Oakland Athletics Are Only a Couple of Tweaks Away from the San Francisco Giants

Bleacher ReportSenior Writer IApril 27, 2010

Northern California, like her sunnier Southern counterpart, is prone to drought.

Despite the Hollywood imagery, the Golden State is not a naturally lush paradise with green hills rolling down to meet blue ocean. In reality, most of the State was a desert and eventually will be once again.

Our very nasty, not-so-secret secret is that Cali simply does not get enough water to sustain our current rate of growth.

In fact, Los Angeles already gets most of its water from the Colorado River —a gentle little trickle that carved out the Grand Canyon and never really enters California, just skips along the southeastern edge before entering Mexico and dumping into the Gulf of California.

Or at least it used to—the flow's been reduced so drastically it no longer reaches the Gulf.

I mention the ebb and flow of the water table because the San Francisco Bay Area's baseball teams have mimicked its feast/famine tendencies.

The Oakland Athletics were the powerhouse in baseball for a number of years in the late-1980s and early-1990s. Then came a series of lean years for the franchise until it emerged into Moneyball glory around the change of the millennia.

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Across the Bay, the San Francisco Giants shared a similar fate.

Sadly for the faithful, the orange and black highs couldn't match those of the green and yellow, while the lows were every bit as dark.

The Giants fielded some good squads in 1987 and 1989. But the rest of those years were a mix of apathetic anemia and excruciatingly close calls, including the Last Pure Pennant Race (which was ruined by Fred McGriff).

Thankfully, the organization ended the postseason drought in 1997, beating Oakland to the punch by a few years. Once the A's caught up, the two coasted along in contrasting lockstep until the middle of the last decade when the wheels came off in ugly, BALCO-tainted fashion for both.

Today, the pattern seems to be continuing as both squads appear to be perched on the edge of immediate and enduring contention.

The observation is already generally accepted regarding the Giants within baseball circles of all types.

San Francisco's dominant young pitching from the starting rotation, bullpen, and farm system looks primed to carry the team while there are blossoming offensive options in the Minors and helpful free agents soon to be available on the open market.

The club might not be expected to make a serious charge at the World Series, but most agree it will contend deep into autumn and progress from there.

The same cannot be said about the A's, but, upon closer inspection, perhaps it should be and for eerily similar reasons.

Billy Beane and his suited cohorts have assembled an impressive arsenal of young arms.

Brett Anderson has already shown extended flashes of his left-handed brilliance at the Major League level, throwing to a 1.26 WHIP and 3.86 ERA in his first 198 1/3 IP to lineups featuring designated hitters. That's pretty gnarly for any young pitcher, let alone a kid who turned 22 in February.

Obviously, Anderson doesn't have two Cy Youngs so he doesn't get or deserve the same kind of national adoration showered upon Tim Lincecum. Motions aside, though, the A's young ace has some very Freak-ish qualities.

As for a second exciting young arm, how about Dallas Braden?

The world is suddenly familiar with the 26-year-old because of the recent incident with Alex Rodriguez, but his pitching should be getting the attention.

The southpaw had a highly anticipated career stalled just enough by injury to drop him from the red-hot radar, but he looks to be back on track so far in 2010.

Perhaps he wasn't intimidated by A-Rod because he's currently feeling the oats of a shiny start—3-0, 2.77 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and 18 K against four walks.

If Braden were right-handed, the echo of Matt Cain would be much louder.

Gio Gonzalez is a 24-year-old lefty who has yet to deliver on his full promise, but only because it is considerable, which is vaguely reminiscent of Jonathan Sanchez. Vin Mazzaro (23) and Trevor Cahill (22) are younger, right-handed re-tellings of the same story.

Out in the bullpen, you've got the 2009 American League Rookie of the Year in closer Andrew Bailey. That's one fire-breathing 25-year-old to go along with blue-chipper Tyson Ross (only 23).

Consider the pair a less proven alternative to Giants' closer Brian Wilson and green set-up man, Sergio Romo.

Additionally, the rest of the youth isn't as established as San Francisco's or as deep, but there is still quite a bit to like.

Meanwhile, the crusty veterans ushering in the fresh talent is superior in Oakland.

Barry Zito's resurgence makes the issue closer as he and Justin Duchscherer now look like possibly dominant reservoirs of knowledge. Nevertheless, a rejuvenated Ben Sheets blows the sputtering Todd Wellemeyer out of the water.

As for the offense, both Bay Area denizens boast yawn-inducing lineups that will surely waste some of the good pitching. Yet help is on the way and there might be enough to make due in the meantime.

Daric Barton is a stark contrast to Pablo Sandoval in most ways, but both share exciting potential and ample reason to believe it will arrive (finally, in Barton's case). Both Oakland and San Francisco rely heavily on underrated catchers—Kurt Suzuki and Bengie Molina, respectively—for big hits while the rest of the splinters focus on situational contributions.

If things get rough enough, the two organizations can look to the farm for help—that means Buster Posey (23) for SF, and Chris Carter (23) and/or Michael Taylor (24) for Oakland.

Again, the offensive scales—adjusted for the DH—would probably tip slightly toward San Francisco.

Of course, the Athletics absolutely obliterate the Giants defensively, which could ultimately be the equalizer.

The speed and agility on display at the Oakland Coliseum is really something to watch. It's more comparable to the 1993 San Francisco Giant defense than the current version.

As far as I can tell, there is only one good explanation for the general acceptance of the Giants as a contender compared to the general skepticism surrounding the Athletics—the divisions.

The National League West is perceived to be more wide-open than its Junior Circuit sibling. Given the Los Angeles Angels' recent history, the strides made by the Texas Rangers, and the paper monstrosity that is the Seattle Mariner pitching staff, perhaps that's true.

But nobody expected the 2009 San Francisco Giants to hang around as long as they did.

And the 2010 Oakland Athletics do look familiar...