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Generalissimo Y takes center stage in Oakland

It’s way too early to know if there is a new Mr. October on Oakland’s horizon, but it’s at least worth keeping an eye on the A’s Yoenis Cespedes this month.

In Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Tigers Friday, the A’s left fielder shrugged off the effects of a sore right shoulder to triple and hit a two-run homer, producing the only runs the A’s scored in a 3-2 loss.

He came back Saturday with a pair of singles, the second of which touched off the winning rally that culminated with Cespedes scoring from third base on Stephen Vogt’s bases-loaded single for a 1-0 win.

Those were the sixth and seventh games in Cespedes’ admittedly short post-season career. But they are built upon a base that has the chance to be molded into a towering legacy in baseball’s center stage month. He’s the personification of Generation Y in Oakland. Call him Generalissimo Y.

He’s hit in all seven games while averaging .370 with an OPS of 1.006. Small sample size or not, those are impressive numbers.

There are some players who are just built for the spotlight, and Cespedes seems to be one of those. He floundered most of the year, but when there was a chance that the A’s might not make the playoffs, Cespedes shrugged off September shoulder issues to average .314 with six homers. For a little perspective, his best average in the five previous months was July’s .237.

In his first September pennant drive in 2012, he had season monthly best of seven homers and 19 RBIs as the A’s chased down the Rangers.

There are some classically great hitters who have wilted on the big stage. Just last year Robinson Cano of the Yankees was a woeful 3-for-40. A’s RBI machine Miguel Tejada was 2-for-23 after having racked up 70 extra base hits and 106 RBIs in the 2003 season. Manny Ramirez drove in 165 runs in the 1998 season for the Indians, then went 1-for-18 in the playoffs.

Not to tell A’s manager Bob Melvin how to work his lineup, but he’d be well advised to support Cespedes by keeping Seth Smith in the lineup as the DH for the next few games. Smith had two hits Saturday, both following Cespedes hits and the second setting up the winning run, and Cespedes could use the threat of a hot, productive bat behind him to get better pitches to hit.

All Smith did was hit .393 in September, even when he couldn’t get in the lineup every day. He only played in 15 games and started just seven of those, but .393 is .393, and is going to get respect from the other side. That can only help Cespedes.

(Not that it particularly means anything, but while writing this I went back and looked up what A’s starters did when Smith was hitting behind them during his September hot streak. They went 12-for-23, .522. Add in Cespedes on Saturday and it’s 14-for-27, .518).

Whatever the A’s can do to get Cespedes to get better pitches to hit is a terrific idea.

After all, it’s October. It’s the Generalissimo’s time.

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ALDS Game 2 wrapup: A’s show their fight once again; Coliseum had room for more than baseball

This was what Raul Ibanez meant.

Last week when I was talking with the Mariners outfielder, he praised the A’s mental toughness, their inability to stop fighting. He called them one of the grittiest clubs he had ever seen.

Saturday’s 1-0 win over Detroit was the personification of that game. They scored not a run against former Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander for seven innings, then didn’t score in the eighth after putting two men on base.

Come the ninth inning, the A’s were still clawing. Yoenis Cespedes and Seth Smith backed up doubles, and after Josh Reddick was intentionally walked, Stephen Vogt came up with the game-winner.

On paper, the Tigers may have the better team. They certainly hit for a better average, and as good as the A’s starting pitching is, the Tigers will say theirs in better. There is no Miguel Cabrera or Justin Verlander in Oakland.

But as Ibanez was pointing out, some things can’t be measured in statistics alone.

The result makes for some very good baseball. Saturday’s game was as good an exhibition of high-quality baseball as you’re likely to see.

As Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, “This is post-season pitching. That’s what you saw tonight at its best.’’

This kind of victory actually speaks well for the A’s going forward. The Tigers have sent their best two starters at Oakland and only got a split of the games. Jarrod Parker, who pitched a solid Game 1 in Comerica Park last year, goes against the Tigers in a day game Monday, and Dan Straily, whose win on Aug. 28 came at the expense of the pitcher he’ll oppose Tuesday, Doug Fister, has been pitching as well as anyone.

–Billy Beane was asked how Saturday’s scoreless battle between starters Verlander and Sonny Gray matched up with A’s post-season pitching matchups.

Misunderstanding the question, Beane said it reminded him of the 1991 Jack Morris 10-inning 1-0 win, outlasting Atlanta’s John Smoltz, who like Morris did not allow a run.

After that, Beane came up with Barry Zito vs. Mike Mussina of the Yankees in the 2001 playoffs, and Tim Hudson vs. the Yankees Andy Pettitte, also in 2001.

The fact is this one was a classic, for most of us anyway.

Late in the game the A’s general manager brought his kids down to manager Bob Melvin’s office where they, along with A’s managing partner Lew Wolff broke out the crayons and did some coloring.

The preschoolers (not including Beane Sr. and Wolff) “didn’t even know when we scored the winning run,’’ Beane said.

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ALDS Game 1 wrapup: Reddick earns his pay with bullet throw; A’s looking at lineup change at first base; Moss says Scherzer the best club has seen

When Josh Reddick doesn’t hit – and too often this year that’s been an ongoing story – there are questions that A’s manager Bob Melvin gets as to why Reddick is in the lineup.

Friday should have dispelled some of those questions. For the fifth time in his last eight games, the rifle-armed Reddick threw out a runner, this time preventing Detroit from scoring a fourth run and potentially blowing open Game 1 of the American League Division Series.

With slow-footed Victor Martinez on second base, Omar Infante sliced a single past first baseman Daric Barton. Martinez got a good jump, but as we say, isn’t fast. Still Reddick came up throwing to catcher Stephen Vogt to get the out and keep the A’s deficit at the time at 3-0.

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Colon relaxes by tormenting Moss; Tigers go with Scherzer, but Verlander still possible for Game 5

I was standing in the A’s clubhouse Thursday when Bartolo Colon tapped me on the right shoulder, put his right index finger to his lips in the universal sign for “don’t make a sound,’’ then said quietly, “Watch this.’’

Colon moved toward a hard-foam black roller players use to stretch out their backs, a light but solid cylinder with a diameter of about 10 inches. It doesn’t weight much, but it is strong, and it’s one of Colon’s favorite pieces of mayhem.

He picked it up, pointed at Brandon Moss, sitting in a chair watching the Cardinals-Pirates game and flashed a grin of delight. He raised the roller above his head, then slammed it into the table in the center of the clubhouse. It sounded like a truck crashed through the wall.

Moss jumped about from here to Jupiter.

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Series vs. A’s started Tigers’ September stumble; Legendary radio voice Bill King on Hall list again

In looking to the playoffs, how much meaning can be put in the regular season games?

The A’s and Tigers open a best-of-five American League Division Series Friday in Oakland. The last time they met was in Detroit in August. The A’s won the first three games by a cumulative 28-13 score and had a 6-3 lead in the ninth inning of the fourth game before the sweep slipped away.

One thing about the Tigers is that they haven’t been the same since that series, even though they went on to sew up the American League Central with a 93-69 record.

To that point of the season, the Tigers had played 130 games, had a 77-54 record (the A’s were 72-57), had a team batting average of .283 and had scored 662 runs or 5.1 runs per game while averaging 1.2 homers per game. The Detroit pitchers had a 3.49 ERA and had allowed less than 0.8 homers per game.

Starting with the A’s series, the Tigers hitters were never the same. Detroit’s average actually went up, to .284, but they averaged just 4.2 runs per game and less than 0.8 homers per game. And the Tigers were 16-16 during the push to October.

Not all of that can be pinned on the A’s, to be sure. Miguel Cabrera has been dealing with an abdominal injury that has limited him to just one September homer. But the fact is September has been bad for the Tigers as a whole, and the series against the A’s from Aug. 26-29 was when the downturn started.

The A’s aren’t going to assume that’s going to continue, but the Tigers are more than a little concerned. This world-wrecking offense scored one or zero runs in seven September games.

“We’ve got to score runs,’’ Tigers manager Jim Leyland told the Detroit Free Press late last month. “That’s as simple as it is. We need to get on the board with some runs.’’

That could change the way the A’s attack the Tigers. In the August series, Oakland manager Bob Melvin intentionally walked Cabrera (.348, 44 homers) on Aug. 26 in the first game of the series with runners on first and second.

That loaded the bases in a game the A’s led 8-4 to face Prince Fielder, the Tigers’ cleanup hitter and a serious home run threat. Sean Doolittle came out of the bullpen to get Fielder to fly out and the A’s went on to an 8-6 win.

On Wednesday Melvin said he ordered the walk by reliever Dan Otero because of how hot Cabrera was at the time. With Cabrera decidedly cooler, the A’s might choose to pitch to the Detroit third baseman in a similar situation this time around.

It seemed a bit of a stretch to walk Cabrera with a man on first base in August. It would seem that in the course of six weeks, it would be a sizeable stretch to do it now.

 

–It seems ridiculous that it’s taken this long for him to win, but legendary A’s radio voice Bill King was named a finalist for the Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award yet again.

Making the list of 10 is nothing new for King. It’s the seventh time he’s landed there. But he keeps getting bypassed, to the consternation of A’s fans who grew up listening to the complete radio experience that was Bill King, who also did the radio work for the Warriors and Raiders.

It’s possible there’s a game-change this year in the fact that Ken Korach just published a book about his late radio partner, “Holy Toledo,’’ that has stirred the memories of the fine broadcaster King was.

Others on the list for the award (it will be announced Dec. 11): Duane Kuiper of the Giants broadcast crew, Joe Castiglione, Jacques Doucet, Ken Harrelson, Eric Nadel, Eduardo Ortego, Mike Shannon, Dewayne Staats and Pete van Wieren.

Those choosing the winner are the 16 living recipients of the award and four broadcast historians/columnists.

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Vogt goes from outhouse to penthouse; A’s will turn some pitchers loose on hitters in BP

The A’s will be carrying three catchers in the first round of the American League Division Series.

That one of them is Stephen Vogt is not a surprise at this point, Vogt having more than proved himself since … well, since almost being out of baseball earlier this year.

He was in spring training with Tampa Bay, but the Rays didn’t have a spot for someone who was 0-for-25 as a rookie in 2012. The A’s picked him up for a few bucks at a point in April where the Rays seemed destined to cut him loose.

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Game 162 wrapup: Melvin makes sure Donaldson finishes over .300; Gray tunes up for ALDS start; Norris has smooth sailing playing first base

What’s in a number?

On Saturday, Brandon Moss got to the 30-homer level. On Sunday, Josh Donaldson was taken out of the game in part to preserve a plus-.300 batting average and Chris Young came out with his average at .200.

There’s something about round numbers that baseball likes.

Donaldson likes his .301 average, too, but he was loathe to be taken out of the game after just one plate trip.

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Game 161 wrapup: Moss gets to 30-homer mark in platoon role; Colon will finish second in ERA title

Brandon Moss didn’t think he’d be hitting 30 homers, so it’s a reasonable assumption that not too many others did.

But there Moss was in the seventh inning of what would likely be his final start of the season, crushing a line drive to right field that somehow carried over the wall for Moss’s 30th homer of the season.

“I thought `no chance’ when he hit that ball,’’ manager Bob Melvin said. “I thought it might short-hop the fence. But he got it out.’’

The homer was all the more remarkable in that the A’s platoon Moss, so that he only plays about three-quarters of the time. When Josh Reddick hit 32 to lead the A’s last year, he did it in 611 at-bats.

Moss did it in 444.

“I don’t care if I did it in 100 at-bats or 700 at-bats,’’ Moss said. “Thirty homers is 30 homers. It’s a nice round number.’’

Third baseman Josh Donaldson said Moss showed his ability to hit many homers in few at-bats last year when he played with the Mariners for about 60 percent of the season and hit 21 homers in 265 at-bats, a better percentage even than this year.

Pitcher Jarrod Parker, who has been on the plus end of plenty of Moss homers, said it was an “awesome’’ performance.

“He’s one of the hardest workers in baseball,’’ Parker said of Moss. “He’s always coming up with the big home run. I can’t wait to see him (in the playoffs).’’

 

–Bartolo Colon won’t win his ERA title after all.

The 40-year-old A’s starting pitcher came into the weekend fractionally ahead of the Tigers’ Anibal Sanchez for the American League ERA lead, both at 2.64 but with Colon a tad better.

On Friday Colon allowed two run in six innings and finished the year at 2.65. Sanchez pitched for Detroit Saturday in Miami and didn’t allow a run in five innings before leaving the game, giving him the title at 2.57.

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Game 160 wrapup: Cespedes shoulder trouble an issue for A’s; Norris homer-or-nothing in pinch; Cook getting back to form out of the bullpen

The A’s started Friday with a good idea of how they’d be structuring their starting lineup in the playoffs.

Then they played the first game of their final series with the Mariners and things changed dramatically.

The idea was that Yoenis Cespedes, who hadn’t been in left field since Sept. 13, was once again healthy, able to throw and ready to man his position. He’d play all three games in left this weekend to get himself ready for the playoffs.

That meant the resurrected Daric Barton was ready to play first base and Brandon Moss, who can play both first base and the outfield, was going to be the designated hitter. He was in Friday’s lineup as the DH, the first time all season that’s happened.

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Davis could be appealing to M’s as next skipper

The A’s have had a rather easy time of it this year.

The players have been happy with the manager and the front office. The manager has balanced the players’ needs with the front office’s desires. And the front office has had no reason to complain about much of anything.

It’s not like that in much of baseball, however. The A’s are going to the playoffs. Two-thirds of Major League teams won’t be. One of those is Seattle, and the Mariners made the kind of news Friday that losing teams make entirely too often.

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