AT&T PARK — Last year, heading into the All-Star game, the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics were, essentially, out of the playoff race. San Francisco entered the break with the second-worst record in the majors (34-56) and a franchise record for losses at that point in the season. Meanwhile, Oakland had a losing record at the break (39-50) for the third straight year.
The A’s, with their 6-2 victory on Sunday for the 2-1 Bay Bridge series lead (there are three more games in Oakland right after the break), continue to be the hottest team in baseball as of late. With the win over the Giants today and the Seattle Mariners’ loss, Oakland is now just three games back of Seattle for the second wildcard spot.
At what’s considered to be the midpoint of the season, the A’s have a 55-42 record, while the Giants are at 50-48. Translation: Both teams remain very much in the playoff race.
San Francisco sits in fourth in the NL West, but, in a division that has underwhelmed, the Giants are only 3 1/2 games back of the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. Despite having the better record, the A’s have it tougher at the moment because the AL West is looking like one of the deepest divisions in baseball — Oakland trails the Astros by five games and the Mariners by three.
A’s manager Bob Melvin said that after the All-Star break he wants to see more of what he’s seen from his team recently.
“I’ve got no complaints with what guys are doing, and the effort levels are there every day,” Melvin said. “And the other team can feel that. Even when we lose, we keep pushing, we keep pushing. So I just want them to continue to play like that.”
Both teams have survived frequent injuries in the starting rotation — Oakland has had 12 different pitchers start games this season, while the Giants have had nine. Both teams have benefitted big-time from having a dependable veteran presence behind the plate: Buster Posey for the Giants and Jonathan Lucroy for the A’s. The managers for both teams have given kudos to their catchers for the way they’ve handled the pitching staffs, especially with the younger guys the teams have trotted out on the mound.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy praised the “consistent” pitching from his team — both in terms of the starters and the relievers — and cited the contributions from the pitchers the team has called up.
“We’re not where we want to be, but they’ve helped us be there, close,” Bochy said. “Because of all our injuries, we needed help, and those guys have more than provided that.”
To open the second half, the Giants’ rotation will be Dereck Rodriguez, Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Andrew Suárez. Jeff Samardzija, who was placed today on the 10-day disabled list with shoulder inflammation, could start a fifth game, or left-hander Derek Holland could be an option to take that next start, too.
The stalwart pitcher for Oakland has been Sean Manaea (8-6, 3.44 ERA), who earned the win Sunday and was pleased with his first half of the season.
“I thought it was great,” he said. “Obviously, the month of May was a bit whatever, but I thought I made some really good strides in just developing as a pitcher. I thought I learned a lot of things and finished up the first half strong.”
Manaea — who threw 74 pitches (53 strikes) on Sunday — added that he’s been thinking about being in the thick of a playoff race since the beginning of the season.
“Starting to get the feeling, that playoff vibe,” he said.
Manaea went six innings, scattering five hits and a walk while allowing just two runs. He was followed up by what’s been a major strength for Oakland — the back end of the bullpen. After one-inning holds from Ryan Buchter (his ninth) and Lou Trivino (his 12th), Blake Treinen struck out the side in the ninth.
The A’s used a four-run fourth to pull ahead for good, and are now 37-0 when leading after seventh and 45-0 when leading after the eighth.
Oakland continues to knock balls out of the park (particularly on the road) — Stephen Piscotty hit a solo shot in the sixth inning, his fifth homer in nine games — while the Giants have continued to struggle against left-handers like Manaea. Bochy would like to see his team’s hitting improve after the break.
“A few runs on the board, and (we) win some of these 12-hit games we’re getting,” he said.
Still, he’s encouraged by the progress since last season.
“Overall, I think we’ve done a better job of scoring runs,” Bochy said. “I still don’t think we’re where we can be or should be, but I think that’s improved.”
Melvin said that it was nice to bounce back from the 7-1 loss Friday in the first game of the series and to be heading into the break on a high note.
“This is a tough team that plays well at home, and has been playing well, so to be able to come back and win two is pretty rewarding going into the break,” Melvin said. “We’ve been on a nice little run, cut the deficit a little bit.”
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