You didn’t think it was going to be that easy, did you? You didn’t really believe the San Francisco Giants were going to go 131-21, did you?
If you believe one local newspaper headline, “Hitting rock bottom,” you would think the Giants, following Sunday’s sweep at the hands of the Colorado Rockies, had dropped into last place in the National League West Division with no hope of ever climbing back out.
Number one, not only are the Giants not in last place in the division, they are still in first with a still quite healthy 6 1/2-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers — the biggest lead in the Majors. Number two, every team goes through a slump at some point and despite going just 4-6 on this homestand, the Giants still own the largest lead in baseball — did I mention that already?
A little over a week ago, San Francisco was threatening to run away with the division. On June 8, the Giants were 42-21 with a 9 1/2-game lead over the Dodgers. Everything was right in the world. “No, there’s nothing I can complain about,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy was quoted as saying following a 6-4 win over the Mets. Everything was clicking. They were mashing homers at an unbelievable rate and the bullpen was lights out.
Media types were extolling the virtues of the club and while many of those media types were reporting the Giants definitely weren’t looking ahead, many were doing it for them, wondering about postseason rotations, wondering if the lack of competition would hurt them in the playoffs and who the Giants should pick up at the trade deadline, with names like Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija and Tampa’s David Price being bandied about.
Then came this past week that saw the Giants lose 3 of 4 to the Washington Nationals and then three late-inning collapses against the Rockies over the weekend. The home run train kind of dried up and the lights-out bullpen was suddenly flickering. Suddenly, the sky is falling. The Giants are now “only” 16 games over .500 and their lead in the division over the Dodgers is “only” 6 1/2 going into Monday.
Uh, I’m pretty sure every single team in any sport would love to have those kind of numbers.
The benefit of the Giants’ hot start is just this: it enables them to weather the inevitable valleys that always accompany the peaks that go along with a long baseball season. It may be a cliché, but it is true: baseball is a marathon, not a sprint.
The United States Mens’ National Soccer Team opened its World Cup with a 2-1 win over Ghana Monday afternoon and if the rest of the tournament is like this, I may not make it.
The U.S. pulled out a clutch 2-1 win over the Black Stars with second-half substitute John Brooks scoring the game winner with about 10 minutes left in the contest, this after Clint Dempsey gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead less than a minute into the match.
The only good that came from the match is the U.S. won. The rest? Eh. After that opening goal, the U.S. appeared to bunker in defensively. Ghana, applying pressure for most of the match, eventually found the equalizer in the 82nd minute and it appeared the Americans’ strategy would backfire, until Brooks found the back of the net on a header off a corner kick.
The man of the match was clearly midfielder Jermaine Jones, who excelled on both offense and defense. He was all over the field, putting pressure on the Ghanians.
That was in stark contrast to American midfielder Michael Bradley, who struggled with his touch all game long. Perhaps all the buildup about him being the Americans’ playmaker was too much for him to handle. Either that or he was weighed down by the pressure of the World Cup in general.
Whatever the case, he did not play well.
The good news is, even without a strong overall performance, the U.S. pulled out the win and now stands second in the four-team Group G, the so-called “Group of Death,” behind Germany.
I predicted the U.S. going through to the knockout round with a win over Ghana, followed by a win over Portugal. Given Portugal’s struggles in a 4-0 loss to Germany, it’s not so far-fetched that the Americans will beat them as well.
But they’ll have to play better than they did against Ghana. If not, their third game against Germany could decide their fate.
And given the way the Germans pounded Portugal, that is not an enticing thought.
Nathan Mollat can be reached by phone: 344-5200 ext. 117 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. You follow him on Twitter@CheckkThissOutt.