Any­thing pos­si­ble in 2020

A’s should con­tend, but don’t write off Gi­ants in ran­dom­ness of 60 games

San Francisco Chronicle - - SPORTINGGR­EEN - SCOTT OSTLER

Base­ball2020 is go­ing to be very dif­fer­ent from base­ball, and maybe more en­ter­tain­ing.

And here’s a Bay Area bonus: The 60­game sched­ule and the rule changes for the 2020 sea­son work in fa­vor of the Gi­ants and the A’s.

The A’s were well po­si­tioned as a con­tender in a “nor­mal” sea­son, and their out­look is even brighter now. The Gi­ants fig­ured to strug­gle and re­build, but now they have the look of an in­ter­est­ing dark horse.

What the heck am I talk­ing about? Thanks for ask­ing.

Base­ball is now a sprint. Ev­ery loss is the equiv­a­lent of 2.7 losses in a stan­dard 162­game sea­son, so ev­ery game will be played and man­aged more like a play­off game than a reg­u­larsea­son game, be­cause this ain’t no reg­u­lar sea­son.

Base­ball has hit the fast­for­ward but­ton on the lan­guid pace of its sea­son. Close your eyes and think back to the days when a Gi­ants hit­ter would be in a slump and Bruce Bochy would growl com­fort­ingly to the me­dia, “Heee’ll be fi­i­i­i­ine.”

Sure, he’ll work him­self out of that slump. In a week or two. That was then. Now you can’t give the slumper that time.

Quick­re­act man­ag­ing is go­ing to be part of the new deal. Less pa­tience with a strug­gling hit­ter or pitcher. We’ll see more fre­quent changes, game to game and in­ning to in­ning.

Ro­ta­tions will get more jug­gling, based on hot hands and matchups.

They’ll be play­ing speed chess, not front­porch

check­ers. The ben­e­fi­cia­ries of this new deal will be teams with ver­sa­tile ros­ters and with an­a­lyt­ics­driven lead­er­ship.

Teams like, oh, I don’t know ... the Gi­ants and the A’s.

Gi­ants pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions Farhan Zaidi, no longer the awk­ward new kid, has set­tled into a groove, and he’s one of the more an­a­lyt­ics-ori­ented men in the game. New skip­per Gabe Kapler is on board with the new stuff, and com­pletely in sync with Zaidi, go­ing back to their days to­gether in the Dodgers’ or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Kapler’s 13­per­son coach­ing crew, to a man and woman, is an­a­lyt­ics­savvy and pro­grammed for quick ac­tion and re­ac­tion.

Zaidi and Kapler, in build­ing this sea­son’s team, have put a premium on Swiss Army knife play­ers, which suits the quick­re­act style of ball.

The sea­son is sched­uled for 60 games. This opens the door for a catch­light­ning­in­a­bot­tle team. The Gi­ants are a wild card, clearly short on tal­ent but a team that could flash some early spunk and then ride its wave. If that hap­pens, the sea­son might not be long enough to al­low the Gi­ants to sink back to re­al­ity.

With no mi­nor­league sea­son, top prospects will be thrown into the mix, adding an any­thing­can­hap­pen vibe to the sea­son. Catcher Joey Bart will get a sniff, and what if he catches fire?

A team like the Gi­ants could blow up the other way, too, be­ing a dis­jointed disas­ter from Day 1. But in a short sea­son, the Gi­ants have a puncher’s chance.

The A’s were go­ing to be in the play­off mix any­way, but the short sea­son works well for them, too.

The Billy Beane/david Forst/bob Melvin crew has been big on mix­and­match — move play­ers around, em­pha­size ver­sa­til­ity, keep every­one in­volved and en­gaged. That’s the kind of team that will thrive this sea­son.

An­a­lyt­ics? The A’s get A’s in that sub­ject. Melvin is a newage skip­per who works well with his team’s cy­ber crew. His solid com­mu­ni­ca­tion lines with his play­ers con­trib­ute to good morale and a team­wide un­der­stand­ing that moves will be made day by day and in­ning by in­ning.

Old base­ball was about hav­ing to cod­dle the es­tab­lished play­ers. New base­ball, ex­em­pli­fied by Melvin and the A’s, is build­ing an all­for­one team chem­istry. The Gi­ants, with lead­ers like Buster Posey but with no su­per­stars, also fit this cat­e­gory.

The short sea­son ben­e­fits the A’s pitch­ing staff, as The Chron­i­cle’s Su­san Slusser pointed out. Starters A.J. Puk, Jesús Luzardo and Sean Manaea all are in the fi­nal stages of re­cov­ery from in­jury, which would ne­ces­si­tate in­nings lim­its in a nor­mal sea­son.

With the short sea­son, Melvin told Slusser, “It means the reins are off, we can let th­ese guys go.”

The abil­ity to ad­just and tweak the ros­ter on the fly will be a vi­tal skill. The Gi­ants and A’s should be near the top of base­ball in that as­pect, nei­ther team afraid to pull the trig­ger.

The A’s, from the front of­fice to the dugout, have an ex­tra in­cen­tive this sea­son. Plans for a new ball­park were al­ready shaky, and the pan­demic has messed with their ques­tion­able timetable. Chances are dim­ming that the team will be able to keep young cor­ner­stones like Matt Chap­man and Matt Ol­son around long term. “Now or never” might be the team motto.

Bay Bridge World Se­ries, what an ab­surd idea. But this is 2020.

Nuc­cio Din­uzzo / Getty Images 2019

Above, in­field­ers Matt Chap­man and Matt Ol­son helped the A’s to 97 vic­to­ries and wild­card ap­pear­ances in each of the past two sea­sons. Be­low, the Gi­ants and Farhan Zaidi, pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions, will em­bark on a short­sea­son cam­paign with a new man­ager in Gabe Kapler.

Nick Otto / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle 2019

Michael Za­garis / Getty Images 2019

A’s ex­ec­u­tives David Forst, left, and Billy Beane set­tled on a pool of 54 play­ers for the 60­game 2020 sea­son.

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