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John E. Gibson

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HARD DRIVES: Giants stuck in crawl but will make run

by John E. Gibson (Apr 9, 2008)

Most pessimists see the glass as half empty. After a franchise-worst, five-game losing streak to open the season, cynical Giants fans saw the glass as half broken.

Yomiuri has come out of the gate flat, dropping games like a klutz learning to juggle. The Giants stumbled daily, even falling and smacking their heads on the Central League cellar floor following a loss on Friday, a day after winning their first game.

They played almost flawlessly on Sunday to earn their second win in nine tries, but daily failures had Giant lovers and haters pointing at the high cost of losing. After all, Yomiuri has a collection of high-priced jewels expected to shine on the diamond every day. Instead, they look more like a costume jewelry collection.

A peek at the core of the lineup reveals a mixed bag of 30-somethings who aren't exactly on the upside of their careers. One could argue the group is starting to show its age--in unison.

Michihiro Ogasawara is 34; Alex Ramirez 33; Yoshinobu Takahashi just turned 33 and Lee Seung Yeop is 31. Shinnosuke Abe will be 30 next March, but has been playing like he's well past 30.

Upon further review, however, one must realize Ramirez is coming off the most productive season of his career, and Ogasawara is a two-time, back-to-back MVP--first in the Pacific League before winning the honor in the CL last season.

Takahashi also slugged a career-best 35 homers last season, one off the CL lead, and managed to stay healthy enough to play in 133 games, his highest total since 2001. Lee hasn't exactly been a bust, but he hasn't busted out of the doldrums that saw him fall out of the cleanup spot for a spell last year.

He still had a productive 30 longballs and 74 RBIs last year, but manager Tatsunori Hara waited just one week to drop him to the No. 5 spot this season.

Abe has handled the pressure of a having to deal with a sometimes-faulty pitching staff, while being asked to contribute significantly on offense.

While Abe is steady, Hara started to look a little shaky in the interview room after a loss on Saturday to Hanshin.

The skipper responded to a question about his team's almost-routine losses by slamming his cap on the table in front of the inquiring reporter and saying, "You're timing is just as bad as our lineup's."

After looking like he was on the verge of a managerial tirade--something more common in the major leagues--Hara tried to restore the room to the normal exchange-friendly atmosphere by smiling and sitting down. But everyone could see the look in his eyes.

Hara was just as hot and bothered as the players, but had no explanation for the mounting losses. "We just have to be patient," he said, a phrase that became a weeklong battle cry. "These are the guys who have to get it done for us."

No kidding. Yomiuri can't afford new ones.

But there's no reason to point fingers in April. According to Ramirez, the effort is there.

"Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. That's part of the game," he said Saturday. "We're giving 100 percent, but it's not going our way. But we'll be all right.

"You can't do anything about the games we've already lost. We have the team to come back and win five, six games in a row--maybe more than that."

Seth Greisinger, who moved over from Tokyo Yakult in the offseason, also said that with the number of veteran players and the amount of talent, the Giants just need time to put it together.

And let's face it, no one thinks the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles will be first in the PL and the Giants will be rolling in CL cellar dust at season's end.

It's simply a matter of time before order is restored to the universe.

The Chunichi Dragons have the usual pitching and defense; the Tigers have added offense and look to be healthy; but the Giants--except for an iffy outfield and questionable depth in the pitching staff--have too many strengths to focus on their weaknesses.

The Giants are used to pressure and Ramirez said it's too early to jump ship.

"Everybody knows about the tradition here and the pressure just because it's the Giants," Ramirez said. "We still have 130-something games left. It's going to be OK."


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