San Francisco Giants second baseman Donovan Solano (7) celebrates as he heads toward home plate after hitting the game winning home-run in the 11th inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Oracle Park on Aug. 25, 2020. (Chris Victorio | Special to S.F. Examiner).

Giants clinging to playoff spot as they face off with A’s

By Ben Ross

The stakes couldn’t be much higher this weekend when the Giants make the short trip across the Bay Bridge to take on the A’s in a three-game series at the Oakland Coliseum.

With only 10 days left in the regular season, the Northern California rivals both find themselves right in the thick of the playoff race. The A’s lead the AL West and have a chance to clinch their first division title since 2013 this weekend. Meanwhile, the Giants enter the series clinging to one of the final two playoff spots in the National League.

San Francisco has not reached the postseason since 2016 and this weekend will go a long way toward determining whether that drought continues. The Giants certainly hope the series goes better than the first one in August when they were swept at Oracle Park in excruciating fashion.

San Francisco dominated the majority of the first two games of that series, only to see the bullpen melt down in the ninth inning. The A’s rallied for five runs in the ninth in the series opener and four runs the very next night, miraculously winning both games. Oakland needed no such comeback in the finale, blitzing the Giants with a barrage of home runs in a 15-3 rout.

Since then, San Francisco has transformed into a completely different team. Manager Gabe Kapler removed Trevor Gott from the closer role and the bullpen has performed much better. After falling to 8-15 following the A’s sweep, the Giants would go on to win 15 of their next 21 games to charge back into the crowded NL postseason picture.

The A’s have been up-and-down since that first series in San Francisco, meandering around .500 over the past month. But thanks to their scorching 16-6 start to the season, Bob Melvin’s club has maintained plenty of distance atop the AL West.

Still, Oakland has faced plenty of adversity in the injury department, recently losing All-Star third baseman Matt Chapman for the season to hip surgery. Soon after, utility man Chad Pinder (hamstring) and outfielder Stephen Piscotty (knee) would also go down with ailments. Melvin knows they won’t be easy to replace, especially Chapman.

“The numbers, the performance, the Platinum Gloves, the power, everything,” Melvin said. “He’s one of the emotional leaders on this team. He is a big voice in the clubhouse. He’s a big voice on the field during games. He’s been a leader really since the moment that he arrived here. So it’s one thing to just look at the numbers and look at the player and what you miss, but there are also intangibles that we miss from him too. So yes, this is quite a blow for us.”

Fortunately for the A’s, they have accumulated a wealth of depth in the lineup, acquiring former All-Star Tommy La Stella from the Angels at the trade deadline and signing veteran infielder Jake Lamb after he was designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks.

Robbie Grossman and Sean Murphy have also helped fill the void for Oakland, each maintaining an OPS above .800. And while Matt Olson has struggled with his batting average, the powerful first baseman has launched a team-leading 13 home runs, along with 38 RBI.

Offense has not been a problem for the Giants all season long, with Mike Yastrzemski, Brandon Belt, and Donovan Solano all posting an OPS above .900, though Yastrzemski left Thursday’s game with right calf tightness.

The Giants will need to strike early this weekend before the A’s can turn the ball over to their dominant bullpen. Oakland’s relievers have combined for the best ERA and win percentage in baseball this year, led by All-Star closer Liam Hendriks and his league-high 13 saves.

The A’s starting rotation has been inconsistent, however, with only Chris Bassitt sporting a sub-four ERA. The Giants will likely see Bassitt, Frankie Montas, and rookie Jesús Luzardo this weekend.

San Francisco got some good news on the injury front earlier this week when Kapler announced that starting pitcher Kevin Gausman’s MRI on his right elbow came back clean and he may start a game this weekend. Other potential starters for the Giants include Johnny Cueto, Trevor Cahill, and Logan Webb.

“The Gausman news was the best news that we could’ve gotten,” Kapler said. “It was great to hear that there’s no structural damage and that we can at least be encouraged that he can start in that Oakland series and then down the stretch for us. Knowing that we have all of our starters intact right now, I know that’s not something every club can say.”

The Giants bullpen has also performed well as of late, buoyed by left-hander Tony Watson, who has been lights out this year. In his first 14 innings, Watson allowed just one earned run on seven hits. San Francisco will need the southpaw at the top of his game this weekend to retire left-handed hitters like Olson and La Stella.

With the A’s sweeping the first series between these rivals, they will need just one victory this weekend to capture The Bridge Trophy, awarded to the team that wins the season series. The Giants won the trophy last year, taking three of four games from Oakland.

MLB

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