Two of the last four Major League Baseball seasons have ended with a World Series victory parade on one side of San Francisco Bay – but you might not have guessed which one judging solely by how each team finished 2013.
The Giants, hampered by injuries and bouts of under-performance, finished 10 games under .500 and tied for third in the National League West a year after hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy. On the other side of the bay, the A’s followed their surprise division title in 2012 with a convincing repeat in 2013, before bowing out of the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers for the second year in a row.
Despite those back-to-back titles, it’s possible the A’s don’t enter 2014 as the favorites in the A.L. West.
Other teams in the division made marquee offseason acquisitions. The Mariners landed Robinson Cano, and the Rangers traded for Prince Fielder and signed Shin-Soo Choo. The Angels still have one of baseball’s formidable lineups, even with Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton coming off of down years.
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The A’s spent a busy winter adding depth around their young core, gearing up for another run at the playoffs while understanding they won’t surprise anyone this season, even if they aren’t expected to win the division.
“I think we’re still trying to prove people wrong,” center fielder Coco Crisp said earlier this month. “With the Angels and Texas having the plus-caliber players on their team with high price tags behind their names – we don’t really have that, those $100 million contracts. So with that said, I think we’re still in some sense the underdog.”
Crisp and others, though, said it’s a role the A’s accept, while manager Bob Melvin said the team has become fairly adept at disregarding outside expectations.
“It doesn’t bother them if someone doesn’t pick us to win the division,” Melvin said. “It didn’t last year, it didn’t the year before. I think our expectations as a group are much more important.”
Melvin expects big things this season, too.
“I expect us to be very good again,” he said with a smile.
The Giants had a quiet but productive offseason, re-signing their own big-name free agents and addressing needs in the starting rotation and left field. The result is a roster that looks similar to last year’s – but with the benefit of a full offseason to address a list of issues.
Marco Scutaro and Ryan Vogelsong, both of whom missed stretches because of injuries, had time to recover. Pablo Sandoval reportedly lost significant weight working out at home. Buster Posey rested and added muscle following a second half in which his numbers suggested he wore down. And newcomers Tim Hudson and Michael Morse used the winter to rehab from surgery.
While manager Bruce Bochy blanched last season at using fatigue as an excuse for missing the playoffs for the second time in four seasons, he acknowledged this month that the extra games and stressful innings “could’ve taken a toll.”
“But I know this – we don’t have any excuses now,” Bochy said. “We’ve had our time off and these guys have had a longer offseason, and hopefully they didn’t like that long offseason. ... It’s up to us to get back on track and stop talking about that.”
As for the disappointing finish in 2013, said right fielder Hunter Pence: “You don’t forget it.”
“We don’t think the results of last year (represent) who we are, but that was the result,” Pence said. “What I take from it is, it’s a motivator. It stirs up a really big fire, and I don’t know how to say it other than ‘passion.’ It makes it exciting, coming into spring training this year with a chip on your shoulder.”