Good morning from Detroit, where the weather is supposed to be about 50 degrees for first pitch of the A’s-Tigers A.L.D.S. opener and then drop into the 40’s from there. I wouldn’t want to take a fastball on the hands from Jarrod Parker or Justin Verlander tonight. …
A quick note on the A’s 25-man roster for the Divisional Series: Pat Neshek, carrying a heavy heart after the death of his newborn son, was included on the roster, and reliever Jim Miller was left off. That bullpen decision was the only real one the A’s had to make. They brought 26 healthy players to Detroit.
Neshek’s son, Gehrig, died Wednesday of unknown causes just 23 hours after being born. It was unclear if Neshek would be with the team for this best-of-five series against the Tigers, but when the A’s arrived at Comerica Park for Friday’s workout, Neshek was with them.
“If nothing else, we kind of wanted to do it in my son’s honor to come back,” he said of the decision by him and his wife, Stephanee.
The A’s roster consists of pitchers Brett Anderson, Grant Balfour, Travis Blackley, Jerry Blevins, Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, Pedro Figueroa, A.J. Griffin, Tommy Milone, Neshek, Game 1 starter Jarrod Parker and Evan Scribner.
The position players are catchers George Kottaras and Derek Norris; infielders Chris Carter, Josh Donaldson, Stephen Drew, Brandon Moss, Cliff Pennington and Adam Rosales.; and outfielders Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Jonny Gomes, Josh Reddick and Seth Smith.
–Here’s a few names that pop into my head as being key for the A’s in this series, some more obvious than others:
*Coco Crisp — We’ve seen his importance to the A’s all season, and if he can ignite things from the leadoff spot in these first two games, it will help keep the Tigers crowd quiet. The speedy center fielder has missed large chunks of time this season for bizarre reasons — an inner ear infection, pinkeye — but his impact is undeniable. Crisp’s regular-season stats — .259, 11 HRs, 46 RBIs — don’t tell the full story.
*Josh Donaldson — Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes have put up big numbers. Brandon Moss and Chris Carter have contributed power. But notice how many clutch hits Donaldson delivered at important times for the A’s in the second half? He needs to produce down toward the bottom of the lineup to give Detroit’s pitching staff more to worry about than Crisp and the big boppers. Donaldson, a converted catcher, also must continue to play the sharp defense he’s displayed at third base.
*Pedro Figueroa/Evan Scribner — We saw Scribner shine Wednesday out of the bullpen against Texas. He and Figueroa, a lefty, will serve the same role as middle relievers who can be called upon early if Oakland’s starters get into trouble. That’s not out of the question given the inexperience in the rotation and the liklihood that manager Bob Melvin will have a quick hook if they struggle. Scribner and Figueroa could help steady the ship if that happens. Figueroa has electric stuff, and the A’s have floated the idea of making him a starter in the future, but he’s needed for different reasons right now.
The A’s earned their ticket to the A.L. Divisional Series, and right now they sort of remind you of that low seed in the NCAA Tournament that is gathering momentum and nobody wants to face. A big part of the A’s success to this point is their outlook on things — they’ve attacked this season with carefree abandon, flourishing in the underdog role and knowing that not much was expected of them all season. Will things change in that approach now? With the American League down to a four-team bracket after Friday, the A’s certainly won’t be sneaking up on anybody in the postseason. In fact, they’re the second seed and Detroit is the third, so the A’s technically should be the hunted in this series. Surely, they’d like to maintain their role as the upstart team that still has doubters to convert.
“Ever since I’ve been here, it’s always been, ‘The A’s can’t compete because of payroll,'” A’s catcher Derek Norris said. “We’re better off (having doubters). I hope they keep doing it.”
I’m interested to see how this team reacts to the playoff atmosphere. A’s manager Bob Melvin has excelled all year at instilling the A’s with the right mental approach, whether it’s leading into a tough series, a tough road trip or bouncing back from a tough loss.
The A’s went 3-4 against the Tigers in the regular season, going 2-2 at home and 1-2 in a series at Comerica Park on the last road trip.
Here’s what Melvin had to say about facing Detroit:
“It’s going to be a tough matchup. They played very well against us during the season. They have a very powerful lineup that can certainly score some runs. They also have great starting pitching. We will have our work cut out for us.”
That’s all for now …
It comes down to game No. 162 for the A’s to decide the American League West championship. With so much riding on this contest, I’ll post the lineups and let you enjoy it play out.
Here’s a story from my colleague Dan Brown on what A’s G.M. Billy Beane thinks of his team reaching this unlikely point.
The starting nine(s):
A’s — Crisp CF, Drew SS, Cespedes LF, Moss 1B, Reddick RF, Donaldson 3B, Smith DH, Kottaras C, Pennington 2B; Griffin RHP.
Rangers — Kinsler 2B, Andrus SS, Hamilton CF, Beltre DH, Cruz RF, Young 3B, Murphy LF, Napoli 1B, Soto C; Dempster RHP.
On the day after the big celebration, things seemed back to normal for the A’s. I didn’t detect any hangovers or bloodshot eyes. More impressively, the home clubhouse was back to looking normal. There were absolutely no signs of the champagne-soaked fiesta that took place after the A’s clinched a wild card berth Monday night. Plastic was put down everywhere to protect the carpet, and players were told not to wear their spikes so as not to poke holes in it. That’s why players were running around in their socks last night as puddles of champagne formed everywhere.
Anyway, the question is how the A’s handle things in their return to the diamond, since obviously tonight’s game has huge ramifications. A win tonight and Wednesday afternoon gives the A’s the division championship and a ticket straight to the A.L. Divisional Series, which would be a huge upgrade over playing in Friday’s do-or-die wild card game against either the Orioles or Yankees (site TBA). A’s manager Bob Melvin said he doesn’t expect any letdown Tuesday night.
“I think it’s business as usual for us,” he said. “It’s not like anyone was here until two in the morning last night. I don’t think anybody over-did anything. They had a lot of fun with it in the time we were here, but I think everybody realizes today is just as important a game as yesterday.”
But take it from second baseman Adam Rosales. Last night wasn’t just any ordinary night.
“I fell asleep fast, then I woke up 45 minutes later — wide-eyed,” Rosales said. “I’ve never felt this in baseball before, just to know the opportunities that lie ahead of us. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
–One important roster note: Reliever Pat Neshek flew to Florida to be with his wife, Stephanee, who is about to deliver their first child. Melvin didn’t give a day for him to return. Labor is expected to be induced today or Wednesday.
A’s — Crisp CF, Drew SS, Cespedes LF, Gomes DH, Reddick RF, Donaldson 3B, Moss 1B, Norris C, Rosales 2B; Blackley LHP.
Rangers — Kinsler 2B, Andrus SS, Hamilton LF, Beltre DH, Cruz RF, Young 3B, Napoli 1B, Soto C, Gentry CF; Harrison LHP.
My point of reference is zero when it comes to clubhouse celebrations. The one the A’s staged after Monday’s 4-3 victory over the Rangers was the first they’ve held since I’ve been on the beat. But it had to rank among the wildest that will take place in any major league clubhouse this season. I was trying to find the ideal player who had suffered through the past five seasons of mediocrity and could sum up what clinching the wild card means to the organization. Then it hit me — that player doesn’t exist on the A’s. This roster is made up mostly of rookies, veterans in their first year with the club, or young guys who only recently broke through from the minors. Even Jerry Blevins and Daric Barton, who both debuted with the A’s in 2007, shuttled back and forth from the minors often since then. Cliff Pennington debuted in 2008 but didn’t become a regular until 2010.
Outfielder Coco Crisp has a little perspective on what the past couple years had been like.
“We didn’t have the baggies at the end of the season the last couple of years,” Crisp said, referring to all the bags put up to protect the clubhouse from champagne damage. “This is nice.”
Now comes the interesting part. The A’s still have lots to play for, and after all the champagne puddles are soaked up, they’ll try to set their sights on two more victories that would land them the A.L. West title. Can they re-adjust the focus? Winning a wild card berth is a remarkable achievement, but winning the division would mean so much more. They would advance straight to the Divisional Series, avoid the one-game playoff that would decide their fate with the wild card, and get a chance to rest players a bit.
“We’re gonna celebrate today,” Crisp said Monday night. “We’ve got a couple more games that are important. Tomorrow I think everybody knows we gotta comeback out and win another ballgame.”
The pitching matchup definitely tilts toward Texas on Tuesday night, with the Rangers sending 18-game winner Matt Harrison to oppose struggling A’s lefty Travis Blackley. That’s what made Monday’s wild card-clinching win so important for the A’s. Will they play loose and carefree? Maybe. Will they come out flat and unmotivated? It’s possible. But after Monday night’s festive atmosphere, there’s still plenty of drama remaining …
It’s no typical day at the Coliseum, with the A’s capable of clinching a postseason berth with a victory tonight, and the division title possible sweep of the Rangers. The media turnout alone suggested how big this series is. Bob Melvin was absolutely swarmed during his pregame briefing, with several of the questions focused on Brett Anderson but others dealing with this season as a whole, and how the team approaches tonight knowing what awaits with a victory. I gotta give Melvin credit. He fields a lot of questions on a day like this that are a repeat of the stuff he’s been asked much of the season. He never acts like it’s a pain in the rear, and tries to give a quality answer each time. That’s worth points to reporters — those that cover the team on a regular basis and those who don’t.
–It sounds like Brett Anderson is an option to start Friday’s potential wild card game. He threw about 50 pitches off the mound today and said his arm felt really good. The oblique felt good too, but he and Melvin both stressed that a key is how Anderson feels tomorrow after such a strenuous day of activity. It’s his first time throwing off the mound since he left a Sept. 19 game after straining his right oblique. Melvin stressed that the A’s are not going to rush Anderson to the mound Friday if he’s not ready physically, so by no means should we be penciling in the lefty. Tommy Milone is on turn to pitch that day, and if Anderson isn’t ready, I’m not sure I see the A’s tweaking the rotation any other way to start someone else. Of course, if Jarrod Parker comes out tonight and throws a gem, maybe they consider bringing him back on three days’ rest. Milone said before the game he hadn’t been told anything yet about Friday.
A’s — Crisp CF, Gomes DH, Cespedes LF, Carter 1B, Reddick RF, Donaldson 3B, Drew SS, Norris C, Rosales 2B; Parker RHP.
Tex — Kinsler 2B, Andrus SS, Hamilton CF, Beltre DH, Cruz RF, Young 3B, Murphy LF, Napoli C, MOreland 1B; Perez LHP.