The Oakland Athletics were supposed to lose 90+ games in 2012. As Jonny Gomes, who homered in Oakland’s 3-1 win over Texas on Tuesday, noted; “161 games and we’re still shocking people.”
Texas is the two-time defending American League champs. They are the team that was supposed to waltz into the playoffs. The Rangers haven’t been challenged often this season, but on the two previous occasions that they had, the Rangers had turned away their challenger. In early August, it was an Angels club that made a run. Last week, in Arlington, Texas turned back an A’s uprising.
This Oakland club doesn’t seem to know when they were supposed to be beaten, however, and now the team that should have finished last will play game 162 at home and with a win versus Texas Wednesday afternoon, will be AL West champions.
Rookie pitchers have started an amazing 12 games for the A’s thus far and that number will reach 103 when A.J. Griffin takes the hill in the division-deciding game. Griffin comes into the contest with a 7-1 record and sparkling 2.71 ERA in 14 starts this year. Even better, Griffin owns a 2.52 ERA at home this year and in his lone start against the Rangers, he twirled six shutout innings.
When Griffin made his major league debut on June 24, The A’s were sitting a full 10 games behind Texas and in third place in the division. On Wednesday, Griffin will try to pitch Oakland to a division crown.
For Texas, the entire team has to almost be shocked to be in this situation. It’s been a foregone conclusion for weeks, if not months, that the Rangers would salt away another AL West crown. After all, the A’s weren’t seriously going to stay in the race. Even if they held off the much more talented Angels, Oakland would be happy just to be the Wild Card.
Someone must have forgotten to tell the A’s.
Ryan Dempster, the prize right hander acquired at the trade deadline, will attempt to hold off Oakland on Wednesday. Dempster was leading the NL in ERA at the time of the trade, but has struggled to a 4.64 ERA with the Rangers. He has not faced Oakland this season.
It’s true that both Oakland and Texas have wrapped up a playoff spot, but the loser of Wednesday’s game faces the specter of a one-game, winner-take-all, playoff with the loser of the AL East race (Baltimore trails New York by one game). The Rangers certainly have the offense capable of out-slugging any opponent. It’s also a team that lacks a true ace. Their rotation is deep enough to play a series and match-up fairly well, but a rotation full of number two and three starters is at a disadvantage when one game decides the season. The only consolation is that if they were to face Baltimore in the Wild Card game, starting pitching is not a strength of the orioles at all.
The Athletics have used their closer, Grant Balfour, in each of the past four games and he’s been dominant. Is it reasonable to think he can rise to the occasion five days in a row? If Oakland has a late lead, you can bet that manager Bob Melvin will find out. The A’s were four games back in the division as recently as last week, but the team that leads the league in walk-off wins has caught fire, and caught the Rangers.
Momentum, however, is only as good as your next starting pitcher. Oakland will turn to a 24-year-old rookie with 14 career starts. Texas goes with a veteran of 15 big league seasons. The best story in baseball this year has one final chapter to be written.