The "Even Year Magic" has run out, but Giants return ready for another World Series run

Mad Bum is back for more in 2017 (photo by Tim Warner)

Mad Bum is back for more in 2017 (photo by Tim Warner)

By Ryan Ward | @RyanJWard

Well, it finally happened.

Oakland A’s faithful and MLB fans nationwide can rejoice, because the "Even Year Magic" (or “Even Year BS,” as some say) has finally run out for the San Francisco Giants.

Fitting as it may be, it was painful for Giants fans to watch the backbone of their team - the definitive strength of the 2010, 2012, and 2014 championship teams - directly lead to their demise. It felt ironic, but it was only a matter of time before their reliable bullpen arms aged, became fatigued, lost precision, and the luck began to run out.

The warning signs were there throughout the year, as the team blew an incredible 30 saves during the 2016 regular season. The front office took a gamble by not making significant improvements to the bullpen at the trade deadline - aside from 8th-inning lefty Will Smith - and it couldn’t have ended worse in the playoffs.

The 9th inning of Game 4 of the NLDS was the straw that broke the camel’s back, as Derek Law, Javier Lopez, and Sergio Romo failed to record an out while coughing up a 4-run lead vs. the Cubs, leading to San Francisco’s first playoff series loss since 2003.

Let’s take a moment to admire the team’s run, though. Leading up to the 2016 NLDS, the Giants had defeated a whopping 11 consecutive playoff opponents since the start of the 2010 postseason, which ties a record set by the 1998-2001 New York Yankees, one of baseball’s greatest dynasties.

Now, as they look ahead to Opening Day 2017, it’s out with the old and in with the new. The final three members of the Giants’ “Core Four” bullpen - Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, and Santiago Casilla - have either moved on or retired (Romo to the Dodgers, keep an eye on that one).

Filling their shoes will be difficult, but the Giants have several guys ready and willing to be promoted to the later innings, including Hunter Strickland, Derek Law, and Steven Okert, all with big league experience and intermittent success, primed for their careers to advance.

The Giants’ front office did their best work of the offseason when they courted and eventually signed Mark Melancon away from the Pirates to anchor the bullpen staff. Melancon brings instant stability to the role with 147 saves since the start of 2013 (3rd in the league), and although his contract is large, the Giants were very clear that they were not willing to take any shortcuts at that position in 2017.

Along with a newly solidified ‘pen, the Giants continue to bolster an All-Star caliber infield, both offensively and defensively. Amazingly, all five starting Giants infielders - Posey, Belt, Panik, Crawford, and Nunez - have All-Star selections to their names. And equally as incredible, the home-grown group of Posey, Panik, and Crawford have all won Gold Glove Awards.

The outfield, however, remains the Giants’ undisputed question mark. Hunter Pence is their biggest asset and emotional leader, however his health has been a huge question mark these past few seasons, as he’s fought oblique, wrist, and leg injuries. If the Giants plan to return to the World Series, they’ll need Pence to regain his .280 BA, 20 HR, 80 RBI form, and play upwards of 140 games in right field.

Denard Span is also a question mark, as he’s proven to be less of a prototypical leadoff hitter, despite Bruce Bochy’s insistence that he remain in that spot. If he can get on base at a good clip ahead of the heart of the lineup, the Giants will be fine. If not, then it poses a problem, and might warrant a change in the lineup order.

That leaves left field open, which is entirely up for grabs. Management made it clear that they have faith in their young outfield talent by not even pursuing a LF replacement in free agency, and at this point in spring training, it looks as if lefty Jarrett Parker will win the job...but it’s almost a certainty that both he and righty Mac Williamson will split the duties in platoon roles, depending on the day’s starting pitcher.

It would behoove Bochy to go with the hot hand, however, and avoid stubbornly sticking to the platoon definitions, as both guys have huge power and can get streaky over stretches of games. Let’s not forget that Parker has a 3 HR game on his big league resume.

Finally, the starting pitching. Unlike last offseason, the Giants went into the winter break confident in 4 out of 5 of their starting spots. In rotation order: Bumgarner, Cueto, Moore, and Samardzija. The 5th spot is there for the taking, and the Giants may well give it to Matt Cain, but he has done nothing to earn their trust this spring, and guys like Ty Blach and Tyler Beede are chomping at the bit to get their chance.

Still, having two All-Stars at the top and two solid starters at 3 and 4 is much more than almost any team can say, and the Giants certainly count their starting pitching as an advantage over most opponents.

Now that the even year magic is over, the Giants look healthy and ready as ever to challenge for the NL pennant in 2017, led by solid starting pitching, an All-Star infield, and a fresh-faced bullpen with a game-changing closer. Stay tuned, 2017 may have some magic up its sleeve.

Forged in the Windy City, Charlie Moore embarks on a career at Cal

Charlie Moore has drawn comparisons to another Chicago turned Berkeley point guard, Jerome Randle. (photo courtesy CalBears.com)

By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com

It’s early August in Berkeley and Charlie Moore has no idea he’s late for his scheduled interview. Seemingly oblivious of his surroundings, the soon-to-be college freshman is planted on the wing on the north side of Haas Pavilion, launching three-pointers in perfect rhythm. Rarely hitting the rim, his calm facial expression doesn’t waver. Catch, release, swish, repeat. The pattern, reminiscent of a Steph Curry pre-game warm up show at Oracle Arena, never seems to change.   

By this time in the evening, members of the women’s Cal volleyball team have taken over the better part of the floor as hip-hop music engulfs the gym. The crowded floor now pushing him further into the corner, Moore remains intent on continuing his shooting bender for as long as possible. At this point, the idea of sitting down and talking about himself for 45 minutes is the last thing on his mind.

“I apologize for making you wait, I was just getting a few shots up,” Moore sheepishly explains to me when he is finally corralled off the court. His baby-face and calm voice providing all the sincerity one could ask for. Now that he’d had his daily fix of basketball, young Charlie had my undivided attention. Beside maybe on a game of NBA 2K17, the basketball junkie from Chicago had nowhere else to be.

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To understand Charlie Moore’s story, it helps to first look at his resume. And the most impressive bullet point reads as follows: “2016 Illinois Mr. Basketball.” Fortunately, the accolade speaks for itself, as Moore seems to have no intention of reminding others of how good he really is.

Generously listed at 5’11”, 170, if you saw Moore walking through campus this fall, you’d surely suspect him of being a Berkeley High student sampling the college life, long before guessing he is the latest prized recruit on Coach Cuonzo Martin’s Cal basketball team. And when you learn that Moore was recently named the best player in the best basketball city in America, it almost requires a double take. This kid did what?

The last four winners of Illinois’ Mr. Basketball Award are a who's who of star players. Ryan Boatright won the award in 2011, and went on to lead UCONN to a national title in 2014. Jabari Parker won in both 2012 and ‘13, then went on to star at Duke before being drafted no. 2 overall by the Bucks. Jahlil Okafor followed in 2014 and won the national title with Duke as a freshman before going no. 3 overall to the Sixers. 2015 saw Jalen Brunson win the award and proceed to win the national title with Villanova this past season. In 2016, Moore quietly etched his name onto the prestigious list of Illinois greats.

His explanation for his success you ask? “My dad (Curtis Moore) put me in the gym at a young age, and I love basketball, so I kept myself in the gym,” says Moore. “I always stayed focused and kept working at my craft.” The simple recipe led Moore to extraordinary results on the court, and goes far in explaining his personality in general.

On the court, Moore plays with a passion and toughness you would expect from an undersized guard who grew up in the gyms of Chicago’s gritty South Side. Fearless with the ball in his hands, Moore attacks the rim repeatedly during games, often finding himself on the free-throw line completing a hard earned three point play. When he’s not throwing his body around on drives through the paint, Moore is equally comfortable launching three-pointers from well beyond the arc. He’s repeatedly squared off with Chicago’s toughest guards, in the city’s biggest games and matched or exceeded their intensity. A showman on the court, Moore often breaks out the Draymond Green signature flexing gesture after laying waste to a defender. His quiet rage sometimes bubbling over a calm, floor-general-type presence.

But off the court, there are no signs of the brutal toughness needed to succeed in the windy city Moore is from. Instead, he comes across as patient, calm and cordial. The type of person who would rather gloss over his laundry list of basketball accomplishments in favor of talking about his older brother’s master's degree classes or all the time his father put into helping Charlie improve as a youngster. A person who enjoys going to class everyday and has no qualms about staying home on a Friday night to watch his favorite show, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” It’s a simple life, and Charlie seems to like it that way.

Charlie running the point for the Mac Irvin Fire, one of the top AAU programs in the country. (photo courtesy of MacIrvin.com)

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Born and raised in basketball-crazed Chicago, Charlie quite literally had a basketball placed in his crib by his father Curtis. From day one, Charlie hardly held interest in other sports, instead following his dad’s lead and dedicating himself to hoops. A friend of the late Benji Wilson growing up, Curtis taught Charlie everything he knew about the game of basketball, never hesitating to drive him to another tournament or pick him up from a late-night practice across the city. If there was trouble in the neighborhood surrounding Charlie, he hardly was affected by it. “My father never let me get involved in negative things. He would drive me if I needed to get to a practice or game. He always kept me in the gym which helped a lot,” explains Charlie.

By middle school, Moore was a star on Chicago native Michael Finley’s “Bumble Bees” AAU team. By the end of his eighth grade year, Moore took a step up and was selected onto arguably the best AAU team in the country, the Mac Irvin Fire. From there, rumors of an undersized guard from Chicago with slick handles and unlimited range began to build. Moore began traveling the country with the Fire, proving himself against the best players he could find, never coming close to backing down.

For high school, Moore chose Morgan Park, a team coached by Mac Irvin’s son, Nick. It certainly didn’t take long for little Charlie to shine at the high school level, as the 5 foot 5 freshman helped contribute to a state championship for the school. As a sophomore and bigger contributor, Moore would win the state title yet again. But despite his success, major Division I colleges weren’t exactly beating down Moore’s door with offers. “Some of my offers in high school came relatively late,” explains Moore. “But Cal was definitely one of the early ones.” 

When it came time for Moore’s senior season and time for him to pick a college, he was faced with his life’s biggest challenge as his father suffered through a sudden stroke and became extremely ill. While Charlie helped nurse his father back to health, he chose to follow in Derrick Rose’s footsteps and play his college ball at Memphis for young coach Josh Pastner and his assistant Damon Stoudamire. But things changed in the eleventh hour when Pastner left to coach Georgia Tech and Stoudamire was named the head coach at the University of the Pacific, leaving Moore time to reconsider his future and eventually choosing to come to Berkeley and play for Coach Martin. The tumultuous year ended with Moore averaging 28 points in his senior season, despite not meeting the team’s expectations of another state title run. But more importantly, Charlie’s dad health slowly began to improve.

When Moore takes the floor at Haas Pavilion this November he will be following in a long line of Chicago stars who have found success in Berkeley including Dennis Gates, Sean Lampley and Jerome Randle. Randle, who’s game mirrors Moore’s in both style and stature, was named the PAC-10 Player of the Year as the Bears' point guard in 2010. Naturally, Moore has looked up to Randle over the years. “Jerome and I have a great relationship. He’s a great guy and had a great career out here in California, and I have always respected the way he played coming out of Chicago,” said Moore.

Coach Martin was also thrilled to land a player like Moore when one considers that Martin fashioned himself as a resilient player from an inner-city in the Midwest (East St. Louis). In many ways, Moore sets up as perfect fit to run Martin’s offense and overall style of hard-nosed basketball he brought to Berkeley two years ago. “When people think about Chicago basketball, they think, ‘where can I get tough players that will run through a wall for me?’” explains Kurtis Ellison, Charlie’s assistant coach at Morgan Park. “That’s what Coach Martin is going to get in Charlie.”  

Since Moore has moved across the country to start a new chapter of his life in Berkeley, he’s had time to reflect on the career he left behind in Chicago. One filled with record breaking performances, multiple state championships, and one “Mr. Basketball” crown. Mention him in the same breath as Chicago high school legends such as Isiah Thomas, Tim Hardaway and Dwayne Wade and you will likely get more nods than arguments in gyms across Illiniois. Up to this point, his body of work speaks for itself.

But now in the Bay Area, far from familiar friends and family, Moore will be forced to start over and build a new basketball legacy from scratch for west coast fans to appreciate. Fortunately for Moore, he’s more than happy to do so. Just don’t ask him to tell you about it, he’d rather prove it to you out on the court.

Charlie receives a hug from his high school coach, Nick Irvin. (photo by Eddie Quinones, chicagotribune.com) 

The Warriors eclipse the '96 Bulls, complete magical 73-9 regular season

Mark Canha - Feeling Right at Home in the Bay Area

(Click above to listen to Mark Canha's interview with Section925)

By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com

Mark Canha is not your average Major League baseball player. He’s redheaded, UC Berkeley educated, and is more interested in Michael Bauer’s latest food review than what’s happening on the latest edition of SportsCenter.

Despite a muscle-bound physique, a set of hefty sideburns and a job as a baseball player, Canha is more cultured than you might think. By now, you probably know of his comprehensive culinary micro-blog (@BigLeagueFoodie) that takes you along with Canha into the nation’s most renowned and unique restaurants. But on top of that, Canha sports a dry, witty, and original sense of humor that A’s fans have grown to love after just one year.  

I was under the radar in high school for whatever reason. I always think it was a conspiracy because of the redhead thing,” Canha joked. “People don’t like readheads, so I like to blame it on that.
— Mark Canha

After spending five seasons on the minor league circuit as an overlooked farmhand for the Miami Marlins, Canha made his rookie debut in an Athletics’ uniform during the first home stand of 2015. Following a mishap at first base and pop-out to the catcher, Canha managed to laugh off the rocky start to his career in the Majors and turn it into a night he’ll never forget.

Canha came up in the bottom of the third inning with the bases full and unloaded a drive to right field that was just inches from a Grand Slam. He settled for a bases-clearing double as his first Big League knock. By the end of the evening, Canha had three hits (two doubles) and four RBI.

The only thing that overshadowed Canha’s monster debut was his humorous post-game press conference in the A’s clubhouse, as he deadpanned a classic line from the iconic baseball film, Bull Durham. “Just trying to help the ball club,” Canha explained to Oakland beat writers with a smile. “Give it my best shot, and the Good Lord willing, things will work out.”

Whether or not Tim Robbins and Kevin Costner contacted Canha to congratulate the rookie on his performance is unknown, but manager Bob Melvin plugged him in the lineup the following night and off he went. By season’s end, he had played in 124 games and tallied 121 hits to go along with 22 doubles and 16 homers. In the month of August, Canha hit over .300. Not bad for a rookie that the Miami Marlins gave away.

With good speed for a power hitter, Ron Washington has no problem wheeling Canha around the bases inside the Coliseum. (photo by Thearon W. Henderson)

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Canha was born and raised in San Jose where he eventually attended Bellarmine College Prep. One of the oldest and most prestigious schools in the Bay Area, Bellarmine prides itself on offering top-notch academics to go along with some of the best athletic programs in the state of California. Canha made sure to take advantage of both, succeeding on the competitive campus both on and off the field. But even after putting up big stats for the Bells (a team that boasts 14 MLB alums), Canha was still not as heavily recruited as he would have liked. His dream was Stanford, but then hitting coach and former Phillies first-baseman Jon Zuber convinced him to come to Berkeley and play for him at CAL.

“I was under the radar in high school for whatever reason. I always think it was a conspiracy because of the redhead thing,” Canha joked. “People don’t like readheads, so I like to blame it on that. But Zuber found me.”

In Berkeley, Canha joined a star-studded roster that forced him to wait his turn as a freshman. But come sophomore year, Canha was poised to break out and he credits the work he put in with the equally dry-humored coach Zuber as a key to his success.

“Zub was instrumental in my success of my breakout sophomore season. We did a lot of work in the Fall and I saw results. You build up confidence and see results, then you get more confidence. Zub really taught me how to hit in college. I had to make some changes.”

After leading the PAC-10 with 69 RBI as a junior, Canha would leave Berkeley a year early after being selected by the Florida Marlins in the 7th round. Once in their minor league system, Canha put up solid numbers year in and year out, but still felt as though he was overlooked. “I eventually came to the realization that I wasn’t a part of the Marlins’ Big Leagues plans,” said Canha.

It was hard to tell where Canha’s baseball career was headed following his 2014 season. All he really knew was that his wife Marci (also from San Jose) wanted to pursue her architecture career in the Bay Area. That’s why the Canha’s were elated when A’s GM David Forst gave Mark a call to let him know the A’s had signed him.

“Getting a call from David Forst, it was like bedlam for us,” remembers Canha. “We were unsure where this baseball thing was taking us and the fact that it took us to the Bay Area was outstanding for us.”

From the moment Canha arrived in the A’s clubhouse he was as comfortable as he ever felt. It showed in Spring Training last year as the hungry redhead led the team in homers while down in Arizona. He was playing alongside former teammate Marcus Semien and under Bob Melvin, both of which played at CAL. Needless to say, this felt like home for Canha.

In 2015, Canha played 75 games at 1st base and 58 games in left field, as well as few appearances sprinkled in at RF and DH. Wearing Josh Donaldson’s #20, Canha did his best to fill the void of the lost right handed power bat. A self-proclaimed lover of home runs, Canha didn’t get cheated at the plate as rookie. Seemingly loading up and letting it fly each and every at-bat.

With 2016 Spring Training just weeks away, Canha has a ton to look forward to in his sophomore campaign in the Green and Gold. He figures to be a key bat in the A’s lineup this year as he moves into his prime years as a pro (Canha turns 27 on Feb. 15th). He just recently finished filming a series of Green Collar commercials in Arizona and is now hunkered down at the Baseball Rebellion training facility in North Carolina, working with his hitting guru, Chas Pippitt.

Now that he and his wife are happily settled in San Francisco, one of the only worries Canha has at the moment is what walkup song he should use at the Coliseum this year (he wants your help, btw). Other than that, Canha is thrilled to be in the food centric Bay Area, with plenty of fodder for @BigLeagueFoodie and even more at-bats in the ever-young Oakland A’s batting order.

“I went through the system for so long,” Canha told Tripper Ortman of Section925. “Really it sounds cliché, it’s very Bull Durham of me to say this, but I’m just happy to be here. Truly, I’m just happy to be in the Big Leagues. As cliché as it sounds.”

The Good Lord willing, things will work out.

Canha prides himself on being a versatile defender, splitting time between the A's infield and outfield. (photo by Thearon W. Henderson)