Against the odds and despite the injuries, Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants are in the hunt

The number surprised even Bruce Bochy, who was seated atop the dugout bench, his favored perch for surveying batting practice while conducting his customary pregame press conferences: Twenty-two.

That was the number of pitchers the San Francisco Giants had called on this season, including Madison Bumgarner, who finally debuted on Tuesday night. It’s the same number the Giants needed for the entirety of 2017.

“Twenty-two is a lot in June,” Bochy said. “I didn’t realize that [we’ve used that many]. Yeah, that’s a lot. That’s too many. But you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

Among that 22, nine have started games for the Giants. It’s another big number — and a number that would suggest it unlikely that the Giants would find themselves in the position they’re in: squarely in the race in a congested National League West. Coincidentally, across the Bay, the Oakland Athletics have the same numbers: 22 pitchers pitched, and nine different starters. Like the Giants, they too have managed to tread water at .500

The injuries to the Giants at large and the rotation in particular have been myriad — and remain ongoing.

Johnny Cueto won’t return from right elbow inflammation until the end of the month. Jeff Samardzija (shoulder tightness) will be back faster than that from his second stint on the disabled list.

In the interim, the significance of Bumgarner’s belated arrival is difficult to overstate. He’s the bellwether of the group. His return jolted the AT&T Park crowd and buoyed the Giants’ spirits inside the clubhouse.

In true Bumgarnerian fashion, the left-hander offered an aw-shucks deflection when asked about his impact on his teammates.

“I don’t think I’m that big a deal to them,” Bumgarner said. “But I’m excited to get back out there and I hope they’re excited to have me back … I mean, I don’t know. I don’t want to [talk about that].”

The A’s, short on expectations heading into the year, are playing competitive baseball in a crowded American League West. Oh, and the club has had plenty of injuries to contend with too. While their 22nd was no Bumgarner, he did dazzle in his return: Paul Blackburn threw six innings and allowed just one run in his season debut on Thursday night. Not that he expected anything less.

“Surprised? No. I believe in myself everytime I’m out there,” Blackburn explained. “I think I’m going to get everybody out. Some days it’s not the case, some days it is.”

Blackburn had been stranded on the 60-day disabled list since spring training with a right forearm strain. He allowed three hits in his first start, retiring 11 on the ground.

While the Giants have thrived by jumping out to early leads and letting the bullpen lock things down — at the outset of the current trip the Giants were 19-9 when scoring first — the A’s have lived (and died) by the longball.

Khris Davis is barreling toward another 40-home run season, already with 15. Matt Olson is right behind him with 13. The wildly streaky first baseman just delivered a stretch of five big flies in seven games.

“You have these ups-and-downs where you seem to be on time with things,” Olson said. “And I’ve found myself in a good position to hit on a lot of different pitches lately.”

Combined with Matt Chapman and Jed Lowrie, the A’s have four players with at least nine homers.

Manager Bob Melvin still sees plenty of room for growth with his young A’s. Franchise cornerstones like Olson and Chapman are each in their first full season in the majors, and are still learning on the job.

“I think we have the ability to get better,” Melvin said. “And I think if you look at the beginning of the season and said if you’re a little over .500 at this point, you’d probably take it — especially with the injuries we’ve had.”

Melvin’s not happy to be average, but he understands the big picture and likes his team’s trajectory. So too does Bochy.

His Giants just capped a 5-1 homestand when the only loss came on a night when Bumgarner gritted through six innings of two-run ball.

Bochy is feeling good with where his team is.

“Well, yeah. Yeah. I think you have to,” Bochy said.

Like Melvin’s A’s, Bochy’s Giants are in the mix with the summer on the horizon.

“We’re right there in the hunt,” Bochy said. “That’s all you can ask at this point — especially with what this club’s gone through, dealing with the injuries and things. I like where we’re at.” 

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