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Moss goes where Pujols, Cabrera and Bautista don’t

What do Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Jose Bautista have in common?

Brandon Moss is about one month ahead of his 2013 RBI pace for A's.

Brandon Moss is about one month ahead of his 2013 RBI pace for A’s.

Probably many things. But for our purposes right here, they are American League All-Star sluggers who play every day and who have fewer RBIs than Brandon Moss, who can only count on playing when a right-handed pitcher faces the A’s.

The difference? Those three are right-handed and seldom get benched against right-handed starting pitchers. Moss is left-handed and it’s a coin flip if he’s going to start when the A’s face a left-handed starter like, say, Washington’s Gio Gonzalez, who faces the A’s on Sunday.

Moss came into the weekend with 28 RBIs in 134 plate trips, the AL’s fifth-best RBI total heading into Saturday. Bautista has 23 in 164 trips, Pujols 26 in 153 and Cabrera 25 in 133. Those three have not missed a game for their teams. Moss has played in 35 of the A’s 36 games, which seems to be in the same terrain, but he’s only started 29 of the 35.

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Game 5 start in ALCS vs. Tigers put Gray in line for opener

Sonny Gray is the last  man standing in drive to start opener for the A's

Sonny Gray is the last man standing in drive to start opener for the A’s March 31.

Nothing is official, but the A’s have an opening day starting pitcher.

His name is Sonny Gray.

The 24-year-old, with just 10 big league starts to his name, was being considered for the job all along, but it seemed likely the call would go to Jarrod Parker or, perhaps, newcomer Scott Kazmir.

Parker is out for the season with the news that he needs a second Tommy John-style ligament replacement surgery in his right elbow and forearm.

As for Kazmir, he was scratched from his start Monday because of triceps pain. He was pain-free Tuesday and wanted to pitch, but the A’s have decided that he’ll throw a bullpen session, probably Wednesday, then return to the starting rotation Saturday.

That rules him out for the opener, because to get to March 31 against the Indians, he’d either have to pitch on long rest or on short rest. The A’s aren’t going to have him do that for the sake of one game, so that leaves Gray to pitch the opener and Kazmir to follow him in Game 2 against Cleveland, the team for which he pitched last year.

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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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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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Game 130 wrapup: Doolittle, Cook survive bases-loaded jams; Griffin finally gets first win of August

You can put together reams of printed pages about Miguel Cabrera and they won’t tell you anything more than the reverential way others in baseball talk about the Tigers’ third baseman.
He’s a great hitter. He doesn’t have any evident weaknesses. There’s no part of the plate he doesn’t cover. There’s no part of the bleachers he can’t reach with his homers.
The trouble is, Prince Fielder is no day at the beach. Fielder is having probably his worst big league season, but no one would willingly pitch to Fielder with the bases loaded with a 7-4 lead unless the alternative was pitching to Cabrera with two men on with a 7-4 lead.
Even with two men on, Cabrera occasionally will get walked intentionally, as was the case in the seventh inning Monday. A’s manager Bob Melvin was willing to take the risk and have Fielder bat as the go-ahead run rather than have Cabrera bat as the tying run.
So he had reliever Dan Otero load the bases by walking Cabrera after the count unintentionally got to 2-0, then went to the bullpen for Sean Doolittle.
This is not a high-percentage move. Coming into the game Fielder was 6-for-14 (.429) with two walks after 16 previous intentional walks to Cabrera.
“I’m sure it gives him extra motivation,’’ the manager said. “It was a chance I felt we had to take.’’
And Doolittle has hardly been rock-solid of late. In 2.2 innings over four games, he’d allowed six runs. But he was well rested, and he throws a mean fastball.
Ultimately, he was able to get what he thought was a “routine fly ball, until I turned around and saw Coco sprinting.’’
That was center fielder Coco Crisp, who said he knew that there is seldom anything routine when Fielder makes contact.
“Prince Fielder hit the ball,’’ Crisp said. “When that happens, the ball will go a long way.’’
Melvin’s gamble paid off, but it’s not likely that will be of much comfort the next time that situation comes up.
Given the potency of the Tigers offense and the fact that the A’s play three more games in Comerica Park this week, a repeat wouldn’t be that much of a surprise.

–There was another bases-loaded situation Monday, and there was every bit as much riding on the outcome.
The Tigers were down 8-5 after Victor Martinez’s homer in the eighth inning, and with two out, the Tigers got a pair of hits off Ryan Cook, who then walked Austin Jackson.
That was followed by a visit from pitching coach Curt Young, who wanted to get a couple of things straight with Torii Hunter at the plate.
“He wanted to make sure I struck to my game plan and executed my pitches,’’ Cook said.
The key pitch was the first one, a strike. Cook said he wanted it down. It was up, but it was a strike.
“From there I was in the position to make my pitches,’’ Cook said.
Hunter is one of the best hitters in the game with men on base, but this time Cook struck him out.

–A.J. Griffin had gone four August starts without a win. He was 0-2, but the A’s had won the other two starts after he left the game.
On Monday, for once, the a’s offense kicked in early enough that even a couple of two-run homers, one each by Omar Infante and Miguel Cabrera, weren’t enough to deny Griffin the win.
“The bats were outstanding tonight,’’ Griffin said. “We’ll build off this one.’’
Griffin came into the game with the Major League lead with 30 homers allowed, and now the number is up to 32. A dozen times now he has allowed multiple homers in a game, which ties the A’s franchise record originally set by Catfish Hunter in 1973.
Homers have been on Griffin’s mind of late, but he’s trying to get past

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The Big Trade

Thoughts from the Winter Meetings on a bleary-eyed morning here at the Opryland Amusement Park, er Hotel in Nashville, Tenn.

— The acquisition of Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis by the Detroit Tigers in the biggest move of the meetings does two things. 1) It puts the Tigers in a class with the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels as the big dogs of the American League, and 2) It increases the necessity for the Minnesota Twins, their fellow rival in the AL Central, to deal Johan Santana. Even with Santana, it’s impossible to picture the Twins hanging with both Detroit and Cleveland; thus, better to get what you can for your best asset. It could portend a trade of Minnesota closer Joe Nathan, too.

— Speaking of Santana, the guess here is that he’ll go to the Red Sox, and that wouldn’t be a terrible thing. Can’t you picture the Tigers potential lineup against a potential Red Sox rotation of Santana, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Curt Schilling in an October showdown.

— Would love to be a fly on the wall to hear the internal discussions the Giants are holding regarding the possibility of trading Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain to Toronto for outfielder Alex Rios. Personally, I wouldn’t move Cain unless I could have the entire Tigers lineup.  Lincecum might be less painful to move, but not much. Keep in mind that Rios would be entering his second year of arbitration this winter, so he’s not nearly the financial bargain that Lincecum is.

— Continue to get the feeling that the A’s are more likely to deal Joe Blanton than they are Dan Haren, and that such a move likely won’t come until the meetings are over. One report says the Diamondbacks are offering a “Herschel Walker-type” deal for Haren, but I’ve heard just the opposite, namely that they don’t have nearly enough. That’s the nature of these meetings: Deciphering what’s true and what isn’t is like reading Beowulf.

— Speaking of the A’s, general manager Billy Beane summed up the nature of the meetings perfectly: “You don’t get any sleep, you don’t eat well, you don’t get any exercise. Everything grinds to a halt and not much actually happens.”