The San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics are set to finish up their annual Bay Bridge Series with a pair of weekend games to be played, beginning Saturday, at the Oakland Coliseum.
Both teams have been competitive in their respective leagues' Wild Card races, though Oakland (74-53, leading AL Wild Card) is having far-and-away a better season than the G-Men (63-65, 6 GB of NL Wild Card). Each enter Saturday's contest heading in separate directions, as the A's are winners of eight of their last ten matchups, including three straight, while the Giants have split their past ten (5-5), losers of four-straight.
Each team has also carried a different philosophy through this season, whether it be due to convenience or intention.
Oakland has gotten it done, thanks in large part to their established power-packed offense, which boasts: 1B Matt Olson (.878 OPS, 26 HR, 63 RBI), 3B Matt Chapman (.865 OPS, 29 HR, 71 RBI, 82 R), SS Marcus Semien (.846 OPS, 22 HR, 61 RBI, 92 R), and sophomore-surprise CF Ramon Laureano (.853 OPS, 21 HR, 58 RBI, 67 R), not to mention, though struggling of late, OF Khris Davis (18 HR, 55 RBI), who has been dealing with injury problems this season.
On the pitching side, serviceable starters and tough late-inning relievers have combined to assist Oakland in making their late-season playoff push. Starters Mike Fiers (12-3, 3.46 ERA), Chris Bassitt (9-5, 3.61 ERA), and Brett Anderson (10-9, 4.06 ERA) have carried the rotation, while Liam Hendriks (1.48 ERA, 15 SV), Yusmeiro Petit (2.74 ERA), and Ryan Buchter (3.18 ERA) have shouldered the bulk of the bullpen's heavy lifting.
Across the Bay, however, it has not been "business as usual." Low expectations combined with an abysmal start to the season, exponentially complicated with injuries, inconsistent play, and a seemingly never-ending carousel of players cycling between the Minors, the Big Leagues, and the chopping block have led to a very unconventional and atypical year for the Giants' first-year President of Baseball Operations, Farhan Zaidi. All of this, of course, taking place over the course of celebrated and future-Hall of Fame Manager Bruce Bochy's swan song with the team.
Starting with the pitching staff, which has always been the consistent area of strength throughout the Bruce Bochy era, to call it "up and down" would be an understatement. Speaking of slow starts, both headlining starters, Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija, struggled to get on track with their expectations this season. Mad Bum, through the first three-plus months of the season, was sitting at 5-7 and a 4.02 ERA – a far cry from his career average ERA of 3.09. Simultaneously, "The Shark" Samardzija was sitting at 4-7 with a 4.52 ERA after his June 26th start. Yet, as the team began to pick up steam, around the All-Star break in July, both Jeff (5-3, 2.00 ERA) and Madison (3-1, 3.11 ERA) have stepped their game up for the Orange and Black.
Though the starting pitching started out poorly and hasn't established much of a semblance of consistency behind Mad Bum and The Shark, the bullpen, just as it did last season, has assumed the role of savior for San Francisco's team. Anchored by the flame-throwing righty from the Dominican Republic, Reyes Moronta (2.80 ERA), and the lanky lefty closer, Will Smith (2.80 ERA, 29 SV), Bochy's bullpen has shined just as bright as it has in years past. Before sending off fellow relievers Sam Dyson (2.47 ERA) and Mark Melancon (3.50 ERA) to Minnesota and Atlanta, respectively, San Francisco boasted one of the league's stingiest and consistent bullpens. And Manager Bruce Bochy made sure he got his money's worth out of them, for sure.
Offensively, it has been a down year, once again, for the core Championship-era position players: 1B Brandon Belt (.727 OPS, 14 HR, 49 RBI), C Buster Posey (.704 OPS, 6 HR, 34 RBI), and SS Brandon Crawford (.656 OPS, 9 HR, 49 RBI). In fact, one former member of the group, 2B Joe Panik (.627 OPS, 3 HR, 27 RBI), is no longer with the team due to his second consecutive subpar year at the plate. He was designated for assignment, following the team's signing of former-Reds 2B Scooter Gennett, but was hastily picked up by the New York Mets. The story, however, shouldn't really be about the G-Men and their veterans' inability to live up to their former selves. It should be about what has gone right for Zaidi, Bochy, and the Giants.
Amidst a flurry of Spring Training and early-Regular season roster moves and transactions, a somewhat under-the-radar trade brought former Blue-Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar (.759 OPS, 19 HR, 69 RBI, 67 R, 10 SB) to San Francisco. The speedy and sneaky powerful center fielder was scuffling early, at the plate, but all he has done with the Giants is provide a much-needed shot of energy and offensive spark. He is also doing his best Hunter Pence impersonation, as Manager Bruce Bochy can virtually pencil-in the "iron man" Pillar, game after game. Another unexpected bright spot, though he is currently dealing with an injury, is veteran IF Pablo Sandoval (.823 OPS, 14 HR, 41 RBI). His contributions have certainly helped ease some of the pains caused by the failings of his fellow everyday position players.
3B Evan Longoria (.776 OPS, 16 HR, 51 RBI), though he had to fight through an injury of his own, has looked much more like he did when he was bashing in a Rays uniform. However, the most exciting surprise has to be the rookie with the cool nickname of "Yaz," who is the grandson of the great former-Red Sox and Hall of Famer Carl "Yaz" Yastrzemski – known particularly for his magical 1967 season, during which he won the AL MVP award and won the Triple Crown with a .326 AVG, 44 HR, and 121 RBI (was the last to achieve this rare feat until Miguel Cabrera in 2012). Mike "Yaz" Yastrzemski (.877 OPS, 17 HR, 47 RBI), traded to the Giants from the Baltimore Orioles, raked down in Sacramento before being called up in the middle of the season. All the rook has done since becoming a Big Leaguer is continue to crush the ball to all fields, frequently using the opposite field accrue his round-trippers. He even had a three-homer game on August 16th, against the Arizona Diamondbacks down in the desert.
One thing is for sure, both of these teams have shown the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark – in bunches, I might add – while also possessing the necessary weapons in the bullpen to shut down any rally preserve wins. This weekend should feature plenty of home runs, scoring, and fantastic bullpen battles. The two teams split their first two games of the Bay Bridge Series, back in San Francisco, a couple of weeks ago. In order to secure a series win, one team must sweep this weekend's two-game affair.