Depth is A’s edge on Giants

This is my Thursday column on the difference between the Giants and the A’s. WARNING: This is a baseball column. 49ers fans — feel free to skip this.

PHOENIX – The Giants hope. The A’s don’t. The biggest difference between the two teams right now.

The Giants hope so many things go their way this season. They hope Pablo Sandoval keeps his weight down. They hope Angel Pagan stays healthy. They hope Marco Scutaro stays healthy. They hope Ryan Vogelsong stays healthy. They hope Brandon Belt improves. They hope Tim Hudson bounces back from a broken ankle. They hope Mike Morse bounces back from wrist surgery. They hope Matt Cain bounces back from a bad season. They hope Tim Lincecum bounces back from two bad seasons in a row.

The entire team is built on a hope and a prayer.

On Wednesday, the Giants’ first day of full-squad workouts, manager Bruce Bochy sat on a bench in the Giants’ dugout at Scottsdale Stadium and expressed his hopes and wishes about Sandoval. “Hopefully, we’re not taking him out (at the end of games),” Bochy said. “He lost quite a few pounds. He should be moving around better. I think it’s going to help him with the bat, too.”

Circle the key words in Bochy’s quote.

If you circled “hopefully,” “should,” and “I think,” you get an A+. Those are words you use when you engage in wishful thinking. Bochy wishes Sandoval will improve this season and finally become a superstar. The pressure is on Sandoval to prove Bochy right.

On Thursday, the first day of full-squad workouts for the A’s, manager Bob Melvin sat on a picnic table outside the A’s minor-league complex and a reporter asked if he thought his third baseman, Josh Donaldson, will improve this season. I want you to compare what Melvin said about Donaldson to what Bochy said about Sandoval.

Melvin said: “I don’t want (Donaldson) to have that kind of pressure, going out there thinking he has to do better. He potentially could, but we insulate within the group. We don’t put too much pressure on him. All he has to do is go out there and perform in the fashion that he has and play with the intensity that he does. As long as he does that, the numbers will take care of themselves.”

Notice Melvin did not use the words “hopefully,” “should,” or “I think.” Notice Melvin made a point not to put the pressure on Donaldson like Bochy put it on Sandoval. That’s because there is no pressure on Donaldson.

The A’s scored the fourth-most runs in the Major Leagues last season even though Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes had down seasons – Reddick hit .226, Cespedes .240. The A’s don’t rely on superstars to drive in all of the runs. They have run producers up and down the batting order. The A’s have depth.

“I think that’s one of the focuses on our team,” said Melvin. “We are not a team that can go out and sign a $150 million or $200 million player. We have to have depth. We have to match up in certain positions. We use the whole complement of 25 players. And it’s not just 25. We had 50 players last year and we had 50-plus the year before. Just because you start here doesn’t mean you end up here. Your performance will dictate what kind of playing time you get.”

The Giants have not figured out how important depth is. If Sandoval gets fat again, or if Pagan gets hurt again, or if Matt Cain gets blasted again, then the Giants are in trouble because they have no strong backups. With a $144 million payroll, they could afford depth if they valued it.

Clearly, the A’s value depth. This offseason, they traded one of their top prospects, Michael Choice, to the Rangers for a role player – Craig Gentry. Gentry will be the A’s fourth outfielder. His career batting average is .280. “He is one of the better role players in all of baseball,” Melvin said.

“Craig is a great player,” said pitcher Josh Lindblom, who came to the A’s in the same trade Gentry did. “He’s probably one of the best outfielders I have ever been with. He will run through a wall. He plays the game hard. His speed speaks for itself. He gets on base and wreaks havoc.”

The Giants’ fourth outfielder is Gregor Blanco whose career batting average is .257. Not in Gentry’s league.

The Giants’ fifth outfielder is a kid named Juan Perez who has 89 at-bats in his Major League career.

“He was an unknown last year at this point,” Bochy admitted, “but he came up and did a good job.”

He hit .258.

“The young kids have more experience,” he continued. “You’re hoping they can continue their improvement.”

Circle the key words.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at grantcohn@gmail.com.

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