Unthinkable Finish to AL’s Wild West
They said it couldn’t be done but the Oakland Athletics took to ignoring the general consensus and paved their own path to history. At a little before 7:00 PM local time on Wednesday evening, the A’s were leaders in the AL West for the first time all season and more importantly, AL West champions.
How the West Was Won
It was never supposed to come down to the last game of the season. Texas (93-69) had led the division since April 8, surging towards what everybody considered would be a division championship and a third straight trip to the World Series.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, that script was torn up back on July 1.
Having trailed the division-leading Rangers by 13 games on June 30, Oakland (94-68) mounted one of the most unthinkable comebacks Major League Baseball has ever known. Scratch that. The most unthinkable comeback in history.
With nine games to play, Oakland remained five games behind, but taking advantage of the six remaining games against Texas, the A’s ensured that everything would come down to the final day of the season.
And what a final day.
Texas charged out to a 5-1 lead, leaving Oakland starter A.J. Griffin permanently headed for the dugout before the third inning was in the books. It looked as though it would be a case of so near yet so far for the A’s.
That changed in the bottom of the fourth. Texas outfielder Josh Hamilton missed a routine catch on a flyball that setup a six run A’s inning, and a 7-5 lead. From there on out the A’s bullpen of rookie delights saw out the game while the offense notched a further five runs. The 12-5 final score was something few predicted and even fewer could have imagined.
The win gave the A’s a series sweep over the Rangers and the division championship.
Texas Hosts Baltimore in Wild Card Game
Texas led the AL West race for 158 games of the season, but that means nothing in the face of Wednesday’s loss.By virtue of finishing as runners up in the division, Texas now has to play in the inaugural Wild Card round of the postseason.
The Rangers will face the Baltimore Orioles (93-69) who came up short in its bid to prize the AL East away from the New York Yankees (95-67).
Things could have looked a lot worse for the Rangers had Baltimore managed to beat Tampa Bay on Wednesday night. The Rays’ 4-1 win however thwarted the Orioles’ chances of hosting the Wild Card game, leaving the club tied with Texas in terms of final record. Texas won this season’s head-to-head series 5-2, giving the Rangers that all important tiebreaker.
Texas heads into the game on Friday as favorites. Not only did the Rangers outplay the Orioles in head-to-head matches this year, they also compiled a 2-1 record against the O’s at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Those two wins made up part of a 50-win home record this season. Homefield may well provide the necessary advantage in this one.
However, the Rangers are a paltry 4-9 over the past 13 games. Those are not the types of numbers a team wants to see before heading into the most important game of the season. If Baltimore was to jump out to an early lead, would the Rangers have the emotional strength to come back, especially in the wake of Wednesday’s blown lead?
Buck Sholwater – never one to announce pitchers early – is still organizing his rotation, while Texas will send Yu Darvish (16-9, 3.90 ERA) to the mound.
The winner of the Wild Card playoff will host the New York Yankees for two games starting Sunday, before heading to Yankee Stadium for the remainder of the best-of-five series.
Friday, October 6: Baltimore at Texas (8:30 PM ET)
Oakland Heads for Motown
The prize for Oakland’s unthinkable achievement is a Divisional Series against the Detroit Tigers (88-74), winners of the AL Central.
Detroit bested Oakland in the season series 4-3, compiling a 2-1 record at Comerica Park, but on recent form Oakland has to be favored. The Tigers spent much of the season stumbling in the shadow of the Chicago White Sox, but some late fortune – not to mention Chicago’s poor play – ultimately won the division.
Whatever the result of the first two games of the series, the A’s will be happy to get Detroit back to the Oakland Coliseum. Detroit’s road record (38-43) – which is tied with St. Louis for worst amongst the 10 teams entering the postseason – could be its Achilles’ heel.
Detroit should begin the series with an advantage, having worked its rotation nicely to ensure that staff ace Justin Verlander (17-8, 2.64 ERA) takes the mound for Game 1 on Saturday. He’ll likely be followed by Max Scherzer (16-7, 3.74 ERA). The pair of hard-throwing strikeout specialists give Detroit a good chance to take a 2-0 lead.
Meanwhile, Oakland manager Bob Melvin will look to organize a rotation and bullpen that has worked a miracle these past two weeks. Betting against more of the same might not be advised.
Saturday, October 6: Oakland at Detroit (6 PM ET)