The San Francisco Giants are pitching great. The Oakland A's are playing .500 ball through mid-May.
The Giants are not hitting. The A's are hanging around in relative contention in the early goings.
Who would've guessed?
Per usual, or, for the third consecutive season, the Giants' team ERA ranks in the upper echelon of the league, while their runs-scored mark resides in the veritable dregs. The A's continued their trend of being at or around 20-19 through 39 games.
The problem, however, is that everyone fully expected San Francisco to continue its pitching dominance and poor hitting since its remarkable World Series win in 2010. Oakland, on the other hand, was not supposed to be anywhere near a .500 winning percentage...at any point this season. It could be argued that they would be fielding a quasi-Triple-A squad in 2012. (Okay, perhaps that's a bit harsh.)
Point being, the A's (20-19) are clearly outperforming early-season projections.Their combination of touted prospects (Jarrod Parker, Tommie Milone, Tyson Ross at times), oft-injured but talented veteran Brandon McCarthy and savvy journeyman Bartolo Colon operates together as a unexpectedly formidable starting rotation.
Josh Reddick looks like anything but the pejorative "fourth outfielder" label imposed on him. He's blasted 10 homers and mowed down anyone trying to run on his cannon of an arm.
Despite collective team statistics dictating to the contrary, using the "eye test" while watching this club often shows them playing a more effective brand of Giants baseball—superb starting pitching, just enough hitting and a lock-down bullpen.
Bruce Bochy's Giants (19-19), for their part, have obliged the MLB prognosticators with quality pitching and miserable un-timely hitting. (Well, Brandon Crawford and Emmanuel Burris contributed towards the "help-us-hit-with-runners-in-position-fund in Thursday afternoon's game against the Cardinals.)
The projection they aren't fulfilling belongs in the fielding category. Projected as an average fielding group (above-average at some positions), this squad has committed an unconscionable 41 errors, good for dead last in all of baseball. Seven games with three errors to boot. No analyst predicted this ineptitude.
These Bay Area rivals enter this interleague series at AT&T Park as essentially .500 ballclubs devastated by injuries. Neither squad features a legitimate major league infield, underscored by the unqualified personnel playing third base.
Newly acquired and hot-hitting Brandon Inge went down and was replaced by Josh Donaldson, a converted catcher. Adam Rosales is a shortstop backing up third and first base. The A's are also without top-hitter Yoenis Cespedes, their highly skilled Cuban outfielder.
The Giants, meanwhile, have a revolving door at both third and second base. Career minor leaguer Joaquin Arias is the current filler at third for the team's most important offensive presence in Pablo Sandoval. Perpetually injured Freddy Sanchez hasn't played a game all year at second, where, now with Ryan Theriot also falling on the DL, Charlie Culberson is holding down the position. The 23-year-old has a grand total of 141 at-bats at Class-AAA.
So, stated succinctly, both the Athletics' and Giants' infields and lineups are devoid of comprehensive major league talent.
What does this all mean for the series this weekend?
Friday night's matchup features A's young stud Jarrod Parker (1-1, 2.10 ERA) against ex-Oakland Athletic Barry Zito (2-1, 2.53 ERA) on the bump for the Giants. Both are enjoying fine early starts to their respective campaigns, with Zito producing in quite the renaissance fashion.
On Saturday, Tyson Ross (2-3, 6.25 ERA) of the A's squares off against the always resilient Ryan Vogelsong (1-2, 2.66 ERA) of the Giants. Each pitcher looked sharp in his last start, with Ross getting a six-inning shutout victory over the Angels. Vogelsong received his third no-decision after limiting the Rockies to just one run over seven innings.
The series finale has the aged Bartolo Colon (3-4, 4.13 ERA) facing two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum (2-3, 5.77 ERA), who has not been anywhere near his former dominant self this season. Big-Time Timmy Jim will look to register his first victory since April 28 against his counterpart, who is without a W himself since April 18.
Both teams are coming off a win and two-game series split with the Rangers (A's) and Cardinals (Giants). Such series are emblematic of their .500 style of play thus far.
Regarding past series, the A's have been sent packing on the losing end of the bargain nine straight times when visiting AT&T Park. Giants Friday night starter Barry Zito is a dismal 1-4 with a 7.24 ERA in his career against his former club.
In Game 1, Zito pitches effectively but not well enough as Parker shuts down the Giants' depleted lineup missing both Sandoval and Buster Posey.
A's 3, Giants 1
In Game 2, Ross continues his Jekyll and Hyde impersonation, surrendering five runs after coming off a victory in his last start. The Giants finally reward Vogelsong with sufficient run support to even his record at 2-2 on the season.
Giants 6, A's 2
The home fans at the rubber match finally witness Lincecum avoid the big inning and eliminate his propensity for high walk totals. Timmy pitches a gem, while Colon drops his third straight decision.
Giants 4, A's 0