Feb 28, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Oakland Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson (20) waits for the ball as San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford (35) safely slides into third on a triple in the second inning of their spring training baseball game at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY
Sports talk abounds! Jason, representing the A’s, and I, The Orange and Black, have been exchanging pleasantries across the Bay for a spell now, pondering which team will claim bragging rights at the end of this season, the San Francisco Giants or the Oakland Athletics. Jason’s main contention is that the A’s have a better team because they had a better record than the Giants last season. I maintain that in the ebb and flow of baseball, players and teams rise, skyrocketing to the greatest of heights one year, and settle, collectively easing back down to Earth the next. The Giants are one such team, already in the process of restoring normalcy to the baseball universe, by rocking their starting pitching down in the desert. 2014 is, after all, an even year.
The statements my worthy debating opponent has made are smooth and easy on the A’s fans’ ears, but that doesn’t mean they are accurate. I zeroed in on five statements that he made that seem to be the most crucial and I’m going to take a look at them. If I can refute three of the five, I will claim victory in our debate. So I’ll begin with this glaring nugget of false logic: “The Giants have nine players that have been on both Championship teams. Why is it then that those nine guys were only good for 76 wins last season?” [This will be easy like Sunday morning.]
Nine core players can carry the load, especially if one is named Buster Posey, but they need a backup component; that’s why there are twenty-five players on a roster. No pitcher (except Tim Hudson) finishes above .500 every season and no position player has stellar numbers year after year except maybe, Albert Pujols, of the Los Angeles Angels. Such factors as lack of run-support, injury (Ryan Vogelsong, Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro), fatigue, domestic challenges, and the grind of the 162-game schedule all take their toll. Four of those nine core players on the Giants are All-Star pitchers: Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Vogelsong, not to mention the fact that their fifth guy, Tim Hudson, is an All-Star too.
I couldn’t help but notice there was no mention of how many of the A’s pitchers are All-Stars and I wondered if maybe that shouldn’t be kept under consideration. Most baseball fans would equate being an All-Star with quality, and five time quality ought to equal superior.
Additionally, and this is not an excuse, so much as a reasonable explanation that directly addresses the question as to what happened to the Giants in 2013, but consider The World Basic Classic. Of the ten Giants who participated in the pre-season tournament, nine ended up on the disabled list. Interestingly enough, no A’s were involved in the WBC. It’s not good-it’s not bad; it just is. However, in terms of explaining why the Giants won fewer games in 2013, it does provide a specific explanation. In terms of debate points: Giants 1-A’s zip.
Next up for perusal is the statement that “They [the Giants] finished strong.” The Giants did finish strongly, climbing out of last place, to regain a share of third. Angel Pagan came back from the injury he incurred when he scored the winning run on an inside-the-parker, in a game played last May 25th, against the Colorado Rockies, mangling a hamstring in the process. Ryan Vogelsong returned from a broken pinkie, as did Marco Scutaro. Matt Cain, obviously trying to live up to his nickname, The Horse, tried to carry the load on his own, and Timmy (Tim Lincecum) was in the process of transitioning from power pitcher to finesse pitcher, a process occurring before our very eyes in spring training.
Or maybe you didn’t notice that the Giants’ starters began the spring by only giving up one earned run in the first twenty-one innings? I thought you might have. So, yes, now that they have gotten the wheels back on the cart and WD-40ed, it’s go-time. The fact that the Giants finished strongly lends credibility to my contention that they are on the way back up. I cannot argue with that; Jason is correct. Giants 1-A’s 1.
Next statement up for debate is: “The common rebuttal against A’s fans before 2010, when the Giants finally won anything…was to stop living in the past…” The A’s won three Series forty years ago, and another in 1989, against the Giants, in an emotionally-packed Series that the A’s were obviously able to dominate. This happened so long ago, that even a certain A’s writer named Jason was still not born. By a month, or so, he said. I agree: it’s ancient history.
Now the Giants fans keep pointing back to 2010 and 2012. However, the Giants’ most recent success took place a mere sixteen months ago, a period of time so short that more than a third of the team still plays for the Giants. The A’s, on the other hand, have been to the playoffs the last two seasons, but haven’t been able to pull the trigger. The proof is in the playoffs. There’s a difference between ancient history and a review of a Series in which players from both teams are still playing for their respective teams. Enough said. Giants 2: A’s 1.
Next I want to address two statements about pitchers, one which I think is accurate and one that I think is invalid. “He’s [Sonny Gray] already beaten Justin Verlander… once in the playoffs while only tallying 64 IP in the bigs.” Hitting me up with Verlander on the losing end of a game does not impress me; Pablo Sandoval and the Giants sent Verlander packing and the Tigers with him. And no matter how good Gray’s stuff is, assuming he can carry it out over a complete season, after only 64 innings’ experience at the big league level, is just making it all a little too convenient to suit me.
Along the same lines the next point read, “Yes they [A’s] will be without Bartolo Colon in 2014, but contrary to what you said, they [A’s] still get to keep those 28 wins he supplied them with the past two seasons. Actually, Scot Kazmir will be an upgrade over Colon this coming season.” T=Despite the best-laid plans, there are no guarantees about attainable victories. However, If Kazmir has a good season, he will more than adequately replace the departed Colon, especially since the assumption is that the A’s will not have to worry about Kazmir being suspended for any reason. And I do not know that Sonny Gray will not have a good season. So we’ll say A’s pitching has received an upgrade. Giants 2-A’s 2 .
The fifth and last point of debate is kind of off-tempo, but I give credit for the attempt at a metaphor. This is what was written: “In business, when forecasting ahead for say, how many of a certain item to purchase to sell at your business, there are a couple of methods one can use. The easiest method is to simply take the most recent data, and reorder that amount. For the A’s that amount would be a 96-win season and a divisional crown, the Giants, 76 wins and hoping not to finish last.”
I give bonus points for the metaphor, but it’s a mixed one, because the Giants and A’s cannot buy or sell victories-only the Dodgers can do that (My bad). Unfortunately, we’re back to that irrelevant business of counting regular season victories. No one cares. What fans care about, once the season is over, is who has won the World Series-this century? Not the A’s.
Final in five: Giants 3-A’s 2.
Every debate has a conclusion. Though the A’s play an enthusiastic brand of baseball, and even I have been known to watch them upon occasion, the bottom line is that the Giants have history on their side, along with the players to repeat it. No matter who wins more victories this season in each respective league, the Giants are the team better-equipped to go further into the playoffs, and that’s where the proof is.