Even years and errors: Differing expectations await Bay Area MLB teams

The Even Year Odds. That’s the headline in the regional edition of Sports Illustrated. In baseball, in the West, those four words are enough. It’s the Giants’ time for a World Series. That is if the Giants have enough.

For the other team, the one across the Bay, the Athletics, the issue is less about picking up a pennant than, having led the majors in errors, picking up or throwing a ground ball. It is a problem that during the exhibition games in March appeared as serious — and uncorrectable — as during last season.

The talk, forecasts and Cactus League results — both San Francisco and Oakland had losing records — means nothing. Then again hearing Giants manager Bruce Bochy sigh about his pitching, “Those are bombs leaving the ballpark,” or A’s manager Bob Melvin moan about the defense, “It’s putrid — I have so many minuses on my card,” is not particularly uplifting.

As opposed to the commercials involving each team. Buster Posey speaking Spanish? Have to have a sense of humor in a sport that goes from April to September. Also have to have pitching. The Giants, having stretched the budget over the winter in the belief it will help them stretch their schedule well into the post-season, have pitching. Starting pitching.

Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija (the latter two December free-agent signees), Jake Peavy and apparently healthy Matt Cain may not be the overall best five starters in the majors, but nobody in the Giants organization is complaining. Besides, balls that are home runs in other parks often are outs at AT&T on the shore of McCovey Cove.

Good pitching requires good defense. For exhibit A, we offer the defenseless A’s. When the opposition keeps getting extra outs, you’re in trouble. In 2015, posting the worst record in the American League, the A’s were.

Giants management realized (so did everyone else) Angel Pagan, injured and aging, wasn’t what was needed in center, signed Denard Span and shifted Pagan to left.

In right, and feeling right after missing so many games because his ankle was broken by a pitch last spring, is Hunter Pence. He knows the bricks and angles. He also knows how to hit. Maybe, just maybe, if he had been around most of 2015 the Giants would have finished ahead of the Dodgers. Pence wasn’t, and they didn’t.

It was not an even year, figuratively or literally, and the Giants have this mini-tradition of winning championships in even years, 2010, 2012 and 2014. Last spring fans wore T-shirts that read, “We Like The Odds.” What they didn’t like were the results.

There’s a baseball observation that a player was “good field, no hit.” The A’s in 2015 pulled a switch. They decent hit and couldn’t field.

It’s almost hard to believe that in 2013 and 2014 the A’s were American League West Division champions. Not hard to believe the A’s, still stuck at the O.Co. Coliseum, where the water pipes break along with fans’ hearts, would be unable to retain Yoenis Cespedes, who helped the Mets get to the World Series, and Josh Donaldson, who won the AL MVP.

Oakland has an excellent No. 1 starter, Sonny Gray. The No. 2 man — or who was thought to be the No. 2 man — Jesse Hahn, was optioned to the A’s Nashville farm team.

The A’s did improve an awful bullpen (ERA 4.63), and the addition of outfielder Khris Davis gives the team a solid hitter behind leadoff man Billy Burns.

Where do the A’s go in 2016? Same as the Giants, that will be decided on the diamond. Stop talking, start playing.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at typoes@aol.com.

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