Bay Area baseball teams face similar challenges to stay in contention this season
Both of the Bay Area’s baseball teams, the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants, kicked off their seasons last Thursday afternoon with close victories over their in-state division rivals. The 2018 season marks a big anniversary for both clubs in their time on the West Coast. This year, the A’s will celebrate their 50th year in Oakland and the Giants will honor their 60th year in San Francisco.
The A’s enter the 2018 campaign with a renewed sense of optimism toward the future, after seeing some of the team’s top prospects make their big-league debuts last season and experience a good deal of success. In addition, Oakland stirred up some excitement with a red-hot September, winning 17 of their last 24 regular season games.
The team has finished in the cellar of the AL West for the last three consecutive years, so the only direction it can go is up. Despite last season’s struggles, the A’s still played an exciting brand of baseball, bashing the fourth-most home runs in the league with 234 and recording 11 walk-off wins.
Oakland should have no trouble scoring runs once again in 2018, rolling out quite a well-balanced and powerful lineup. They will undoubtedly depend on the long ball once again, but will really need to put the ball in play more if they hope to have sustained success at the plate. The team set a franchise record with 1,491 strikeouts in 2017.
No other player in Major League Baseball has hit more home runs over the last two seasons than left fielder Khris Davis, who has slugged 85 ever since being traded to the A’s in the winter of 2016. Oakland will depend on him to continue being the anchor in the middle of the lineup.
First baseman Matt Olson, who hit 24 home runs in a short stint of 59 games last year, will also look to prove that his early success was no fluke. The former first round draft pick has the potential to be a cornerstone player for the franchise for many years to come.
The biggest question mark for Oakland heading into 2018 is the starting rotation. Right hander Jharel Cotton, who was supposed to be the team’s third starter, suffered an elbow injury at the tail end of Spring Training and will be forced to undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the season. At the top of the rotation, opening day starter Kendall Graveman and lefty Sean Manaea are the only two arms on the staff that have a considerable amount of experience pitching in the big leagues. Oakland will hope to that each guy can deliver about 30 starts and give them a favorable chance to win every time out there.
The club will need to receive contributions from some less experienced arms like Daniel Mengden and Daniel Gossett in order to stay in contention throughout the summer.
Overall, the A’s face an uphill climb to compete in the AL West, going up against the defending World Series champion Houston Astros and talented teams on the cusp of contending like the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels. It is vital for Oakland to avoid the injury bug, especially in a starting rotation that lacks depth in the minor leagues. If the A’s can get a satisfactory performance from their starting pitchers everyday, they have a chance to win a lot of ball games with a greatly-improved bullpen and powerful lineup.
The Giants are looking to bounce back in 2018 after finishing last season with the worst record in the National League at 64-98. It was the the club’s first last-place finish in the NL West in exactly a decade.
Rather than tear down the roster and begin a complete rebuild like most teams do, the Giants opted to reload and give their core another chance to get back to the World Series, where they were victorious in 2010, 2012 and 2014.
After falling short in the Giancarlo Stanton sweepstakes, the Giants managed to trade for third baseman Evan Longoria from the Tampa Bay Rays and outfielder Andrew McCutchen from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Both are all-star players in their early 30s and are among the most consistent, dependable players in the game. Together, Longoria and McCutchen have missed a mere 53 games over the previous five seasons.
The Giants still have a extremely talented core of players on the infield with catcher Buster Posey, first baseman Brandon Belt, second baseman Joe Panik, and shortstop Brandon Crawford. The addition of Longoria only makes this an even better infield defensively.
San Francisco recognized the need to overhaul its outfield, after dealing with inconsistency and an overall lack of production in that area last season both defensively and offensively. The acquisition of McCutchen along with center fielder Austin Jackson, who was traded from the Cleveland Indians, should more than address those issues and provide some much-needed stability and athleticism.
Just like their cross-bay rivals, the Giants face some major concerns with their starting pitching, especially after the injuries to star left hander Madison Bumgarner and right hander Jeff Samardzija. Bumgarner fractured the pinkie on his throwing hand during a Spring Training outing and isn’t expected to return until sometime before the All-Star break, while Samardzija will be sidelined a few weeks with a pectoral strain.
Right-hander Johnny Cueto and opening day starter Ty Blach will be forced to carry some of the load early on in the season and ensure that the Giants are still in solid shape when their high-priced arms return to good health.
The Giants didn’t make many moves to upgrade their bullpen other than signing left handed specialist Tony Watson in free agency. The relief corps struggled mightily at times last season, even after the front office went out and signed closer Mark Melancon to a four-year deal worth $62 million. Melancon will begin this season on the disabled list due to an elbow injury.
In the meantime, San Francisco will have to depend on right handed flamethrower Hunter Strickland to record the final three outs in the ninth inning.
The Giants definitely have their work cut out for them, playing in the ultra-competitive NL West division that sent a total of three teams to the postseason in 2017. If the club can somehow survive and avoid further injuries until Bumgarner returns in the middle of the season, they could have a shot to make a run towards a postseason berth down the stretch. With all of the moves made in the offseason, the team’s ownership has made it clear that the Giants are still in “win-now” mode.
Written by: Brendan Ogburn — firstname.lastname@example.org