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Postgame thoughts after the A’s beat the Tigers 2-0 in Game 3

It was interesting to hear Tigers manager Jim Leyland address the media after the A’s 2-0 victory in Game 3 of the A.L Divisional Series. He heaped lots of credit on the A’s, including Brett Anderson, the bullpen and Coco Crisp’s home run-saving catch on Prince Fielder’s drive in the second.

“Their bullpen is really nasty,” Leyland said. “Cook, Doolittle, Balfour – they’re really good. And their starter tonight gave them what they needed. It set up perfect for them tonight. They took advantage of that and they earned it.”

I’m sure the loss got to Leyland under the surface, but his demeanor made it seem like he almost knew the A’s were destined to grab one of these games in Oakland. Like all factors converged to equate to an A’s victory. That’s the attitude of a manager who has a ton of experience and knows the ebb and flow of a playoff series. It’s also the attitude of a manager who knows his team still has two shots to close this series out.

Looking ahead, I think Wednesday’s pitching matchup tilts in Detroit’s favor. A’s starter A.J. Griffin was 7-1 in the regular season but he experienced some turbulence over his last month or so. You never know how a rookie will react in his first playoff start, and he struggled last time he faced Detroit. Tigers starter Max Scherzer went 16-7 in the regular season but he was hindered by a shoulder problem late in the season. If the A’s pull it out in Game 4, you gotta think the Tigers will feel the pressure in Game 5, even with ace Justin Verlander pitching that game.

Maybe the most important thing the A’s did Tuesday night was establish that their home field really can be an advantage. The crowd was big and amped up, and the A’s reciprocated with a strong showing. As a result, they lived to see another day and we do it all again Wednesday.

Stay tuned …

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A’s, Tigers lineups for Game 3; same look as first two games for Oakland

Here’s tonight’s lineups, with a lengthier update to come shortly. The Coliseum parking lot has already been filling for quite some time, and it’s great weather right now as the A’s begin batting practice. Sunny, though a bit breezy …

A’s — Crisp CF, Drew SS, Cespedes LF, Moss 1B, Reddick RF, Donaldson 3B, Smith DH, Norris C, Pennington 2B; Anderson LHP.

Tigers — Jackson CF, Infante 2B, Cabrera 3B, Fielder 1B, Young DH, Peralta SS, Dirks LF, Garcia RF, Laird C; Sanchez RHP.

Bob Melvin stuck mostly with the lineup from Games 1 and 2, as he said he would likely do. He has confidence in this group breaking through.

–The big question tonight, of course, is how effective Brett Anderson will be in his first start since Sept. 19. Melvin says he doesn’t see too much in the way of a pitch-count limitation on the lefty. I think if Anderson can avoid a rough start that forces Melvin to yank him early, he will find a groove and keep it a close game. But another issue to consider is how well Anderson will field his position coming off his oblique injury. Will the Tigers test him by dropping a few bunts? Typically, they’re not a big bunting team. That’s one aspect to watch however …

–Down 2-0 in this best-of-five series, Melvin said the A’s just need to focus on tonight.

“If you look at it like we have to win all three of these games, it’s probably not the right way to look at it,” Melvin said. “You deal with tomorrow, tomorrow. It’s much less daunting to think about that than to think we have to win three games and we have (Justin) Verlander in the last game.”

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Postgame thoughts following the A’s Game 2 loss to the Tigers

“Resilient” has been a big buzz word surrounding the A’s this season, for good reason. They’ve been remarkably tough at bouncing back from stinging defeats. Now they face the toughest of challenges. Down 2-0 in this best-of-five A.L. Divisional Series, they need to sweep three games in Oakland to keep their postseason going. That’s the big picture. Of more immediate concern is rebounding from Sunday’s draining 5-4 defeat in Game 2, which for a while had all the marks of a typical A’s 2012 victory. They got a big hit from a somewhat unexpected source in No. 9 hitter Cliff Pennington. They got a go-ahead home run from Josh Reddick in the eighth. And then they had Ryan Cook and Grant Balfour lined up in the bullpen to salt away the win.

This one didn’t go according to script, and now we’ll see if the A’s can pull their biggest rabbit out of the hat yet: Win three straight against the Tigers and move on to the A.L. Championship Series.

“We’re not going to go out there and hang our heads like a team that’s defeated,” A’s right fielder Josh Reddick said. “We’ve come from behind all year, and we just want to keep grinding and grinding. We’ve got a good guy in (starter Brett) Anderson going (Tuesday). We’ve just gotta give him a little bit of run support and good things will go our way.”

Anderson, coming back from a strained oblique, declared himself ready for Tuesday, but manager Bob Melvin said an announcement will come Monday. Assuming Anderson is 100 percent, he should be able to give the A’s a shot at a ‘W’. But they need to generate more offense, and earlier in the game. They’ve struck out 23 times in the first two games of this series, and at some point, the demonstrative bitterness they’re showing over the strike zone needs to stop. Surely it’s not scoring any points with the umpiring crew, and the strike three calls that Reddick and Stephen Drew were made about today, at least to me, looked close enough where they should have been swinging. The bad calls are going both ways to an extent. Detroit’s Alex Avila had a legitimate gripe about a called third strike in the eighth.

At any rate, the A’s have surprised us all year and it would be foolish to say it’s impossible they can win three in a row. But Justin Verlander lurks at some point, whether it’s in Game 4 on short rest or a deciding Game 5. Suffice it to say, the A’s have their work cut out in front of the home crowd …

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Rise and shine! It’s time for Game 2 of A’s-Tigers

For those who thought NFL games start early on Sunday morning, the A’s are taking it to another level with today’s 9 a.m. (PT) start against Detroit in Game 2 of the A.L. Divisional Series. Yes, it is a raw deal for a team that technically has “home-field advantage” in this series. The A’s are still probably on West Coast time, so it will feel like they’re taking the field at 9 a.m. even though it’s a noon start. But as A’s manager Bob Melvin pointed out last night, this isn’t the first time the A’s have traveled east and faced this. They’ve also faced bad umpiring before, and they were victim to some of that last night with Jim Reynolds’ strike zone. But none of that matters right now. They need to get their bats going and gain a split here before heading back to Oakland for Game 3 on Tuesday. Rookie starter Tommy Milone has a lot on his shoulders today, but the A’s also need to do some damage against Tigers starter Doug Fister. They’ll attempt to with virtually the same lineup as Saturday’s, aside from George Kottaras starting behind the plate instead of Derek Norris.

The lineups:

A’s — Crisp CF, Drew SS, Cespedes LF, Moss 1B, Reddick RF, Donaldson 3B, Smith DH, Kottaras C, Pennington 2B; Milone LHP.

Tigers — Jackson CF, Infante 2B, Cabrera 3B, Fielder 1B, Young DH, Peralta SS, Dirks LF, Garcia RF, Laird C; Fister RHP.

–Melvin did not officially announce Brett Anderson as the Game 3 starter, but he left no secret that that’s the likely plan. The A’s will make an announcement Monday, and they simply want to make sure Anderson continues to progress from his strained oblique. Melvin said today’s outcome isn’t a main factor in the decision. He wants Anderson out there “win, lose or draw … sooner rather than later.”

–Jonny Gomes was the A’s player who addressed the media in the pregame press conference, funny in that Gomes didn’t play Saturday and isn’t in today’s lineup either. With Detroit starting four right-handers in this series, Gomes knew he might not play much. Melvin hasn’t shut the door on giving Gomes a start, and he said he’ll likely turn to Gomes before Chris Carter when it comes to right-handed bats that might jump-start the offense. Gomes, for his part, is lobbying his teammates to win this series and get to the A.L.C.S. Both the Orioles and Yankees have more left-handed pitchers than Detroit. His message to his teammates: “Just get me to the next (series) so I can get my fighting license back.”

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A’s, Tigers lineups for Game 1 of American League Divisional Series

A’s manager Bob Melvin penciled in the standard lineup he uses against right-handers for Saturday’s opener of the American League Divisional Series against the Detroit Tigers.

Brandon Moss got the nod over Chris Carter at first base, Seth Smith will serve as designated hitter over Jonny Gomes and Cliff Pennington is at second base over Adam Rosales. Moss, Smith and Pennington (a switch hitter) all bat left-handed, and Detroit is starting right-hander Justin Verlander on the mound.

The one exception in the A’s lineup is right-handed hitting Derek Norris playing catcher over George Kottaras, but Melvin occasionally played Norris against right-handers during the regular season.

The lineups:

A’s – Coco Crisp CF, Stephen Drew SS, Yoenis Cespedes LF, Brandon Moss 1B, Josh Reddick RF, Josh Donaldson 3B, Seth Smith DH, Derek Norris C, Cliff Pennington 2B; Jarrod Parker RHP.

Tigers – Austin Jackson CF, Quintin Berry LF, Miguel Cabrera 3B, Prince Fielder 1B, Delmon Young DH, Andy Dirks RF, Jhonny Peralta SS, Alex Avila C, Omar Infante 2B; Justin Verlander RHP.

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Pat Neshek makes A’s roster for ALDS, Jim Miller left off; plus a few players to keep an eye on

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.

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Looking ahead as A’s switch into postseason mode

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 …

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A’s, Rangers decide A.L West championship before sellout crowd

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.

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A’s try to keep it “business as usual”

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.

The lineups:
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.

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Postgame thoughts after A’s punch their postseason ticket

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 …