Programming note: Giants-A’s coverage starts Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. with Giants Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area
OAKLAND – Pick two members of the Giants rotation. Mix and match any way you choose.
Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner. Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong. Bumgarner and Tim Hudson. Lincecum and Cain. Bumgarner and Cain. Bumgarner and Vogelsong. Hudson and whoever’s behind Door No.2.
Now vaporize them.
In spring training.
You begin to get a sense for what separates the A’s from their cross-bay rivals, and it’s a lot more than the 5-0 thumping that they put on the Giants Monday night at the House That Al So Lovingly Refurbished.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Giants shut down by Chavez, lose 5-0 to A's]
The A’s lost their likely opening-day starter, Jarrod Parker, and rotation stalwart A.J. Griffin, before either threw a competitive pitch. They shrugged and plugged and rolled along, and still had the best ERA of any American League starting staff entering the first of these four Bay Bridge games. One of their replacements, a former 42nd-round pick named Jesse Chavez, struck out nine in six shutout innings.
The A’s simply dipped into their stash for two extra starters and made it work. Then on Friday, they had the minor league pieces to trade for two more. Jeff Samardzija is a difference maker. Jason Hammel is better than serviceable. And here’s the most impressive part: The A’s probably have enough in their system to engineer another deal or two, if GM Billy Beane sees a place to pivot.
This is what those in the industry call “organizational depth.”
This is when the Giants say, “Oh holy (bleep).”
Can you imagine what would happen if the Giants lost two of their starting pitchers under the Scottsdale sunshine? You’d be getting Petit and a whole lot of Edwin Escobar, who has a 5.31 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP at Triple-A Fresno. After that, you’d be looking at Mike Kickham or Jason Berken. Maybe a David Huff or Kameron Loe would’ve stuck around.
Safe to say the Giants wouldn’t have the best rotation ERA in the National League.
This is what the Giants understood the day pitchers and catchers reported. This is what they feared. They had the frontline pieces to be a winning club, and maybe even challenge the Dodgers for the NL West title. But they had to keep those pieces on the field.
Aside from Cain’s brush with a sandwich knife and a hamstring pull, they’ve remained healthy in the rotation. But they’re seeing for the second consecutive year how hard it is to replace a leadoff-hitting center fielder. And one day after they got Brandon Belt back from eight weeks on the DL, Pablo Sandoval’s arm twitched in a painful spasm after he got hit by a pitch on his elbow. The Giants are hopeful Sandoval will return on Tuesday. Angel Pagan isn't coming back until after the All-Star break.
“I think you’ve seen how we play when everybody is healthy,” Belt said. “I’m not making excuses, but when we have everybody on the field, we have a pretty good ball club.”
And when they don’t have everyone on the field, they haven't had the organizational depth to withstand injuries. They did remarkably well for the first four or five weeks without Belt. After that … well, you know what happened.
And we haven’t even gotten to the trade chatter yet. GM Brian Sabean told Tim Kawakami of the Bay Area News Group that he has no untouchables in the minor leagues. Sabean usually doesn’t show those cards. But he wants to spur the cell phone to ring, clearly, and perhaps do something to put the paddles to his sinking club. Do not expect it to be much, if anything.
To be blunt, nobody in the Giants system should be considered untouchable. Kyle Crick has the highest ceiling, but some scouts are already seeing him maxing out as a relief arm. Derek Law and Mac Williamson had Tommy John surgery. Other pitching prospects have stalled. Gary Brown still has too many holes in his game. It sounds so funny to paint the A's as the richer club. But when the currency is depth and prospects, Beane is wiping his mouth at Gary Danko while Sabean watches a microwave.
Of course, we are barely halfway through this 162-game season, and we’ve already seen how rapidly things can change. The Giants are saying all the right things about getting their house in order and playing better baseball. ("We've got to figure out something; we're better than this," were Belt's words.) They’re still nine games over .500. They still have talented players who have won before. They have time to clean the spark plugs, as Bruce Bochy suggests, to find some kind of right-handed consistency in the bullpen behind Santiago Casilla and to find a way to start winning series once more.
Then again, more season equals more distance to cover – and more opportunity for depth, or lack thereof, to be tested.
The Giants are treading as best they can. But they may be in beyond their … well, you know.