The simple answer is this: the A’s were better in 2013, and have gotten better heading into 2014. The Giants on the other hand haven’t added enough to their roster to significantly improve.
After winning the World Series title in 2012, the San Francisco Giants ended 2013 with a 76-86 record, just 2 games out of last. The A’s on the other hand have had the best record in the majors over the past 2 years.
Last season the Giants struggled. The strength of their team, their pitching staff, turned in a dismal performance by their standards. Madison Bumgarner was the lone bright spot. He is being rewarded by getting the nod for an Opening Day start in 2014. Even the horse of the staff, Matt Cain struggled at times in 2013.
The beacon of hope for San Francisco coming in to 2014 is that Barry Zito’s contract is off the books, and so is his left arm. To replace him, they signed former Athletic, Tim Hudson. Huddy is a solid pitcher, and they are lucky to have him. Of the big 3, he is the only one that has had continued success this late in his career. The big question mark for Huddy is whether he is recovered from the ankle injury that he suffered late last year.
Across the bay, the A’s have been busy. On paper they have improved a solid bullpen and made it into an elite one with the additions of Jim Johnson, Luke Gregerson and Eric O’Flaherty. They also acquired Craig Gentry in a trade with the Rangers, and signed free-agent grinder Nick Punto.
Gentry offers an upgrade in versatility, speed and defense over former Athletic Seth Smith. Nick Punto is a pain-in-the-neck player that you love if he’s on your team and hate to face.
The A’s also have a full season of Sonny Gray to look forward to. Last postseason he went pitch-for-pitch against Justin Verlander in Game 2 of the ALDS. Minus one pitch to the best hitter in baseball, he pitched a very solid game 5. He will have some growing pains, but will be the ace of the staff in the second-half of the season.
The Giants also added Michael Morse to their lineup, but I see his defense being a liability in the vast expanse of Triples Alley. His bat could be an upside in a Giant lineup that ranked 10th in the NL and 21st in baseball in runs scored, but he is also injury prone.
The Giants are banking on bounce-back years from most of their rotation, and hoping for the best with their offense. I am not an expert on their farm system, but if they considered Mike Kickham to be their most qualified to pitch in the show last year, I am guessing there isn’t a lot of major-league-ready talent there at the moment. Their bullpen is strong, but they can’t win every game by themselves.
My prediction for the Giants is that they finish at .500, 81-81, and will be fighting the Padres/Rockies off for 3rd place. If things don’t pan out, the Giants could find themselves looking up at the rest of the division.
The A’s will finish at 102-60, winning the AL West for the 3rd straight year. The Rangers added a lot of parts this offseason, but aren’t necessarily better. Yu Darvish, their best pitcher, is like catnip to A’s bats. Derek Holland, their 2nd best, is out for the beginning of the year due to injury. This leaves the door wide open for the A’s, and I believe they will capitalize on this opportunity. Come October, the amusement park will be shut down, so if you want to watch baseball, come to Oakland.