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Series #32: Athletics vs Giants - Battle of the Bay, OAK edition

MLB: Oakland Athletics at San Francisco Giants D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

Every team has hopes and dreams and what ifs at the start of every season, the A’s being no different. The offense was solid, but unproven, the defense was improved, but not infallible, the bullpen was reinforced, but volatile, and the starting pitching was full of talent, but thin and brittle. The team had been bad, and could still conceivably be bad, but it also didn’t take much squinting to see how the team could play well, exceptionally well even. There can be a certain freedom entering a season with little to no expectations, knowing one can just enjoy the ride without running the risk of emotional devastation a few months down the road.

But then what if the team finds itself nearly one hundred games into the season and within arm’s reach of a playoff spot?

This isn’t unfamiliar territory for Oakland, as callbacks to the 2012 season have shifted from a reach to a reality. The team is flawed but collectively playing as more than the sum of their parts, different parts of the team picking up the slack whenever needed. The presumed selling off of used goods is no longer the game plan, and all of a sudden the A’s can go in any number of directions going forward. Will the A’s use their stacked farm to force their window open a year early, knowing that there are enough high-upside prospects in the system to make it worth sacrificing a few for the present? Or will the team stand pat and stay conservative, waiting for reinforcements to force their way onto the roster when the time comes? Or will there just be minor adjustments?

Baseball’s future is always murky and impossible to predict, and the A’s are in it here and now. Most assuredly, the front office will continue to keep its cards close to its chest, for as of right now no one in the industry has any clue as to what the A’s will do over the next week-plus.

One thing is for sure, the A’s, against all odds, are in the playoff hunt, and baseball in late July is fun instead of living a constant dread of premature goodbyes. The fanbase definitely has expectations now, and the risk of emotional devastation high, but the alternative simply does not compare.

First things first is taking care of the Giants and putting any chances of future drama over the trophy victor to rest. The team did its part in San Francisco last week, playing three close games and winning two of them in their opponent’s ballpark, one that has a reputation of being particularly tough for visiting teams. They are set to face tougher pitching from the Giants for the second half of the series, though the A’s have already proved they can win a game against anyone, and for good measure the A’s will be using their three best performing starters in this series themselves.

Game #98: Friday, July 20th at 6:35 - NBCSCA, NBCSBA,

Edwin Jackson vs Dereck Rodriguez

One of MLB’s most well travelled veterans is taking on a rookie and potential mainstay in the Giants’ rotation. Rodriguez has had one of the better rookie seasons for San Francisco, currently possessing a 2.89 ERA in his limited big league experience, but the more surprising success story this season is undoubtedly Jackson, who, while pitching for his thirteenth career team, is on pace to have his best season perhaps ever, small sample size be damned. The sharp righty hasn’t given up more than two runs in any of his four starts this season.

Game #99: Saturday, July 21st at 6:05 - NBCSCA, NBCSBA,

Trevor Cahill vs Madison Bumgarner

If Edwin Jackson has been the biggest surprise, Cahill has been the biggest boon to a broken down starting rotation, albeit spending substantial time on the DL himself. While sometimes lacking control, Cahill has simply become effectively wild this season due to extreme downward movement on many of his pitches, and, when on the mound, is pitching a lot like the ace people thought they were getting when the team first called him up in 2009. Madison Bumgarner is always tough competition, but the A’s frustrated him for six innings in his last start and nearly pulled off a win.

Game #100: Sunday, July 22nd at 1:05 - NBCSCA, NBCSBA,

Sean Manaea vs Johnny Cueto

Manaea has been rolling since a tough May and is the lone starting pitcher to have been with the team since opening day this year. Especially with the team looking to make a playoff push in the second half, how Manaea is able to sustain his strength down the stretch is more vital to this team’s success than just about any other factor. Cueto will most certainly be key for the Giants’ rotation as well in the second half, as San Francisco finds themselves just four games out of the division lead and wild card standings.