I love it when two baseball diehards go at it, each prattling on about his team, because it doesn’t really matter who wins the debate; after all, talking is what we do so well. Jason represents the Oakland Athletics while I rock the San Francisco Giants. It’s even better that one of us is a graybeard, while the second one is, well, let’s say whisker-challenged. It’s all good-makes it even more interesting. I don’t claim to have more baseball knowledge than Jason; there will be no test at the end of the season, at least not for us. No, the test takes place on the field amongst the teams. All Jason and I can do is jot down a few thoughts, and maybe take the occasional pull off of a cold one, while the story unfolds before us.
I have decided to balk at the “debate format” because Jason does not play by the same rules as I. I bring up specific contentions on the affirmative side of the debate, but instead of addressing them, he goes off on his own tangent. He ignores my salient viewpoints and extraordinarily logical conclusions, to present his own perspective. Any moderator on earth would have declared the victory in the previous articles in my favor.
I want to return to basics. One of the recurring themes brought up by my esteemed opponent, is that of the Giants’ need for what he terms “bounce-back” years from players, especially pitchers. The phrase he uses would seem more appropriately placed, were he discussing ping-pong or tennis. Baseball players do not bounce. They apply a specific science to the art of heaving a baseball, thousands of times per season, and at the end examine the results. Four of the Giants’ pitchers have been working together for quite a spell now, this being Ryan Vogelsong’s fourth season with the Giants, with Tim Hudson being the only new guy.
Whereas it is unusual for a team’s staff to remain a unit for such an extended period of time, it must also be described as beneficial. Continuity is a prime factor when it comes to success in a team sport. Defensive players get very attuned to the work habits of their peers, clearly comprehending the subtleties in the different pitchers’ moves, and adjusting their location to mesh with the strengths of each. Knowing how to play behind your team’s pitcher is key in a game of inches.
In terms of stability, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum have each averaged over 200 innings pitched, for every season they have played following their rookie years. None has spent more than fifteen days on the disabled list at any given time, and all have two World Series Championship rings, with Vogelsong bringing one more to the table. All five Giants’ starting pitchers are proven All-Stars. How many A’s pitchers can make that same claim?
How are the A’s doing in the pitching department? Let’s read Jason’s summary. “The A’s were dealt some bad news on Friday…Both Jarrod Parker…and A.J. Griffin…are scheduled to visit doctors in the coming days…This would be a huge blow to many teams, but what’s the one thing that any baseball fan knows about the A’s? They develop young arms.”
It goes without saying that I am sorry that the A’s have players who are hurt. This baseball fan would infinitely prefer to see both the Giants and A’s square off with full complements of healthy players-the better to assess the quality of the teams. But stuff happens and the A’s will carry on because we all know “they develop young arms.” What happened to change the bright outlook? Let’s take a quick glance at the starting A’s pitching. It’s surprisingly easy to do because there’s not much to see.
Staff ace Jarrod Parker is done for the season as he heads for his second Tommy John surgery. That leaves Sonny Gray as the Opening Day pitcher with a total of 64 innings pitched in the bigs. As well as he performed last October, he has a lot to learn for a guy who was just anointed the staff ace.
A.J. Griffin, the A’s fourth starter will start the season on the disabled list with elbow tendonitis. Scott Kazmir, already a surprise after his successful year last season, was scratched yesterday from his scheduled start for triceps stiffness. Dan Straily has major league experience, but at what level of success? Of his 27 starts last season, 12 were categorized as quality starts, meaning that fifteen were not.
Jesse Chavez also has major league experience, but of the 191 games in which he has played, only two were starts. I can’t help thinking that he was relegated to the pen in the first place, because starting was not as good of an option. And Tommy Milone may be able to handle the rigors of the job, but he may not, at least not without more seasoning. Last year he was sent down to the minors in August because of erratic performance; why should I accept that he is here to stay? Finally, wrapping up my look at possible fill-ins for this season, there is Drew Pomeranz, with a whopping total of 34 games in the majors. I hesitate to suggest that this is all there is but there may be more “developing arms” in the mix somewhere.
I have to state the obvious: The Giants are the cream of the National League crop when discussing experienced starting pitching staffs and have been thriving as such for years. The A’s, on the other hand, might be the best at developing young arms, but this is not the minor leagues. Anticipating that developing arms will carry a team to the playoffs is ludicrous; it may happen but not before hell has a thriving business selling ice.
I question whether the A’s will even be able to make the playoffs in a division that includes the Angels and the Rangers, not to mention getting to the World Series this year. Don’t forget, there is that pesky business of not being able to get past the Detroit Tigers, the team against which the Giants were “so lucky.” Well, as fate will have it, the Giants have been lucky enough to win it all two of the past four years. I guess if a team can’t be good, it pays to be lucky. It doesn’t make any difference which is accurate-it only matters who takes home the trophy.