In for John Hickey …
One win and a Rangers loss. Or two wins and to hell with the Rangers. The A’s are on the doorstep of a second straight A.L. West division title, it’d definitely going to happen, and maybe the only surprising thing about that is that so many of them are unprepared for the scenario of a possible clinch Saturday, which would involve beating up on the Twins again and then waiting around — perhaps several hours — to see if the Rangers lose again to Kansas City.
As I wrote in the game story, the A’s have never really encountered this kind of clinching situation in their Oakland history. In 1992, they clinched the division on an off-day, and everybody simply gathered at a sports bar in Jack London Square to celebrate, according to clubhouse manager Steve Vucinich. But winning and then waiting? Never. So it should be intriguing to see what they do.
Bob Melvin was typically oblivious to the possibility after Friday night’s 11-0 thrashing of Minnehopeless. As a detail guy who focuses so keenly on the game that day, he just doesn’t allow himself to be distracted by such things as parties. The players I talked to after the game seemed a bit disoriented about how they may handle Saturday as well if the A’s win. The only decent party-planning quote came from Josh Donaldson.
“I’m planning on actually getting goggles this year,” Donaldson said. “Last year, my eyes were burning. But besides that, we still have to go out there and take care of business, and we understand that. We want to continue to keep playing good baseball until the playoffs come.”
Ah, wise man, that Donaldson is becoming, because with the three division leaders all looking to clinch this weekend (the Red Sox wrapped up the A.L. East Friday night), only the wild card team may come into the A.L. Division Series with any type of competitive edge. The Red Sox, Tigers and A’s are all going to have dead weeks on the road during the final week, and it will be intriguing to see how all three play to the end, particularly with home-field advantage at stake.
After they finish up with the Blue Jays at Fenway Park this weekend, it gets really goofy for the Red Sox. They have to go to Colorado for a two-game interleague series, then fly back to Baltimore for three to finish. The Tigers have three at Minnesota and finish with three, of all places, at Miami in a three-game interleague set. The A’s at least stay on the West Coast and in their division, playing the Angels for three and the Mariners for three on the road.
Folks are already mapping out a Tigers-A’s rematch, but to be honest, it could still play out any which way in a week where the games don’t matter all that much. The A’s only trail the Red Sox by three games and could win the tie-breaker for the top seed in the A.L. Those games in Baltimore could be tough for Boston if the Orioles are still in the wild-card.
If it is the Tigers, the A’s effectively hold a two-game lead right now for home field advantage. They’re a game ahead and they win the tie-breaker based on winning the season series.
But does home field matter? Hell of a question. I’m not sure it does in an Oakland-Detroit match simply because of the pitching probables. The A’s would probably be better suited to have Bartolo Colon and Jarrod Parker start on the road than at home, because if wherein you’d have a scenario where Sonny Gray and A.J. Griffin would be starting Games 3 and 4 in Detroit.
Donaldson has the right idea. Even after they clinch, the A’s must try to continue to play good baseball right to the end and see how it falls. Who knows, maybe they can catch Boston … and then they could conceivably play the Rangers in the opening round. Or Cleveland, for heaven’s sake. There are just too many variables to get caught up in much more than the most likely Oakland-Detroit rematch.
I wouldn’t even want to start sorting out the 25-man Oakland roster, which is going to involve some agonizing decisions. There’ll be a whole week to debate that. For now, get ready for a party, whether it happens Saturday or Sunday or whenever. The important thing is it’s going to happen, and the A’s can’t be praised enough for pulling it off a second straight year.