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May 27, 2009 > Closing in on contention

Closing in on contention

By Giovanni Albanese Jr.

The Bay Area is witness to sub-par baseball on a day in, day out basis. With the two options to root for being the San Francisco Giants of the NL West and the Oakland A's of the AL West, who knows when fans of either team are going to be cheering on their team in the World Series.

It may be years, or decades, but which team is closer to getting to that point?

Each ball club goes about their business in completely different fashion. The A's, spearheaded by the master mind of getting the best bang for your buck, Billy Beane, has been able to remain afloat year after year, despite always being near the bottom of team salaries in all of Major League Baseball. Meanwhile, the Giants, with their front office, including Senior V.P. and General Manager Brian Sabean, have adopted a high-spending approach to be successful.

San Francisco finds itself in the upper half of Major League payrolls with over $82.5 million while the A's are in the bottom five in payrolls, dishing out just over $62 million to its roster.

Oakland likes to build from within its organization, then trading young, highly sought after proven players for more young talent; the Giants, however, have been known to seek veteran free agents - spending big bucks on the likes of Barry Zito, Edgar Renteria, Randy Johnson, Aaron Rowand and Bengie Molina in recent years.

Oakland is bolstered by a young, inexperienced starting pitching staff (minus Justin Duchscherer who remains on the DL); the Giants can send a quality hurler to the mound nearly every night.

Rarely dipping into free agent waters, the A's made a minor splash last off season by acquiring both Jason Giambi (albeit not the MVP-winning Giambi from his A's days earlier this decade) and Matt Holliday (via trade with Colorado for pitchers Huston Street and Greg Smith, and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez).

Neither team has benefited much from the aforementioned acquisitions, which is why you find Oakland in last place in the AL West, and the Giants much closer to the cellar of the NL West, even though they are second in the division, light years behind the L.A. Dodgers in the early going.

In baseball, the old adage is that pitching and defense wins championships. However, each teams' offenses are so lackluster, the run output doesn't make up for the just better-than-average pitching.

With the A's sporting such a young pitching staff, logic will tell you that as they gain experience, they will produce at a better rate, resulting in an increase in victories - especially in a diminishing AL West. (Need we be reminded of "one-year wonder" teams of recent memory: 2003 Florida Marlins, World Series Champion; 2006 Detroit Tigers and 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, AL Champions, all three of which relied heavily on a young pitching staff.)

Meanwhile, the Giants are stockpiled with veteran pitching that should be experienced enough to get them through the grind of the regular season. They, too, like the A's, are in a weak division.

But not just the NL West is weak. Comparatively speaking, the National League is an overall weaker league than the American League. While the NL has strong teams at the top - 2008 World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies, as well as the Dodgers and Chicago Cubs - they are very weak at the bottom. On the other hand, the AL has strong teams, top to bottom.

With all that in mind, you can really say that either side has a legitimate shot of contending in the near future. However, from observing recent trends, the conclusion seems evident.

San Francisco has a new ballpark and spends a lot of money. They fill the seats - or at least at a higher rate than the A's - on a nightly basis. They have veteran leadership and a determined front office to get them a winner.

Oakland is equipped with young talent on the cusp of breaking out. They are loaded with hitters who work the count and do whatever it takes to get on base. Their young staff is gaining experience each time they take to the mound, and the bullpen is solid.

It is more likely that in the next several years that a young upstart team will have one year where they burst onto the scene and surprise everyone. Oakland is the team closer to winning a championship right now. Giants fans will have to grieve a bit longer, as powerhouses tend to come out of the NL each year.

Can the A's really be closer than the Giants to reaching the World Series? What do you think? Send your comments to sports@tricityvoice.com and you may get your voice heard in next week's issue.

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