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Pure Cain

Great stat brought up by the Merc’s Andy Baggarly in his Giants game coverage today. The Giants are 2-14 in Matt Cain’s 16 starts, and if they had won just half of those, they’d be a 39-38 club right now. As it is, the last-place team continues to search for answers as to why they can’t score runs for Cain.

If there was ever a time when you might excuse a player for having an Armando Benitez moment — “I did my job,” — this would be it. But Cain told reporters yesterday that he thinks the lack of support and the tight games that have resulted, will actually make him a better pitcher in the long run. He’s right, of course, but for a kid to be mature enough to realize that at 22 is unusual. That’s why Cain should be penciled in as the horse of this staff for years to come.

As for this season, you’d expect the worm to turn at some point. It always does. When it does, Cain will rattle off five or six in a row. The sooner the better, because the kid continues to do everything right on the mound and off it.

3

The A’s are plummeting

Killer loss for the A’s in Cleveland tonight. One out from victory with a two-run lead in the ninth, Alan Embree couldn’t close the deal. The Indians scored five against him, all with two outs, a rally capped by Kelly Shoppach’s pinch-hit three-run home run that brought the A’s home an 8-5 loser.

Listened to the game on the radio while in my car, and announcer Ken Korach told his audience, “shocking events here in Cleveland.” I love Ken, but sorry, not really. The shocking part, really, is that the A’s have stayed afloat as long as they have. Given their injuries, it’s amazing they weren’t buried in the respective races (AL West and wild-card) in May. As it stands, they’re still in shouting distance in the wild-card, but the final two games in Cleveland are critical.

Seeing a quick turnaround might be an optimistic outlook. The A’s are fading, because among other things: Lenny DiNardo and Joe Kennedy have turned into Lenny DiNardo and Joe Kennedy; the Chad Gaudin magic show has hit a snag; Alan Embree has become Alan Embree (remember, he had only eight saves ever before this season; don’t expect him to be the incarnate of Huston Street); the offense has returned to its normal lull (the A’s scored five runs in the first four days of this trip), the they’ve faced far superior competition on this trip.

Five games to go on it. Two vs. the Indians, two vs. the Yankees. Felt the A’s would be thrilled with 5-5 before it started. Now? Hey, just avoid 0-10.

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Sabes: Don’t take the bait

Did you happen to notice the bait that San Diego Padres general manager Kevin Towers dangled in front of Giants general manager Brian Sabean on Monday night? Towers, in his infinite wisdom (or slyness) opined that the Giants have a winning streak in them and that they should be buyers, not sellers at the July 31 trade deadline.

Gosh, let’s hope Sabean, managing partner Peter Magowan and team president Larry Baer don’t bite. Towers obviously hasn’t been watching the Giants as much as we have. Otherwise, he’d realize the one thing the Giants have established this season is that they aren’t capable of putting together two months of excellent play, which is what it will take, at minimum, to overtake four teams in the NL West. And they are more than a trade or two away from curing what ails them.

I don’t know Towers, and I don’t have any reason to think he doesn’t believe what he says. But who’s to say he’s not casting a net for Sabean, daring his fellow NL West GM to make a move which will further weaken a division rival? Sabean doesn’t seem the type to back down from a dare, but in this case, doing just that would be best for his franchise.

I mean, let’s just picture Sabean trading a couple more relievers — say Kevin Correia and Jonathan Sanchez — because he mistakingly believes one hitter will bolster the Giants enough to let them make a run. Then, let’s picture Correia with about 20 saves and a sub-2.00 ERA next year while the Giants find themselves in the same mess they’re in this season.

Essentially, this is the danger that looms right now. The Diamondbacks, Padres and Dodgers are going to make the NL West a three-horse race, and the Rockies aren’t slouches anymore, either. It behooves the Giants to recognize what they are these days, and what they need to do to repair it.

Step One: Don’t take Towers’ bait.

0

Rod Beck (1968-2007)

The boss called earlier today and told me that our guestbook for Rod Beck already has become one of the most-hit features our site has ever had. No surprise there. As mentioned in my earlier blog, today, Beck was a player of the people, the kind of person we’d envision ourselves being if we had the talent to close out games in the major leagues.

Friend of mine went to Sunday’s game that featured the 1962 reunion between the Yankees and Giants, and he said not a word was mentioned about Beck’s death. That’s a bit surprising, but the Giants will honor him tonight. Perhaps instead of a moment of silence, everybody should take a swig of a Coors Light. Beck would’ve probably wanted it that way.

As for myself, I always keep that vision of Beck puffing away at a cigarette as he pumped an exercise bike in the bowels of Dodger Stadium. I was just getting my feet wet covering baseball at the time, and that particular series was my first road trip, and the first time I approached him, I was scared. I could certainly relate to what Rich Aurilia said about him. But like Aurilia, I found him friendly, funny, not at all what I had heard I should expect from a player.

Sad to read that he’d been battling demons later in life. Former manager Dusty Baker mentioned on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight that Beck almost died last year from a staph infection last year. Sounds like the man was having a rough go. At least he’s not suffering anymore.

0

The Monday Rundown

Now that I’ve emerged (somewhat) from my flu-driven fog from the weekend, I’ll say this. I have a newfound respect for the aches and sicknesses that athletes play through at times. Let’s get to the rundown:

Incredibly sad news about former Giants closer Rod Beck. Listened to the post game call-in show on KNBR yesterday, and to a man, folks wanted to talk more about Beck than they did about the Giants winning two of three from the Yankees. Not a surprise. Beck was a man of the fans, what with his less-than-perfect body, long hair and fumanchu mustache. He was one of the first baseball players I felt confident enough to talk with on a casual basis, because he was just so down to earth. My enduring memory. Watching Beck work out on an exercise bike in a hallway at Dodger stadium, cigarette in the corner of his mouth.

— The Giants series win says more about the Yanks than it does about the Giants. They remain a team with thin starting pitching (Mike Mussina threw slop, Roger Clemens is not the Rocket of old, and Chien-Ming Wang couldn’t protect separate three-run leads against one of baseball’s worst offenses), their bullpen is ordinary, and even their lineup hasn’t been great. They can forget about catching Boston, and they’re getting dangerously far behind the wild-card leading Indians, too.

— Speaking of being dangerously far behind, the A’s now trail the Angels by nine games in the AL West. They can probably forget about catching them, no matter what their second-half history may suggest. Wild-card is still doable, but it might not be in four days if they look as haggard as they did against the Mets. The A’s win by pitching and playing defense, and both phases of the game have been less than A-grade for the past week.

— Here’s how unusual the A’s performance in New York was this weekend? They hadn’t been swept in a series of three or more games in over a year.

Ken Griffey Jr.’s return to Seattle was a smashing success, and that struck me as ironic. My wife and I were driving through Seattle on a vacation back in the winter of 1999 when Griffey had been dealt to Cincinnati, and fans were ripping him all over the radio dial. Time heals, apparently.

— Who’s have ever thunk: Oregon State a college baseball mecca?

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Bye, bye Milton

Sat in on the conference call that Billy Beane had with reporters this afternoon to discuss the team’s decision to cut ties with Milton Bradley, and I can tell you this: I don’t take Billy Beane’s word entirely at face value.

Yes, I do believe that this move was created by a roster crunch that’s coming in the outfield. Travis Buck has proven more productive, Jack Cust more reliable and Shannon Stewart both. All of them are cheaper, as are Bobby Kielty, Chris Snelling and Bobby Kielty. So from that perspective, Beane is right when he says Bradley was the most logical move.

But when he says that this decision had absoutely nothing to do with Bradley’s presence inside the clubhouse or his injury history, I don’t bite. I’ll refer to one of Tony La Russa’s famous quotes about Rickey Henderson. La Russa basically said that the bigger a pain in the rump a player is, the better he ought to be on the field. Bradley was clearly no picnic, and his inability to get on the field and stay there made him not worth tolerating anymore.

I feel kind of bad for the guy, actually. Bradley is pleasant enough when you deal with him, and several A’s — Eric Chavez in particular — raved about him. Beane, for his part, told reporters that the description, “bad dude,” would never be one that would come out of his mouth.

The unfortunate part for Bradley is that the A’s may have represented his greatest chance to salvage something from his immense talent. Instead, it appears he will wind up as one of the greatest wasters of it.

3

No More Milton Bradley

The A’s finally reached their breaking point with Milton Bradley, and gave him the boot this morning.

Wish I could say I told you so, but that’s not the case. Believe it or not, I thought Bradley would have a big season. He looked fantastic during the week I saw him during the spring, and my observations were corrobarated by media members who were watching him every day.

But it turned out to be a mirage. Two weeks into the season, Bradley’s old injury pattern returned. He eventually went on the disabled list three times for a variety of ailments, and when he had a mini-blowup when the A’s didn’t activate him Tuesday night, he may have sealed his doom. He also was seen throwing chairs and have a temper tantrum after Wednesday’s win, perhaps because he’d already received the news.

The A’s will have a conference call this afternoon to explain their actions, but if I had to guess, it had more to do with the glut of outfielders and Bradley’s lack of reliability than it did his presence in the clubhouse. Travis Buck has emerged as a very potent player, and the A’s don’t want to lose Jack Cust. Shannon Stewart is a pro’s pro, and Mark Kotsay and Nick Swisher aren’t going anywhere.

Thus, the choice probably had to be Bradley. His injury-plagued past and attitude probably made it a whole lot easier.

1

Road to Nowhere

I’ve seen enough. You’ve seen enough. The Giants have to have seen enough, haven’t they?

I was on vacation all weekend, so I wasn’t able to follow closely the happenings in Boston over the weekend, other than to see that Barry Zito was once again terrible in a “big game,” and Matt Cain got no run support again. Now, after a fifth straight loss, this one to Milwaukee, can the Giants really consider anything other than a wholesale selling of the parts come the trade deadline?

Let’s face it, this team is going nowhere (well, except maybe for 90 losses, if not 95). So the goal now is to fix this club as much as possible with an eye toward 2008 and beyond. If I’m Brian Sabean, I’m trying to find takers for Ray Durham, Randy Winn, Pedro Feliz, Dave Roberts, and perhaps even Matt Morris (and updating my resume as we speak). Only Feliz and Morris would figure to bring great value, but you have to start the rebuilding plan somewhere; otherwise you turn into the Orioles.

Should be very interesting to see where Barry Bonds plays into all this. I would be stunned if owner Peter Magowan and president Larry Baer explored the possibility of moving Bonds, and besides, Bonds would have to waive his blanket no-trade clause (which he has as a 10-and-5 guy). The way Bonds is going, he will not tie Henry Aaron before the July 31 trade deadline, so that’s an issue to consider, too. Bonds talks all the time about playing the game to get to the World Series, and he won’t be getting there with the Giants. And frankly, it looks like he’s lost interest in everything except trying to hit home runs. So maybe now is the time to broach an amicable divorce.

Should be interesting viewing over the next six weeks. Far more interesting than watching this team play.

0

No ordinary Joe

I’m telling you, Joe Blanton is just like Bob Welch. Can’t tell you how many times I’d watch Welch back in the late 1980s and early ’90s and think to myself in the early innings, “He’s in real trouble tonight.” Same thing with Blanton in the A’s win last night at Houston. But like Welch, Blanton got enough big outs early (including a huge double play in the fifth) to stabilize, ended up getting through seven and had himself a very nice line, and a victory at the end of the night.

By the way, who had Jason Kendall in the home run pool?

The real news for the A’s, as mentioned in this notebook, were the contract extensions given to general manager Billy Beane and Mike Crowley. Absoultely no surprise to see that happen, and all it means is that the A’s will be run very similarly if and when they get their new ballpark in Fremont. The A’s have will have more cash if Cisco Field becomes a reality, but they’ll never wield huge cash. With Beane in charge, it shouldn’t matter.

Meantime, a tip of the hat to Giants catcher Guillermo Rodriguez, who had himself a very good day after waiting 11 years to get the chance in the majors. That was about the only bright spot for the Giants.

I was surprised to hear on talk-show radio last night just how many Giants fans think Barry Bonds should determine his Giants future. Many of them preceded their comments with, “I’m also a 49ers fan.” I got news for you. Bill Walsh would’ve cut Bonds loose years ago. No question about it.

I’m heading out on a vacation, so no blog until next Tuesday morning. Try not to overheat.

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Street sense

No surprise to read this morning that A’s closer Huston Street has suffered a setback with his ailing right elbow. Street, who has been on the disabled list since May 14 with irritation in his right ulnar (elbow) nerve, felt pain during his last throwing session and has been shut down. He’ll seek additional opinions on the elbow.

It figures. In my experience watching and covering ball, elbow pain has been the trickiest thing for trainers to deal with. The layman’s explanation: Something causes irritation in the nerve that causes the area to swell. Thus, the pain. Then, when the activity in the area stops for a while, the swelling goes down, and the pain subsides. Then activity, such as throwing, causes the whole process to start over again.

At this point, the A’s need to find what is causing the source of the pain, and considering that inactivity and anti-inflammatories haven’t stopped the problem, the guess here is that something structural that hasn’t been discovered yet is going on in there. Again, just a guess, and I’m not a doctor.

The long and short of it is this: Don’t anticipate seeing Street on the mound for a long time (if at all) this season.