Ray Ratto

The Bay Bridge Series matters this year

The Bay Bridge Series matters this year

The annual struggle to make the Bay Bridge Series matter to a wider audience is on again, this time a six-games-in-10-days extravaganza that actually has a chance to do something meaningful to this largely dormant rivalry.
 
Namely, killing a team’s postseason hopes.
 
The Giants have tried ignoring the A’s throughout much of this 22-year boondoggle on the theory that kings do not interact with peasants. They have outdrawn the A’s in each of those 22 seasons, have won three rings and played twice as many postseason games . . . plus they have a ballpark/cash register. And don’t think they hold those up as an impenetrable shield against all westbound jibes.
 
The A’s, on the other hand, have tried to pick little marketing-driven fights here and there to see if the Giants will respond at all, so far to no success.
 
So with the two teams ready to lock up for two series on either side of the All-Star Break, the path to rivalry relevance lies in the most basic of methods.
 
Baseball.
 
Namely, this way: The A’s beat the Giants out of postseason consideration by winning five of the six games (two sweeps would be too much to ask). Or, the Giants beat the A’s out of postseason consideration by winning five out of six.
 
And then this way: By forcing the loser to reconsider its position viz -- the trade deadline. As in, “We made you trade Johnny Cueto,” or the reverse, “We made you trade Blake Treinen.”
 
True, this is a desperate scenario in both directions because there have only been three such incidences in series history of one beating the other five times, and in none of those (2007, ’09 and ’15) did one materially damage the postseason hopes of the other since, oddly enough, neither team made the playoffs in any of those years.
 
And that might turn out to be true this time as well. Such is the nature of the rivalry – it has mattered only once since 1913, and the time it did, the earth tried to swallow both teams. This mutual hatred thing that the Giants have developed with the Dodgers has never translated to the Bay Bridge.
 
But every year we live in hope, and this is the scenario we have being given today – that either the A’s or Giants can punk the other out of their postseason fantasies, enough to turn holders into sellers, the most obvious form of surrender in this modern mercantile world.
 
And then acting all mouthy and attitudinal about it.
 
This would not be the Giants way, of course, because of their haughty stature and market positioning. It would absolutely be the A’s way, though, and frankly should, because nobody likes a quiet underdog. Their position should be a loud and proud, “Whatever happens to us, at least it happened to you guys first.”
 
It is the only way that the Bridge can become battleground, especially now that the 49ers-Raiders thing is pretty well done and buried. And Warriors-Kings isn’t happening because they have never even had a winning record at the same time while in the same state.
 
So there’s your scenario for starting a rivalry that barely exists in the mind and hasn’t actually in the tangible world since Loma Prieta decided to beat them both. Their tasks are clear.
 
We expect failure.

Distance between the U.S. and SoccerWorld is more vast than ever

soccerteens.jpg
AP

Distance between the U.S. and SoccerWorld is more vast than ever

The World Cup was over for about eight seconds when the good people at Bovada.com whirled into action and made up a futures book for the 2022 World Cup – mostly because degeneracy never sleeps.
 
But also because the run-up to the World Cup In Hell, as the Qatar competition will come to be known, is a good way to establish just how hungry American soccer believers are in getting back into the anticipation game. The U.S. national team, as shambolic as it has been in nearly three decades, is listed as a cool 80-1, the 16th-highest rated team on the planet, generously tied with Denmark, mostly because there will be betting action on the USNMT just so people who want to bet the Yanks can manufacture excitement after a year of utterly mockable inertia.
 
And that’s the key here – this isn’t a measure of the nation’s place in the international game that just captivated us for a month, not at all. The U.S. couldn’t even be 32nd this year and suddenly, with nothing more to bank upon than four more birthdays for Christian Pulisic, they have improved 16 places merely because they are probably more bettable now than they will be for years.
 
We just established that as a nation we can be thrilled by the World Cup without even a hint of America, but that’s not the lesson that will be learned here. The lesson is that teeny little Croatia could get to the final game, and that this was the World Cup in which the chalk mostly failed. France was considered a lively underdog but hardly the equal of Brazil or Spain or Argentina or Germany, and the final four included an improbably happy and agenda-free England side and Belgium’s latest golden generation.
 
And individually, the tournament was not dominated by any single player, no matter how much Fox wanted to cram Ronaldo and Messi and Kane down our constricted yaps. The standouts were Mbappe and Modric and Pogba and Kante and Hazard and Griezmann and Perisic and Pickford – all well known to soccer aficionados, but very much against the run of narrative play.
 
In short, for casual fans it helped to know the players, but mostly the fans came anyway because Americans love to label-shop if their own team isn’t involved, and the World Cup has a great label even despite the continued involvement of FIFA.
 
But as for the Americans, being 80-1 with only 1,590 days left to get themselves together and put up not only a coherent side but a coherent plan installed by coherent men and women seems, well, low. The distance between the U.S. and SoccerWorld is more vast than ever, and now that casual fans have figured out that the flag is less important than the field, the U.S. will not just be able to toss out a few strips of bunting and call itself America’s team. It will have to earn it with actual play.
 
This flies in the face of what America does best – throwing the party. The 2026 World Cup will be America at its most competent and organized, and maybe with 3,000 days of prep time it can deliver even better goods than it did in 1994.
 
But the team itself . . . well, even if you accept the very generous 80-1 line as even minimally valid, it has light years to travel. The U.S. stepped back while the rest of the world stepped forward, and a World Cup as entertainingly unpredictable as this will make it harder, not easier, for the Americans to claim the place it insists for itself by virtue of . . . well, saying it should have a place.
 
If they’re to be one of the 32 again, they will have to re-learn what it is like to be and act like the outsider. Other than Pulisic, feeling ostracized as not good enough is probably the best tool in their shed.

In the meantime, "go you degenerates!" or as the French say, "allez vous dégénérés!" You can show the country the way by betting the Yanks down to, oh, say 75-1.

Fate of A's All-Stars says everything this year

jedus.jpg
USATSI

Fate of A's All-Stars says everything this year

All-Star Game roster selections are not in and of themselves foul for compelling examination (although they are typically better than the games themselves), especially so when you pretty much know whom your favorite teams will be sending to the event.
 
Ahh, but when your team is in the conundrum of deciding whether or not to trade its potential All-Stars . . . there you have something especially – well, huh?
 
The Giants will almost surely send Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford as top vote-getters at their positions, and even if Posey is caught by Chicago’s Willson Contreras in the last four days, the National League catching lineup is bereft of other candidates unless you think Miami’s only possibility is J.R. Realmuto, in which case manager Dave Roberts would take a third catcher.
 
The A’s, on the other hand, won’t have a starter but it is generally assumed that Jed Lowrie has the numbers to make the American League team as a backup (second in WAR, OPS+ and OBP among AL second basemen behind Houston’s Jose Altuve, and that closer Blake Treinen might be one of the best at his craft this year – even though teams are fooling with the closer concept more than ever).
 
The difference between Posey/Crawford and Lowrie/Treinen, though, is that the Giants are likely to be either be buyers or idlers at the trade deadline, while the A’s, who are clearly the better team, still struggle to get close enough to the Seattle Mariners to make the postseason a possibility and therefore more likely than the Giants to be sellers.
 
And who are the most coveted A’s at this deadline, you ask? Go on. Ask it. Don’t make me a liar. Do it. Now.
 
Okay, now that you’ve asked out of your own warped curiosity, those players would be Jed Lowrie and Blake Treinen.
 
This assumes, of course, that the Beane/Forst doesn’t think the Mariners are catchable, and we have no reason to assume any such thing. This also assumes that the A’s don’t desperately need good results to juice a flagging attendance figure (15,846 per game and 28th overall, though close enough to Pittsburgh and maybe even the Chicago White Sox to dream lofty thoughts about 26th).
 
Seattle may be catchable, of course, because despite being seven games ahead, their Pythagorean record (their expected record given their plus-21 run differential) is 46-41 rather than 55-32, the largest positive discrepancy in baseball, and the A’s, who are 48-39, would be 45-42 based non their plus-16 differential. That’s one game rather than seven, meaning that Seattle could return to the mean if they’d stop being 26-11 in one-run games and 8-0 in extra inning games.
 
Oh, and the team doing worse against its Pythagorean number is Houston, who should be not 1½ games better than Seattle by that metric but 17½.
 
In other words, the A’s have to decide if Seattle’s overachievement will continue, if being the best non-playoff team will translate into more local interest, and if Billy Beane’s stated desire to be no longer known as “He Who Sells Players.
 
And if the decision is that Seattle can’t be caught, or that being the best non-playoff team has no value, or that Beane is still a serial prospect hunter/veteran discarder, then their two All-Stars might be attractive prospect-bait before the July 31 deadline.
 
That would be one more massive buzzkill for a team that needs to be anything but, but one should never assume that the A’s have finally taken the building-for-now cure. They keep winning and winning and 13-3 winning, and at some point that has to catch on, right?
 
Right?
 
Well, right?