Debating William & Mary, sports and culture since 2011. Updated every Wednesday.

1986 Chrysler LeBaron

In Baseball, Long form on August 24, 2011 at 11:29 am

There are over 30 games left, they’re one game back and the torture is far from over.

Some cars on the freeway have no business being on the road. Their fenders drag and spark, exhaust billows out of their tailpipes and the paint peels away in flakes. They’re toxic, polluted vehicles with drivers who are just as disgusted by the spectacle as the schmucks crawling behind them in the fast lane; left to chew the carbon monoxide as it putt-putts slowly toward home.

Of course, driving that burnt out shell has its perks. There is no agonizing over little nicks and dings. If you wreck it, you walk away knowing you probably rode that car for as long as it could possibly go. The bar is set so low that when it unexpectedly kicks into fourth gear driving up an on-ramp, you can’t help but be a little overjoyed.

When that car finally dies though—man, what a bummer. The 2011 San Francisco Giants are a shell of the team that won the World Series last year. I’m hoping they can at least take us home

One of the best things about being home is watching your favorite teams on a regular basis. As a West Coast sports fan on the East Coast, my Pac-10 (I won’t call it the Pac-12 until I have to), NL West, AL West and Golden State fixes come in limited doses. Following baseball through text messaged score updates and Twitter feeds isn’t the same as watching a game live, in living color. (The worst part about it is the uncomfortable, mumbling curses my friends have to listen to when I find out the Giants lost via text).

Particularly with the Giants, a team that relies entirely on its pitching staff, you can’t appreciate the game without seeing it. It’s impossible to assess Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum off their win-loss records, because they don’t get any run support. Furthermore, their B-games outpace most starters’ A-games, and I can’t tell which is which when I’m staring at an ESPN gamecast on a four-inch screen.

It isn’t until the next day, when I open up my laptop, that I really can digest the stories and nuances of a team that is all about stories and nuances. But as much as I love John Shea of The San Francisco Chronicle and Andrew Baggarly of The San Jose Mercury News, I think even they would say their articles don’t compare to watching the game and hearing Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow do play-by-play.

That is what makes these last two weeks all the more excruciating. Seeing is much better than knowing. I could take solace in the bright spots if I could look for them.

And looking at the box scores, there aren’t a lot of bright spots. For active players on the roster, Aubrey Huff leads the Giants on the season with a .248 batting average (Pablo Sandoval, who spent several weeks on the disabled list, doesn’t qualify). At least 19 of the players who were on the roster on opening day have spent time on the DL. Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez, two of the Giant’s best offensive producers, will be out until spring training 2012. Barry Zito continues to be Barry Zito. Only time will tell if Carlos Beltran was worth giving up the team’s best pitching prospect.

A 37(38? 39? 40?)-year old Miguel Tejada is an everyday player in this lineup. That should tell you everything you need to know.

Duane Kuiper hit the nail on the head when he described the Giants’ 2010 World Series run as torture. The whole season felt like that Seinfeld episode where Kramer tries to take the car as far as possible past “E” on the fuel gauge. When the team finally, inexplicably beat the Phillies and the Rangers to clinch the title, it was vindication for years of watching mediocrity beget bad luck. With an offense led by an actually dangerous Aubrey Huff, a player who had almost no business being in the league much less winning a championship, the Giants somehow managed to slug their way into the playoffs in August and September. The pitching, the best in the league, left autumn opponents swaying in the breeze. And of course there was Buster Posey.

Being able to watch that team win, even from 3,000 miles away in a crummy apartment in Southern Virginia, was as close as I’ll get to the Bay Area for some time. Tasting that level of success vicariously was like a pathetic drug whose addictive power sapped the patience of my friends, who really wished I’d shut up about the bullpen specialist Javier Lopez’s unique ability to shut down Ryan Howard in the clutch.

As the Giants wind down their season, they’ll have to battle injuries and the expectations of fans that tasted success prematurely. The New York Times published a story Monday describing inconsolable Bay Area fans clinging to the memory of last year like a beloved, rusted-out Cadillac. Something bought and paid for but past its prime and overvalued.

As great as last year was, it is becoming more and more apparent that the romanticized scamps who brought The City its first World Series ring were not built for the long haul. They’re old, they thrived on a chemistry that isn’t necessarily there, as parts have been replaced by younger players with greater potential. Cody Ross really isn’t the boss and the Huffinator looks like he ran out of batteries.

The torture is far from over—there are over 30 games to go before I can finally rest easy in the preordained stink of Alex Smith and the San Francisco 49ers. The Giants have dropped 13 of 20 in the month of August. Fortunately, the division-leading Diamondbacks have not fared much better, having lost heir last six games. As terrible as August has been, as of press time, the Giants sit one game back from the lead, well-poised to make another white-knuckle run for a ring and the psychiatric health of the Bay Area. Hopefully, we won’t have to call AAA.


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