The A’s and Giants ended the run-up to today’s All-Star Game with wins and both are still in the mix for the postseason.
The Giants have been in a massive slump since they posted a 42-21 record in their first 63 games, matching the 1962 Giants, who went on to the World Series.
This team is nothing like the ’62 Giants, who had future Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda. Still, nobody anticipated the collapse this year, a combination of physical deterioration and a stunning lack of confidence. Their mojo just disappeared.
There are some encouraging signs, though. The starting pitching is solid again, with Tim Lincecum having made the necessary mental adjustment to resume his dominant style. Matt Cain has also adjusted, though less spectacularly, to a loss in velocity. Madison Bumgarner has been consistently good. Ryan Vogelsong has recovered from a subpar 2013. Tim Hudson has been very good and he’s now an All-Star because Bumgarner was dropped after pitching on Sunday.
Marco Scutaro is back, though I’m skeptical about his back holding up. Brandon Belt is also back. He has struggled to get his hitting rhythm back after his injury, but I’m sure he’ll be back in form soon. He should team with Hunter Pence, Michael Morse and Buster Posey to hit home runs to win games.
The biggest plus for the Giants, though, is that they play in the weakest division in baseball, the NL West, which was a collective minus-24 in the won-lost column at the break, with the bottom three teams under .500.
The A’s don’t have that luxury. They have the best record in baseball but they’re only 1½ games ahead of the Los Angeles Angels, who have the second-best record. The Angels entered the break on a 9-1 run, helped by six games against the two worst teams in the division, the Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers.
Both the A’s and Giants are in a two-team race. The Seattle Mariners beat the A’s in the first two games of their weekend series in Seattle, but the A’s won the Sunday game, so the Mariners remain eight games back. They’re pretenders, not contenders.
A’s general manager Billy Beane made a point of saying that he acquired two pitchers from the Chicago Cubs before the break to strengthen the team for the battle with the Angels. (He also mentioned the Mariners, but I doubt he thinks they’re a problem.) The Angels are definitely a problem but, if the A’s finish second, they’d be one of the two wild-card teams, and what Beane was also thinking was that the A’s had to strengthen their starting pitching in case they meet their nemesis, the Detroit Tigers, in the playoffs.
The Giants have to make certain they get there. The Los Angeles Dodgers are loaded with talent, but they don’t play like that unless Clayton Kershaw is on the mound. So, it may be that the Giants will win their division. If they don’t, they’ll be battling one of the top three teams in the Central and the runner-up in the NL East for a wild-card spot.