Giants vs. A’s: Who is the Better Team Right Now?


As we speak, the Bay Area is teeming with baseball fever.  Regardless of which side of the Bay you occupy, chances are you’re feeling pretty good about your city’s playoff hopes.  This season has been an amazing turnaround for both San Francisco and Oakland’s teams, bashing expectations and gaining popularity around the country.

Last season, the Giants were, for lack of a better term, terrible.  Not in every sense, though.  Their pitching was still just as good as it was when they won it all in 2010.  In fact, it might have even been better, with the addition of Ryan Vogelsong.  But it was their lack of offense, and the constant pressure of having to jumble the line-up due to the onslaught of injuries that really did them in.  Fighting to score even three runs per game, there was no chance San Francisco would be able to reclaim their former glory (though they still finished with a more than respectable record of 86-76), and they lost the West by eight games to the division rival Arizona Diamondbacks.

Oakland was eerily similar.  Their offense was there.  It was their pitching that kept letting them down late, even though they had one of the better staffs in baseball, featuring the likes of Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill (both have since been traded to National League teams), and Brett Anderson.  Divisional match-ups were just not their forté.

This season, however, both Bay Area teams have seemingly put together two of the most exciting runs of the 2012 regular season.

The Athletics were marked as nothing more than an after-thought in the American League, but have proved to be far from that.  Letting go of aces Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill caused fans to think that the front office was throwing in the towel, and they could not understand what Billy Beane was doing when he astounded the baseball world and brought in the impressive Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes.

However, all would be well in Oakland, as they are currently 82-61 (only 3 games behind division rival Texas Rangers), have won seven of their last eight, and are on top of the AL Wild Card standings.  The only thing standing in their way is the set-back of starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy going down with a head injury, and Brandon Inge receiving season ending surgery on his shoulder.

This season, the Giants have been battling it out with their arch-rival L.A. Dodgers (who are now 7 and 1/2 games back in the division) since the season began, resulting in what looked to be a never-ending back and forth clash for 1st place.  Then Melk-Gate happened, and most pundits and writers scratched SF out of the playoff hunt.  But that could not be further from the truth, as the Giants are actually playing better without the suspended

All-Star MVP, going 18-9 since his suspension.  Things have cooled off for L.A, and they are a miserable 7-11 since making their monster trade with Boston, in which L.A. received Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and injured Carl Crawford, along with Nick Punto and a cool $11 million in cash.

But which team is better off right now?

The A’s have recently lost:

  • Brandon Inge (shoulder surgery).
  • Brandon McCarthy (brain surgery).
  • Bartolo Colon (suspended 50 games for PED use).
  • Yoenis Cespedes was diagnosed with a a right wrist sprain (during the A’s shutout loss to the Angels), but appears to be fine going forward as he homered in tonight’s Oakland win against Baltimore.

On the other hand, they’ve added the arms of:

  • Brett Anderson.
  • Dan Straily (he picked up his second win of the season this past Tuesday as he took his spot in the rotation to replace the injured McCarthy).

Now these are two quality arms, and there is a lot of talk surrounding Straily and his ability to fill in for McCarthy, specifically his velocity and ability to pitch for the strikeout.

As pitching is important, offense is imperative in winning ballgames.

These factors have greatly contributed to Oakland’s special season:

  • Brandon Moss and Chris Carter have found platoon gold at 1st base.
  • Josh Reddick has performed above and beyond expectations in the outfield (though he has been streaky this season, his power has been essential and his defense has been great).
  • Rookies A.J. Griffin (6-0 so far this season) and Yoenis Cespedes have been nothing but surprisingly solid players in their inaugural season.
  • Tommy Milone is now 13-10, and has been the rock for the A’s staff.
  • Josh Donaldson has come into his own while winning the third base job, something he struggled with greatly at the start of the season.

So the Athletics have smashed expectations thus far.  What about the Giants?

Not that I like hearing the name (or typing it for that matter), but Melky Cabrera was thought to be the highlight of a then “aggressively average” San Francisco offense.  Not the case.

While Gregor Blanco is in no way, shape or form valid replacement for Cabrera, he brings more speed, and actually has 7 hits in his last 6 games, two of which have been multiple-hitters.

Here are a few reasons the Giants are standing tall:

  • Marco Scutaro has been huge for San Francisco, and has perhaps been the biggest pickup in all of baseball this season.  Batting .343 and driving in 30 RBI in only 44 games with the new club, he’s managed to leave Colorado in his rear view, and become a force in the two hole.  A similar case could be made for Angel Pagan, but after a hot August, he has cooled down a bit.
  • Buster Posey is putting together an MVP caliber season.  Not only is he a shoe-in for comeback player of the year, he is the hottest hitter in baseball, hitting .393 since the All-Star break.  In addition, he has already broken his home-run expectations (18) for the season, launching 21 long balls out of parks across the country.
  • The clutch hitting of Joaquin Arias and Ryan Theriot has been incredible.
  • The team has cleaned up their defense tremendously, as it was pretty atrocious the first month and a half of the season.  Brandon Crawford and Ryan Theriot are both key factors to this change.
  • Hunter Pence is finding his bat, and is continuing to heat up.
  • Barry Zito is having his best season by far as a Giant, earning 11 wins, a feat he hasn’t duplicated since his inaugural season with the team in 2007, when he went 11-13.
  • Brandon Belt’s offense has finally caught up to his defense, as he has solidified the 1st base role.  He’ll give it up every now and then (sometimes going to left field) to keep Buster Posey’s bat in the lineup, but it is now his job to lose.
  • The pitching.  Though it hasn’t been as lights out as it’s been the past few seasons, it still ranks in the top 10 in all of Major League baseball.
  • Team chemistry.  As I’ve mentioned before, and am sure I will do so again, a team’s chemistry is more than important.  No, it is not the end all-be all in terms of what makes or breaks a team, but a winning team usually has it in some style.  So far, the 2012 Giants have played with a striking resemblance to their 2010 incarnation.  Different names and faces, but similar styles of getting things done, working as a unit and using the pieces they have to make it work.

Now this is a difficult answer, but I believe the San Francisco Giants are the better team right now.

Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong have both been struggling as of late, and as tempting as it was to give the edge to Oakland, it came down to a few overlaying factors:

  • Tim Lincecum has had a tough year, going 3-10 before the break.  However, since then he has been pretty solid, going 6-4, while limiting the big innings that had sunk him early in games in the first half.  Lincecum will return to top form during this stretch, and has already exhibited signs of his comeback.
  • Though the two are in their own respective funks, we all know how good Bumgarner and Vogelsong are, and cannot let a few squandered starts get under the team’s skin.  Workload could also be a factor, so a skipped start might be all the pair need.  Once this rotation fixes its kinks, they will be unbeatable should they reach the postseason.
  • Remaining schedules.  With 18 games left in the regular season, Oakland by far has a tougher schedule than San Francisco.  Though I don’t think it will be the deciding factor as to who stays and who moves on, it’s worth noting.  After their current series with Baltimore concludes, the A’s will have to face Detroit, New York, Seattle, and Texas, seven of which games are against Texas.  San Francisco, on the other hand, gets all divisional play from here on out.  Even in a weak National League West, the San Diego Padres (whom the Giants will play six more times) are actually playing quite well, so the Giants should not count them out to play spoiler just yet.

So there you have it.  Two teams that are playing with the biggest of chips on their shoulders.  Both have what it takes to go all the way, and only time will be able to tell us who the better team actually is.

Right now, it’s mostly speculation, the analysis of stats, and a matter of opinion.  But, when San Francisco is firing on all cylinders, it is the best team in baseball, as no other club can match their enthusiasm, grit, and team spirit.

No matter the outcome, this will be a September to remember indeed.