San Fran Stumbles…Boise State…Jacksonville Jags
SAN FRANCISCO'S UNEXPECTED STUMBLE
It wasn't supposed to be this way for San Francisco right now. After all, they won the Carlos Beltran sweepstakes to get the most coveted prize on the trade market just before the July 31 non-waiver deadline. The addition of Beltran's bat was going to give San Fran the one weapon they needed most and would at least ensure they separated themselves from Arizona in the NL West and Atlanta in the NL at large and gave themselves a chance and knocking off Philadelphia in the playoffs and winning another World Series. That was how it was supposed to go.
How it's actually gone has been somewhat different. Beltran hasn't produced, and now he's got a hand injury that may put him on the disabled list. When you give up your top pitching prospect for two months of a player, even a minor injury is a huge deal. The only everyday players contributing right now are Pablo Sandoval, having a fabulous year at third base, and Aubrey Huff, finally out of his first-half slump at first base. To start August, the Giants went 2-5 in consecutive series against Arizona and Philadelphia, then followed it up by losing a series to Pittsburgh. They righted the ship this past weekend against Florida, but coughed up lead and lost last night in Atlanta. They are now 2.5 games back in the NL West, and five back of the Braves for the wild-card.
The pitching has been just what you expect from San Francisco. Tim Lincecum has a 1.11 ERA since the All-Star break, although the 4-2 record that comes with that shows how tough it is getting support form this lineup. The rest of the staff has been consistent. Until last night's loss, Brian Wilson had been perfect and Santiago Casilla lights-out in setup work, and solid depth all around.
San Francisco will have a schedule that should allow them to make up some ground if they make it out of Atlanta alive. They have three more games with the Braves, then a trip to Houston begins a manageable 12-game string. After a weekend series in Houston, they come home to play nine straight against the Padres, a return trip from the Astros and the Cubs–although Chicago is now suddenly gotten serious about playing baseball in recent days. Then the homestand ends with a three-game set against Arizona on Labor Day weekend.
It's no surprise that if the Giants falter it would be a case of the hitting letting down the pitching. But it wasn't supposed to be this way after GM Brian Sabean's bold moves at the deadline.
BOISE STATE POISED TO MAKE ANOTHER RUN
Boise State makes a step up in this year in going to the Mountain West, where they'll stage a one-year rivalry with TCU before the latter bolts for the Big East. It's unfortunate this can't go on a little longer, because at least for 2011, the Mountain West promises to be a very interesting league, and Boise is again poised for a run at a major bowl bid and dark horse national title shot.
The Broncos' calling card is their offense, thanks to national memories of the tricks plays that won the 2006 Fiesta Bowl over Oklahoma. And also thanks to the fact the offense has really been outstanding since then. But don't overlook just how good this defense has been, and it's going to be stout again in '11.
Chase Baker and Billy Winn represent the inside of a defensive front four that is experienced and deep across the board. Two starters return at linebacker, and every projected starter in the front seven is a senior. This is a defense that is going to stay fresh, pressure the quarterback and stop the run. Even though the secondary is a bit of a concern, all concerns are relative–they still return two starters and will fill the other two spots with seniors. It's a mark of how good the Bronco program has become that good players now wait three years to start.
Quarterback Kellen Moore was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy and the southpaw gunslinger is supported by running back Doug Martin. There will be new personnel at wide receiver and tight end, and there's not exactly a lot of time to get everyone on the same page with a September 3 game against Georgia in Atlanta. The offensive line is solid on the left side, but has to break in underclassmen starters on the right. This unit is going to be good, but it may take some time for them to hit on all cylinders.
Even though Boise moved up in conference, they'll still play a couple old WAC rivals. Nevada wrecked their season a year ago on Black Friday and they come to Boise on October 1. Then it's just six days before a trip to Fresno. This is in addition the game against Georgia and new conference foes like Air Force, Wyoming and of course TCU. The showdown with the Horned Frogs will be November 12 on the blue field. By then Boise will have had plenty of time to get their offense in order and a BCS bid will likely be on the line.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS PREVIEW
Turn the clock back to the end of 2007 and you see Jacksonville as a team on the rise. Jack Del Rio was a rising star as a head coach and David Garrard was the same at quarterback. The Jaguars made the playoffs, won the first game in Pittsburgh and gave New England all they could handle before bowing out in the second round. But Jacksonville was seen as the team ready to take that next step. They did, but the step went in the wrong direction. The Jags haven't had a winning season since and this year is the last chance for Del Rio and Garrard to make it work.
Jacksonville's offense is built on running the ball effectively with Maurice Jones-Drew, and then relying on Garrard to find tight end Marcedes Lewis to convert first downs and keep drives going. The Jags have a hard time taking their offense to the next level and getting the ball downfield. I have a hard time blaming Garrard for this–the receiving corps is below average at best, but it's the quarterback who gets the blame. And the Jags used their first-round pick on Missouri's Blaine Gabbert. I think it's fair to say all involved have the message–it's time for Garrard to produce consistently at a high level or give way to the new kid.
Whomever is at quarterback isn't going anywhere without some improved defense. About the only thing nice one can say about this D is that it can't get much worse. Del Rio as a linebacker on Super Bowl teams in Dallas in the early 1990s was a smart, tough player. The defenses he coaches are anything but. I'd like to write more here, but it would amount to a litany of dismissing each position as hopeless. Signing Paul Posluszny from Buffalo won't hurt, but Posluszny is to the defense, what the offense is like–he's steady and solid, but won't make big plays. This team has to have some offensive personnel that can make big plays and some defensive personnel that can make any kind of play. Otherwise, Del Rio is going to be gone. And I think it's fair to say everyone around the organization has gotten that message. Unless the bar of expectations for the coach is set somewhere below the playoffs, I have a hard time seeing how Del Rio is back on the Jacksonville sideline for 2012.
*It's an exciting time for horse racing right now, as prestigious meets are in full swing at Saratoga and Del Mar, in upstate New York and SoCal respectively. Both meets are renowned for longshot winners and exciting stakes races are ahead for both. Visit Bloodhorse.com for updates on the doings here and at major tracks around the country.
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