Mark McGwire: hitting coach

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Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has an in depth article on Mark McGwire today. And — surprise! — it’s about Mark McGwire the hitting coach, not Mark McGwire the sideshow freak:

“I used to have a different swing for every type of pitch, like it was
this advanced game of pepper up there,” [Brendan] Ryan said while taking batting
practice with McGwire at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo. “It’s
like in the minors, when I’d do these different impersonations of
hitters. I’d do Babe Ruth. I’d do Albert Pujols. … I’d have good
swings, but I didn’t know why, I didn’t know how it happened. “It’s like Mac has this scientific formula for what goes into a good
swing,” Ryan said, “and that’s what we’ve been working on. Knowing what
swing works”  . . .

. . . “This is not to take away from the other hitting coaches I’ve had, but
there is so much more instruction I’ve had from working with Mac,” said
[Skip] Schumaker. “I can’t imagine what it will be like to have him there,
right with us, all year. I feel kind of like an only child. I don’t
really want to share him.”

In some ways these types of things are the coaching equivalent of “best shape of his life” articles. Every year someone has been working with young players in the cage or the bullpen. Every new coach has articles written about his fresh approach or devotion to videotape or whatever.  I’m always kind of dubious of these things, especially when it comes to hitting coaches, because my pet theory on hitting coaches is that while they can do a lot of harm — see every Braves hitting coach since, I dunno, Clarence Jones — they don’t really do a heck of a lot of good relative to the praise they receive.

But McGwire is obviously a special case. For the steroids media circus, sure, but also because so many people assume that a big power hitter who struck out a lot can truly be an effective hitting coach.  Will he get the same hitting coach honeymoon others get if his guys start out raking? Will he get the same amount of blame others get when they slump? Will everything that happens with the Cardinals’ offense be seen through the McGwire-hyperbole-prism that was constructed a couple of months ago?

That may be the second most interesting question in Cardinal-land this season.

The Giants are winning but they’re still gonna sell

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The state of baseball in general, the state of the National League in particular and the state of the San Francisco Giants as a competitor are conspiring to create what seems like at least a mildly absurd situation.

The Giants, a veteran-laden team that, as recently as this past offseason but definitely within the past couple of years, were at least talking about being on a win-now footing, just swept a four-game series, have won five straight games and have won 12 of 14 to pull themselves to within two and a half games of a playoff spot.

Yet, that’s all for temporary show, because they’re about to sell off. At least according to Jeff Passan at ESPN. Giants president Farhan Zaidi tried to push back on that in a radio interview yesterday, denying that the club has foreclosed the possibility of a postseason push, but I’m not really buying that and I don’t think most people are.

On one level it makes sense to ignore the recent surge and forge on with a rebuild. Sure, the Giants are winning but they’re not exactly good. They’re two and a half out of the Wild Card, but there are many teams ahead of them. There’s a lot of reason to think that they’re playing in good fortune right now and that that, rather than finding some extra gear of sustainable better play, is what’s to credit. Hot streaks can happen at any time but the trade deadline only comes once a year. When you have the best starter available in Madison Bumgarner and the best reliever available in Will Smith, you gotta make those deals. That’s what I’d probably do if I ran the Giants and I think that that’s, wisely, what Zaidi will do.

Still, it’s an odd look, less for the Giants specifically than for baseball as a whole. We may in an era of cheap front offices who don’t like to contend if it means spending money, but it’s unfair to paint the Giants with that brush. They’ve spent money and acquired talent and have done whatever they can to extend their 2010-2014 mini-dynasty a few more years and in doing so they’ve made a lot of fans happy. That team has pretty much reached the end and, even in an earlier, more competitive era, they’d not be properly criticized for starting in on a rebuild. Heck, they’d be excused if they had done it a year or two earlier, frankly.

But, because so many teams have punted on improving themselves, these aging Giants are at least superficially competitive. As such, when they do sell off in the coming days, it’ll look to some like they’re waving a white flag or something when they’re not really doing that. I mean, the Rockies and the Pirates, among other teams, should be much better than they are but didn’t seem all that interested in improving, thereby helping the Giants look better, right? It’s less a knock on the Giants for rebuilding when they’re within striking distance of the playoffs than it is on the rest of the league for allowing a team like the Giants to be within striking distance of a playoff spot.

But that’s where we are right now. An insanely competitive Wild Card race from teams that, on the whole, are rather unconcerned with being competitive. What a time to be a baseball fan.