Best Starting Nine

With the Giants off to a hot start and the A's fresh off two consecutive playoff appearances, optimism is running high in Bay Area baseball circles. That's nice, but there's a slight problem: It shouldn't be. The Giants, for all their strengths, are built around Barry Bonds, who has a .196 career batting average in the post-season. The A's have great pitching, but the team is so petrified of the New York Yankees that it stands little chance of reaching the World Series. Which raises the question: If the locals pooled their talent, could they beat the Yankees? Maybe. Here's who we'd take:

Best First Baseman

The Giants' J.T. Snow ranks with the best defensive first basemen in the game, but he hit .231 last year. We'll go with 23-year-old Oakland phenom Carlos Pena. After losing franchise player Jason Giambi to the hated Yankees, A's General Manager Billy Beane knew he'd need some pop at 1B. He mortgaged nearly all of the team's top prospects -- including Giambi heir apparent Jason Hart -- to Texas for Pena, who made him look pretty smart by hitting four dingers in his first 25 at-bats.

Best Second Baseman

In a normal year this would be a no-brainer. Giant Jeff Kent was the National League's MVP in 2000. But this is not a normal year: In the off-season, Kent injured himself screwing around on a motorcycle, then tried to cover it up by saying he hurt himself washing his truck, despite police reports to the contrary. You don't beat the Yankees by being dumb. But you also don't beat them with a stereotypical, Punch-and-Judy second baseman either -- so, sorry, Oakland's Frank Menochino. Instead, we'll move Giants shortstop Rich Aurilia out of position, on the theory that shortstops can play any infield spot. Aurilia hits a ton, and his range -- merely average at short -- will be superb at second.

Best Shortstop

The other reason Aurilia is playing second is that Oakland's Miguel Tejada beat him out. Tejada, once known only for his highlight-reel defense, has become a feared hitter, whose 228 total RBIs the last two seasons are second only to $250 million man Alex Rodriguez (252) among major-league shortstops.

Best Third Baseman

Eric Chavez, just 24, hit .288 last year with 32 home runs and 114 RBIs. The numbers for Giants counterpart David Bell, 29: .260, 15, 64. And Chavez can field, too.

Best Left Fielder

Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs last year. Yes, we know he's a first-rate choke artist in the playoffs. But we'd like to make the playoffs.

Best Right Fielder

Back in March, starting Oakland's Jeremy Giambi in an all-Bay Area outfield would have been unthinkable. How could you put a little-used bench player next to Barry Bonds? Hardly anyone knew his name until last year's playoffs, when his refusal to slide into home further padded the undeserved legend of Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and might have cost Oakland a shot at the World Series. Those who did know him wondered if "Mini G" would even make the team after his brother Jason -- the A's best player -- signed with the Yanks during the off-season. But did he ever: Batting leadoff, Jeremy opened the season on a torrid pace, hitting near .300 -- and never missing a chance to slide. He's been playing left for the A's; he'll play in right on a team with Bonds.

Best Center Fielder

When the Giants signed reserve outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo away from the Mets this off-season, General Manager Bryan Sabean said, "This guy is going to take your breath away chasing down balls in center field." But Shinjo has never played center field regularly in the majors. When the guy stepped onto the field, he had interesting hair, hideous orange wristbands -- and not a clue at the plate. By default, we'll go with Oakland's Terrence Long, 25, a marvelously talented player who was supposed to be hitting 20 to 30 homers a year by now. (He hit 12 last year.) He plays an erratic, if sometimes spectacular, center field and doesn't steal bases, but at least he doesn't wear ridiculous wristbands.

Best Catcher

This spot is even more of a wasteland than center field, pitting Giants relic Benito Santiago against weak-hitting Ramon Hernandez. This is why trades were invented.

Best Pitching Rotation

With aces Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Mark Mulder, the A's have the best starting rotation in baseball. The bullpen, however, is trickier, especially once you get past Giants closer Rob Nen. In the setup department, two oversize righties -- Oakland's Chad Bradford and San Francisco's Jay Witasick -- have great strikeout-to-walk ratios. We're not all that impressed with the A's Mike Venafro, but you need at least one decent lefty in the bullpen. And that's how many we have in the Bay Area these days.

Best Manager

Dusty Baker uses the word "dude" a lot and somehow convinced Barry Bonds that $18 million a year is a good enough excuse to show up at the park every day. For this, he is revered, despite never winning a playoff series. We want Art Howe, who has taken one of baseball's youngest, most immature teams to the playoffs two straight years despite dealing with absurdly unfair -- yet constant -- rumors of his demise.

Best Fans

Ahh, the eternal question, pitting those who don't show up vs. those who come for the food. We could go either way here, but we'll take the Giants faithful this year. Why? Well, on Opening Day, they violently booed Mayor Willie Brown during a tribute to Bonds' magnificent season. They booed when the mayor was introduced and again when he got Bonds' career home run total wrong (Brown said 567; by the home opener, Bonds was already up to 571.)

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