us wonder if they have the wherewithal to assemble another second half like last years. And whether they will ever learn how to self-manufacture the boot in the behind that they seem to need to do their best work.It is easy to forget the 12-2-1 run that got them out of their early self-dug hole, but it is that very run that makes one wonder if they arent in fact a streaky rather than a consistently solid team. Their last 10 games, in which they have won only three and squeezed out a substandard eight points, reveal a more difficult issue.Their speed.The core of this team Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Martin Havlat, Dan Boyle and Brent Burns does not alter games with its pace. And its not about skating fast in a line we speak of here, but speed to pucks, getting to the best checking positions, simply getting to spots first. The Sharks do not appear to be forcing the issue as much as they are trying to slow the game to their liking.And that, frankly, is not the way this team was supposed to operate.The Sharks at their best dominate their space by getting where they need to go before the other sweater and dictating from there. The Sharks as we see them play well enough in spurts and then hope for enough productivity in those spurts to pass it off as a good nights work.This didnt occur nearly often enough against St. Louis, Chicago or Colorado, and their numbers in general (save the penalty kill, which has been ghastly, and the faceoff, which has been typically good) suggest a team at the fringe of the playoffs. A team is not likely to know the joys of home ice advantage.But this is not a difficult lesson to pound into the skulls, and head coach Todd McLellan has been trying to do so. The problem may simply be that the employees may not yet be sufficiently desperate to understand the urgency of the task.Put another way, they are posing the same question they always seem to pose at times like this Do we have to use the spurs now? And mid-December, with a third of the season already spent, may not be it.But it should be, at least more than it is now. This is not a team that has stopped listening to McLellan, but it may be a team that still thinks its skill will carry it to ultimate glory, to which we would respectfully point out that that hasnt worked yet.It can, though. Utilizing the speed and will that comes from having done this kind of work before can still be performed, unless the Sharks are simply too old and slow to do so. And if they were, they wouldnt be eighth in the West now, but 13th.So lets just say theyve wasted an awful lot of time yet again trying to figure what and whom they should be. And youd have though they would have deduced that by now.

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

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USATI

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

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AP

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.