It’s so tough to sustain it, isn’t it?
That championship feeling. That championship team.
Nobody knows that better than the Red Sox and Giants, who have won it all recently, then fallen way back.
The Giants have won three of the last five championships, while the Red Sox have sandwiched a championship around two last-place finishes.
The Giants, who had their latest ring ceremony Saturday, had lost eight straight games before beating the Diamondbacks, 4-1, Saturday.
Nobody in San Francisco is happy about it, certainly not new general manager Bobby Evans, a Framingham native and former Red Sox intern who has been with the Giants for 22 years and served 10 years as Brian Sabean’s assistant.
Through 10 games, the Giants were off to the fifth-worst start of any defending World Series champion.
Only the 1998 Marlins (1-9), 1984 Orioles (2-8), 1964 Dodgers (2-8), and 1947 Cardinals (2-8) had started worse the year after winning the Series.
Evans is the negotiator, and he came close to landing Jon Lester, James Shields, and Pablo Sandoval, but got none of them.
Will 2015 be one of those wasted years for the Giants? Can Evans and Sabean make that acquisition to turn the team into a winner again?
“The way we’re approaching it is we have 151 games to go,” said Evans. “We have some injuries like Hunter [Pence], who is our power bat, out of the lineup. We’ve had pitching injuries. It’s not the best of times, but having injuries is part of the challenge any year.”
If Evans had been able to land Lester, Shields, or Sandoval, would things be different? Who knows?
When Evans got the GM job in March, he joked with ownership about getting the promotion in an odd year. The Giants won the World Series in 2010, ’12, and ’14.
Evans also pointed out that injuries were a big reason why the Giants didn’t do well in 2011 and 2013.
In 2011, they lost Buster Posey after a terrible collision at home plate. In 2013, they lost Ryan Vogelsong.
And in 2015, it’s starting out that way. Pence broke his forearm in spring training. Matt Cain has had some soreness in his pitching elbow.
The Giants’ offense has been bad. They haven’t hit with runners in scoring position (.188).
At 3-8, they tied their worst 11-game start since 1951, when the New York Giants opened 2-11, then roared back from a 13-game deficit in August to win the pennant on Bobby Thomson’s home run.
The 2014 Red Sox said that they couldn’t get the feeling back they had in 2013. That feeling of togetherness and a bond that was impossible to break. They searched for it all season and it never came back.
Evans doesn’t think that has ever happened with the Giants. He has always thought the cohesiveness was there.
“I think you hope things can happen that can pipe some life into your club,” he said. “Joe Panik did that for us last year. When we lost Matt Cain, Jake Peavy came along and had a great run.”
Sabean has been known for making great pickups during the season, such as Cody Ross in 2010, Marco Scutaro in 2012, and Peavy in 2014. Evans may need something like that in 2015.
The National League West may be stronger, with the Dodgers and Padres adding to their teams, while the Rockies have Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez back healthy, and got off to a 7-2 start.
The Giants will have their work cut out, especially if Cain doesn’t come back all the way.
But Evans believes the Giants have underperforming hitters who will hit. He believes a turnaround is near. A trade at this point is likely not to happen because it’s so early.
“At this point you’re just going back to players that were offered you before that you didn’t deal for,” Evans said. “Players who some teams are still trying to move that you took a pass on.”
Nobody knows how this Giants team will evolve.
“Look at what we did the first two months of last season,” said Posey. “It looked like we were going to win 100 games.”
And then the Giants disappeared for two months, before they regained the mojo.
“Every team, regardless of who we have, has a different feel to it,” said Posey. “Every year is its own entity. That’s the appealing part of baseball.”
For six weeks last season, Sandoval was nowhere to be found. Fans had written him off. By October, he was a hero again.
“It’s no fun starting off 3-8, but I think we treat every night here like it’s a playoff game,” Evans said. “We’re never light-hearted about a loss. We just have to grind and prevail. Everybody has injuries to overcome, so we’re no different than a lot of teams.”
Yes, but it’s the year after. The odd year. The Giants would be bucking quite a trend if they should turn it around and win it all again.
Evans would love nothing more than to help make that happen in the first year of a job that was 22 years in the making.
LENDING A HAND
Wakefield assisting aspiring knuckleballer
Tim Wakefield is helping Frank Viola III develop into a knuckleball pitcher. Viola is the 30-year-old son of Frank Viola, who spent 15 seasons in the majors, won the American League Cy Young Award in 1988, and is now the Mets’ Triple A pitching coach.
Viola III was taken in the 29th round of the 2004 draft by the White Sox out of Florida College, but blew out his elbow and had Tommy John surgery in 2006. He returned in 2007, but needed knee surgery and eventually got released by the White Sox.
After a stint with the independent St. Paul Saints, Viola III retired in 2010.
Until the lure of the knuckleball brought him back.
“I think he’s got a chance,” said Wakefield, who worked with Viola III this past offseason. “He’s got to go somewhere to pitch. The Blue Jays picked him up and he got released and he got discouraged, and then the White Sox picked him up this past spring training and he pitched pretty well for them, but there was no room on their minor league roster. Sometimes the political part of baseball comes into play.
“I just told him that he needs to pitch. Go to the independent leagues and make some starts. Scouts are watching those leagues. So I was happy to hear he was going to go to Butch Hobson’s team in Lancaster [Pa.] and have them take a look.”
Viola III also has worked with Phil Niekro and R.A. Dickey.
In the power-oriented environment of baseball, knuckleballers aren’t at the top of anyone’s list of hopefuls.
“I was lucky to have success early in my career [in Pittsburgh] and that kept me on the map until the Red Sox took the chance,” said Wakefield. “I think Stephen Wright got his chance because of my presence, but I doubt you’ll ever see one drafted.”
The bottom line on Viola III? “He’s got a good knuckleball,” said Wakefield. “My work with him was on mechanical things. For me, if you have the ability to take the spin off the ball — which is something you can’t teach — then I take it from there. He took quite well to it. But he’s got to keep pitching.”
“He needs someone to give him consistent innings,” said Frank Viola. “He just needs to keep throwing it consistently in game situations.”
Apropos of nothing
1. Xander Bogaerts singled in the seventh inning on April 9 against the Phillies. So what? Bogaerts wears No. 2. He’s 22 years old. His single went to Ben Revere, who wears No. 2. The time was 9:22 p.m. Bogaerts was batting .222 and the count was 2 and 2. Thanks to reader Frank Padio of Monroeville, N.J., for this tidbit.
2. Things that take you off guard: Jonathan Papelbon called a team meeting in Philadelphia.
3. Still don’t know how they did it, but the Fenway grounds crew managed to eliminate the 2.5 tons of black sand used to melt the snow, and the place looks immaculate.
4. The artist’s rendering of the new ballpark in Providence for the Triple A Red Sox is very nice. Just wonder if they can build it despite the issue of having to remove sewer tunnels, which are very expensive to relocate. If not, then what? Foxborough? Worcester? How about Pawtucket?
5. When a veteran AL scout went to Jackson, Tenn., to watch that Mariners’ Double A affiliate, he thought he had walked into a time warp when he noticed Gabriel Guerrero, nephew of Vladimir. “I saw Vladimir at Harrisburg in 1996 [when Guerrero hit .360] and I’m looking at this kid and it’s like his twin,” said the scout. Gabriel is 6 feet 3 inches and built just like his uncle, with the same free-swinging approach. He’s about 190 pounds, plays right field, and has a gun for an arm. He started slowly this season, but on Thursday after he had been struck out on a breaking pitch, Guerrero doubled on a curveball, and then homered.
6. Yankees infielder Stephen Drew hit his 100th career home run Friday, so he and J.D. Drew (242 career homers) are the eighth set of brothers to each hit at least 100 home runs in the majors. According to Elias, they join Roberto and Sandy Alomar, Aaron and Bret Boone, Ken and Clete Boyer, Joe and Vince DiMaggio, Bob and Irish Meusel, Justin and Melvin Upton, and Dmitri and Delmon Young.
Updates on nine
1. Frankie Montas, RHP, White Sox — A name to watch later this season. Montas will likely get the call from the White Sox, even though he’s currently only in Double A. Scouts who have watched him report jaw-dropping stuff. He’s throwing 97-100 miles per hour. He’s pitched 5⅓ innings this season, allowing no hits with eight strikeouts. Montas, who is described as having a Bartolo Colon-type body but taller, could step up to Triple A in the not-too-distant future. He was one of the pitchers the Red Sox sent to the White Sox in the three-team Jake Peavy deal.
2. Allen Craig, OF/1B, Red Sox — Nobody’s really knocking down Boston’s door to get Craig. It’s a catch-22. If Craig doesn’t play much, he’s not going to get enough at-bats to look good. He seems like a good fit for the Giants, but not just yet. Craig is in limbo. One bad season has reduced him to a bench player. If he plays, his contract (he also has a $13 million team option for 2018) will look team-friendly. If he doesn’t, it will be a deterrent to a team considering him.
3. Craig Stammen, RHP, Nationals — Stammen is likely out for the season with a torn flexor tendon in his right forearm, so where do the Nationals turn? Would they consider bringing Rafael Soriano back? Suddenly the team most picked to win the World Series has some issues.
4. Adam Ottavino, RHP, Rockies — Ottavino, a former Northeastern University star, has mastered a cutter that he can run in on lefthanded hitters. He had only had nine big league save opportunities before this season, and converted only one. But he went 2 for 2 last week in San Francisco. Over the Rockies’ first nine games, lefthanded batters were 0 for 7 against Ottavino and struck out four times. Righthanded batters were 1 for 13 with eight strikeouts. Since the beginning of last season, Ottavino has dominated righthanded hitters, allowing a .227 average, but lefthanded hitters are hitting .317 against him.
5. John Lackey, RHP, Cardinals — The ex-Red Sox, according to a major league source, is still holding out hope that the Cardinals will move toward extending his contract. But the Cardinals are loving the fact they’re paying him the veteran minimum, a medical safeguard suggested by former Sox doctor Thomas Gill. Lackey has pitched well, but it’s not certain the Cardinals want to invest long term in a 36-year-old pitcher.
6. Cole Hamels, LHP, Phillies — Two bad starts out of three. Has the Phillies’ price come down? According to one major league GM who has inquired, “Not one bit.” The Phillies are willing to play it out until the trade deadline, figuring teams’ rotations will trend one way or the other.
7. Mike Matheny, manager, Cardinals — OK, so does Matheny get a pace-of-game infraction for using six pitchers to face six successive batters in the seventh and eighth innings against the Reds April 11? He actually broke his own record, after using five pitchers against five consecutive batters last year.
8. David Price, LHP, Tigers — The market for Price? Given that he’s started this season very well, according to one major league source Price’s next deal will be somewhere between Max Scherzer’s seven years at $210 million and Clayton Kershaw’s seven years at $215 million.
9. Scott Kazmir, LHP, Athletics — Kazmir has started out like gangbusters in his free agent year. The lefthander, who will start against the Royals on Sunday, is 2-0 with 18 strikeouts in 13 innings for a 0.69 ERA. A scout who has been to both of Kazmir’s starts said, “He’s had total command of all of his pitches. He’s so confident out there. I’ve watched him pitch for a long time, and I’ve never seen the eye of the tiger in him like I see now. Don’t know if it’s because it’s his walk year and he can become a free agent, but if he keeps this up most of the season, he’s going to make himself a lot of money.”
From the Bill Chuck files — “Nellie Fox struck out 15 times in 709 plate appearances in 1955. This season, Chris Davis had 15 whiffs in his first 33 plate appearances.” Also, “Stephen Drew has joined Johnny Damon, Don Baylor, and Babe Ruth as the only grand slam hitters for both the Yankees and the Red Sox.” . . . Happy birthday, Rick Miller (67), Frank Viola (55), Spike Owen (54), and Jackie Bradley Jr. (25).