ON THE LEFT SIDE of the Bay, the Giants are swept at home over the weekend and slink out of town with their bats between their legs, losers of 14 of their last 16 games.

On the right side of the Bay, the A's, winners of one in a row, return home from a 2-4 road trip, maintaining their 21-day grip on last place in the AL West.

With locals owning nearly identical records — Oakland at 25-37, San Francisco at 25-36 — this is as good a time as any for them to begin the charge toward October.

Call it The Drive for 75.

Insofar as neither team can reasonably expect to reach the 85-win mark, much less get to 90, it's best to keep the goals plain, simple and realistic.

One, don't finish with a worse record than the team across the bay.

Two, avoid, by all means, last place.

Finishing last always qualifies a club for debates in which the topic is "worst team" — even though the presence of Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Colorado ensures the A's and Giants wouldn't be long for the discussion.

Still, holding down last means you're bad enough to be tossed into that cold, damp cell with the other derelicts. And there's something to be said about claiming to be better off than the guy passed out on the floor, face down in his own juices.

How to avoid that fate? Win at least 75. It's a total perfect for next-to-last, thereby escaping the stigma.

Indeed, only 10 times since 1969 have any teams played 162 games, won at least 75 and still finished in the division cellar. That's about six percent of last-place teams since'69, when the leagues were divided into two, and later three, divisions.

None of those star-crossed teams were the A's or the Giants. If anything, 75 is a sort of magic number for both. Neitherhas ever finished last with 75 victories.

In their combined 84 years in the Bay Area the Giants (47) and A's (37) have posted a total of 22 seasons in which they won fewer than 75. It's straight down the middle, too, with 11 such seasons for each team.

But six of those seasons were split or shortened. Of the remaining 16, eight ended with A's (five) or Giants (three) at the bottom of the standings. And deservedly so, with only one of those teams, the 1998 A's, slogging beyond the 68-win mark.

Only six times have both teams finished below .500 in the same 162-game season, and not at all since 1996. That was, you may recall, the year John Wasdin led the A's in wins, with eight, while Mark Gardner topped the Giants with 12.

Laugh if you will, but similar numbers are not out of the question for 2005.

Dan Haren leads the A's with four wins, which puts him on a pace for 11. With about 20 losses.

Brett Tomko leads the Giants with five, which puts him on a pace for 14. With about 23 losses.

The nominal aces? Well, A's left-hander Barry Zito's nabbed his third win on Sunday, one day after San Francisco's Jason Schmidt failed to get his fourth. Both are mired in mind-numbing, arm-torching seasons and seem to be averaging about 40 pitches per batter.

So who has the edge? Which team is most likely to reach 75?

The Giants would seem to be the best bet, assuming the melon-headed slugger in rehab returns to the lineup in the next month or so. Moises Alou is swinging well, and San Francisco would be an entirely different club with those two at the heart of the order.

A healthy Barry Bonds means, theoretically, more runs, which changes everything.

Furthermore, the Giants' situation is more urgent. It's a team built for now, which is bound to tear at general manager Brian Sabean's patience. Because his pitching can't be expected to improve with experience, we can't assume Sabean won't trade for a quality veteran arm, even if it means sacrificing a valuable prospect.

The A's? Well, they're built for some other year, some other time and maybe some other place. General manager Billy Beane is smart enough to know it would require a roster overhaul to contend and he's too patient and poor to generate that.

Billy is more likely to ride it out. If 75 comes, it comes.

As for the fan, well, consider 2005 a test. How much bad ball can you tolerate? The best that can be said of local baseball is that fewer than seven weeks remain before the local NFL teams open training camp. 

As the A's prepare for a homestand against the Mets and Phillies, while the Giants visit Minnesota and Detroit, there is every reason to take the Bay Area teams out of the divisional races. Make it a local competition.

The Drive for 75.

Or, if you prefer, the Dash to Avoid Last.

Monte Poole can be reached at

(510) 208-6461 or by e-mail at

mpoole@angnewspapers.com