One team says there’s “magic inside,” and the other team, well, they have pretty funny commercials (sigh). Regardless, the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s tell their respective stories in wildly different ways.
One is a big money, big media team in a nice stadium, and they operate on the assumption that only brand name veterans can win baseball games via the strength of gritty gamertude. The other is a small money, no media team in a stadium that used to be nice, and they operate on the assumption that brand name players are inherently overvalued and should be flipped for groups of talented players most of the fans have never heard of.
Two different M.O.s, similar results. Both teams have been moderately competitive over the last decade, with minimal success in the “crapshoot” (Larry Baer’s word, not mine) that is the MLB playoffs. This year if you want to find out which team is better, it depends on who you ask. If you like defense and unproven/uncertain pitching, the A’s are your team. If you want solid pitching, “experience” and baseball’s equivalent of the Golden State Warriors (on defense), you’re a Giants guy (or gal).
So, let’s go about figuring this out in the least scientific way possible, comparing the players position by position. What this lacks in terms of taking each team’s minor league stable of talent into account, it makes up for in terms of rampant subjectivity. So there you go. And here we go….
Part 1: Position Players
Catcher — Kurt Suzuki vs. Bengie Molina: Suzuki is one of the most underrated players in baseball. He’s durable, he’s a decent hitter (though not much more patient than Molina, sadly) and he can catch pitches thrown above shoulder-level. Molina may or may not be hatching schemes to slice Buster Posey’s achilles in half. Advantage: Oakland
1st Base — Daric Barton vs. Aubrey Huff: Together, Daric and Aubrey sound like a prep school couple you’d like to see get their comeuppance. In the baseball world, both guys are loaded with potential (Barton’s based on what he did in the minors, Huff from what he did while looking up at the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East). Huff is mashing in spring training, and hasn’t been hit in the face with a groundball yet, so that’s a plus. Barton still has never done anything, although he can at least field the position. The answer to this will be different in a year or two, but for now… Advantage: San Francisco
2nd Base — Mark Ellis vs. Freddy Sanchez: Mark Ellis is a known commodity, Freddy Sanchez may or may not actually be a 2008 Toyota. Advantage: Oakland
3rd Base — Kevin Kouzmanoff vs. Pablo Sandoval: Did you hear Kouz on KNBR this week, when he said he was a diver in high school? Pretty interesting. If this were a diving contest, Kouzmanoff would easily take this one. But it isn’t, and Sandoval started lifting weights for the first time about three months ago. At least, that’s what they say. Advantage: San Francisco
Shortstop — Cliff Pennington vs. Edgar Renteria: At the end of the year, when we’re all wondering why the Bay Area has been left out of the playoffs yet again in a major professional sport, you can look no further than this matchup to see why. Pennington is an unproven, mediocre-fielding SS who can steal some bases. Renteria is a proven, less-than-mediocre-fielding SS who can tell some great stories about the good ‘ol days when the Marlins spent money. Advantage: Push
Left Field — Rajai Davis vs. Mark DeRosa: Where you side on this depends on who you think Davis really is. Is he the fifth outfielder the Giants got rid of (the A’s can consider it payback for the Ernest Riles-for-Darren Lewis trade back in 1991), or is he the team’s most dynamic offensive force like he was the last two months of last season? Is DeRosa over his wrist surgery? I’d be kicked out of the Church of Sabean for saying this, but I’d rather have a good defender with upside (and OPS) than a chatty gamer who’s probably on the downside. Advantage: Oakland
Center Field — Coco Crisp vs. Aaron Rowand: It’s like comparing Usain Bolt to, um, Aaron Rowand (sorry, I’m about to get off work early and my metaphor skills are one foot out the door as well). While we kid Rowand’s batting stance (I’M POOPING!) and his penchant for stealing truckloads of money, he does play every day. Well, almost. Crisp has never played 150 games, so expect him to be another in the long line of cheap, fragile Athletics we’ve seen over the past few years. Advantage: San Francisco
Left Field — Ryan Sweeney vs. Jate Bowkholtz: I’ve been on the Nate Schierholtz train for a while, but it looks more and more like it’s become a CalTrain racing past a local high school. You can sense the clenching when he’s at the plate, and John Bowker is raking yet again in games that don’t count. Look for him to start more games in April than Schierholtz. As for Sweeney, I’m not saying he’s on the HGH, but I foresee a power improvement from the 11 he’s hit in almost two full seasons with the A’s (he hit 31 doubles last year). He’s no slouch with the glove either, he draws walks and doesn’t strike out nearly as much as Bowkholtz. Advantage: Oakland
Tally: Oakland’s up with a 4-3-1 mark. We’ll see if that advantage lasts tomorrow when we look at pitchers and reserves.