Fidlin breaks down the MLB playoffs
By KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency
|Athletics pitcher Ryan Cook reacts after retiring the side in the seventh inning on Wednesday. The Aís put up seven runs in the fourth inning to rally from a 5-1 deficit to defeat the Rangers 12-5 and win the American League West division title. (ROBERT GALBRAITH/Reuters)
You just canít make this stuff up.
The Oakland Athletics are crafting a script that Hollywood would simply chuck in the waste basket. Too fantastic. Too improbable. Címon, letís get real here.
Who are these kids and just how did they hijack the American League West title away from the adults?
The Athletics, who were a distant 13 games back of the Texas Rangers on June 30, grabbed the best record in the West with their 94th victory, a 12-5 decision over the stunned Rangers, in a game that mirrors Oaklandís crazy season.
Down 5-1 in the fourth, the Aís put up a seven-run inning that included a two-run error by sure-handed Texas centre-fielder Josh Hamilton on a routine fly ball. The Rangers who led or shared the division lead every minute of every day since April 9, four games into the season, now are headed to a one-game wild-card play-in at home against Baltimore on Friday night.
Oakland is just the third team in big-league history to win a division or a pennant and spend exactly one day in sole possession of first place, joining the 2006 Twins and the 1951 New York Giants.
ďAll that matters is the last day,Ē outfielder Josh Reddick said. ďIf you donít get the last lap, it donít count.Ē
The Athletics and their MLB-low $50-million payroll have defied all of baseballís logic in this magical season, beating both the $121-million Ranger roster and the $151-million Angel roster to the finish line.
Right now they are going with an all-rookie starting rotation. In fact, 102 of their 162 games were started by rookies, by far the most rookie starts by a playoff team, ever. The closest comparison is the 1952 Los Angeles Dodgers who had 69 rookie starts.
They began their season with just 26 wins in their first 61, falling nine games under .500 on June 10. Since that day, they are 68-33 with a roster composed of 15 rookies, including their best offensive player Yoenis Cespedes, a Cuban playing his first season of North American baseball.
AL WILD CARD
In Tampa, the Rays rode Evan Longoriaís three home runs to a season-ending 4-1 victory over the Orioles that puts Baltimore on the road for the wild card game in Arlington. Had Baltimore won the game, regardless of what happened to the Yankees, they would have hosted Texas on Friday but they couldnít crack Jeremy Hellickson or the relievers that followed him to the mound.
The two-time defending American League champion Rangers are limping into this postseason. They cannot be in a good place mentally, having lost five of their last six and seven of nine. Five of those seven losses came in head-to-head play against the Athletics, who trailed by five games as recently as last Thursday. The Oís may have lost their last game but they won 20 of their final 31 and they will give the Rangers and Yu Darvish all they can handle on Friday.
ALDS SERIES A
The Athletics might not need an airplane to get them to Detroit for the first two games on Saturday and Sunday. Theyíre already flying above the clouds.
They will be playing against a Detroit team that has played without pressure the past few days since they disposed of the Chicago White Sox and clinched the Central Division title. They have their pitchers all lined up, with Justin Verlander, no doubt, ready to pitch Game 1 on Saturday and they have an impressive lineup. They could be formidable but the Aís know all about formidable
ďWeíre playing with house money,Ē outfielder Jonny Gomes said.
ALDS SERIES B
The Yankees might be old and their starting pitching might be suspect but they have come down the stretch showing their championship pedigree. They won 16 of their final 21 games, including five of their last six with the Orioles dogging them every step of the way.
Having successfully avoided the wild card lottery, they will travel to either Texas or Baltimore for the first two division series games on Sunday and Monday.
NL WILD CARD
Despite the fact the Braves have won more games than any NL wild card team since 2002, they still have to walk the tight rope of a one-game play-in against St. Louis on Friday. At least the Braves and their 94 wins earned home field advantage. Nobody in Atlanta has forgotten that the Cardinals began their march to the 2011 World Series championship by scraping into the playoffs when the Braves lost Game No. 162 against the Phils in 13 innings.
NLDS SERIES A
As the division champion with the fewest wins, the Giants will host the first two games against second-seeded Cincinnati which lost the No. 1 seed when Washington beat Philadelphia Wednesday afternoon. That series begins on Saturday at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Game 2 goes Sunday and then Games 3, 4 and 5 (if necessary) will be back in Cincinnati Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
NLDS SERIES B
While the Braves and Cardinals hash it out in Atlanta on Friday in the wild card game, the Nationals will be waiting at home and surely watching with interest. Once the wild card winner has been decided the Nats will fly either to Atlanta or St. Louis for the first two games of their NLDS, which begins on Sunday and continues there on Monday. Games 3, 4 and 5 are back in Washington on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.