Athletics

Buyers or sellers? A's homestand will reveal

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Buyers or sellers? A's homestand will reveal

OAKLAND -- The addition of a second Wild Card berth gives fresh life to the A's, who are stuck in a small sand box with the MLB bullies from Texas and Anaheim.

But on the other side of the 2012 All-Star break, the A's are just 12 game out of the Wild Card play-in game, and playing great baseball. They're 9-1 over their last 10 games, but their hottest stretch of baseball since September of 2009 takes them into series against the two top teams in baseball.

Two games vs. the 54-35 Rangers followed by four against the 55-34 Yankees. Whether the A's will admit it or not, it's a big homestand.

And whether or not the A's, as they are currently constructed, can compete with the A.L.'s top teams in the coming weeks will determine if Billy Beane is making -- or fielding -- phone calls as the July 31 trade deadline approaches.

As buyers:

Not the type of club to rent a player for a playoff push, any move made would likely have to benefit the team in future years.

The A's have a surplus of pitching and enough outfielders. They've shored up first base with Chris Carter and Brandon Moss, and the addition of Derek Norris has added pop as well.

But the left side of the infield is one area the A's could improve.

With Edwin Encarnacion signing a three-year extension with Toronto and the Brewers saying they don't have intentions to trade Aramis Ramirez, the market for third basemen is shallow.

Chase Headley:

The Padres' Chase Headley is expected to be the most attractive option at the hot corner. Reports indicate San Diego has already fielded calls from six teams about their 28-year-old third baseman, including requests from the division rival Mariners and Angels.

Headley has 10 home runs, 45 RBIs and a .266 average in 90 games this year.

He won't hit free agency until 2014, giving him at least two seasons with his new team should he be traded.

Jimmy Rollins:

As a 10-5 player, Rollins has full no-trade protection, but it would be interesting to see if the Oakland native would entertain a trade to the A's.

The 13-year Philly veteran is batting .262 this season with nine home runs and 14 stolen bases. Though he is getting up in age, the 33-year-old would still be a marked upgrade over Cliff Pennington, who owns an unimpressive .203.266.290 line this year.

The fourth most expensive MLB shortstop would come at a price as he signed a three-year, 33 million contract before the season.

Stephen Drew:

Shortstop Stephen Drew is only recently returned from the gruesome ankle injury that cost him 11 months.

Drew, 29, is batting .233 with three RBIs in the 13 games he's played since his return.

He's in the second season of a two-year, 13.75 million contract that has a mutual option for 2013 that would pay him 10 million if exercised and 1.35 million if it's bought out.

Yunel Escobar:

Yunel Escobar, 29, is batting .249 with six home runs and 34 RBIs. He is in the first of a two-year, 10 million contract with Toronto, who is reportedly not opposed to letting him go with prospect Adeiny Hechavarria waiting for his chance.

Escobar's contract has club options for 2014 and 2015 at 5 million.

Marco Scutaro:

Former Athletic Marco Scutaro is having a solid season for the Rockies, and would be a solid and flexible addition to the left side. He can play short and third, in addition to second base, and he's familiar with how things work in Oakland.

Scutaro is hitting .273 this year, with 42 runs and 25 RBIs. He is in the final season of a three-year 17.5 million contract.

As sellers:

If the A's fare poorly against the Rangers and A's, and Billy Beane decides to keep lining his ducks for future seasons, there are a few expendable Athletics who would be of value to competing clubs. But don't expect the squad to let any of its cornerstones get away.

Coco Crisp:

Coco Crisp's combination of speed and pop, and his knack for making things happen atop the lineup are rare in the bigs.

Crisp has missed time this year earlier with an inner ear infection and stomach virus, and he is currently day-to-day with a strained shoulder.

The 11-year veteran might not garner as much in return as he once would have; he's having one of his worst seasons at the plate so far. Crisp

The departure of Crisp, who is in the first year of a two-year, 14 million contract, would open things up in the A's outfield, and among other things, give manager Bob Melvin the chance to play Chris Carter and Brandon Moss together in the lineup.

Bartolo Colon:
Bartolo Colon signed a one-year, 2 million contract with the A's, and he's been well worth it, going 6-7 with a 3.80 ERA this year.

His season features two eight-inning shutout bids against A.L. West rivals -- the Rangers and Angels.

His heavy diet of dancing fastballs would be a solid addition to any playoff-bound staff.

Kurt Suzuki:
With the emergence of Derek Norris, Kurt Suzuki is suddenly -- though the team won't admit it -- dispensable.

Suzuki's offensive numbers have dropped off this year, but he is known league-wide for his adept ability to handle a staff, especially a young one.

The 28-year-old catcher is in the second of a four-year contract worth 16.25 million.

Grant Balfour:
Relief pitchers are always in demand come the trade deadline, and veteran Grant Balfour, who has filled multiple roles in the 'pen for the A's, is no different.

He is in the second year of a two-year, 8.1 million contract with the A's.

A 10-5 player is one who has 10 years of MLB service, the last five of which came with the same team. In 1970, players of such status were granted the right to veto any trade that involves them.

Who can we blame for epidemic of teams losing three straight elimination games?

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AP

Who can we blame for epidemic of teams losing three straight elimination games?

Fox’ Matt Vasgersian, who does his job well,  declared the New York Yankees’ American League Division Series win over Cleveland to be amazing.

It is not. Not any more.

In fact, the Yankees winning three elimination games in succession is a feat that has happened seven times in the past three years. And we can only conclude from that that they’re not making teams that can avoid the bad beat the way they used to.

The 2017 Indians joined the 2016 Indians, Warriors and Thunder, the 2015 Clippers, Capitals and Texas Rangers, the 2014 Penguins and Sharks, the 2013 Red Wings, the 2012 Reds and Cardinals, the 2011 Penguins, the 2010 Bruins and Capitals as proud laryngectomy victims – teams that needed to win only one of three (or in the Sharks’ case, four) games to advance in the playoffs (or in the Warriors’ case, win).

That’s 15 times this “amazing” thing has happened, which means that by any estimate, teams that needed to win three consecutive games to escape the icy hand of Uncle Death are now pretty much the norm in this decade.

And why, you ask? I blame Twitter. I blame global warming. I blame video games. I blame smartphones. I blame phones. I blame the new president. I blame the old president. I blame Satan. I blame participation trophies and orange slices and juice boxes. I blame the players and I blame the owners and I blame the fans and definitely those smarmy bastards in the media. They’re the worst.

I blame you. Hell, I think I blame Matt Vasgersian.

But whomever is at fault, we have here an epidemic of feet strangling their owners when everything seems their cheeriest. And unless we live in such misery-enriched times that good times are only precursors to far worse ones, there is no sensible explanation. Players’ windpipes are no smaller than they were a decade ago. The Internet is older than seven years. Close-out games are not materially more difficult than they were before 2010.

And yet winning that one extra game is suddenly like finding out your SAT test has been written totally in anagrams. In other words, when things look brightest, that’s when you know you’re totally screwed.

And if you don’t believe me, ask Terry Francona. In a few weeks maybe. Not right away. Not unless you’re keen to see how it feels to have your neck used as a bathmat.

 

Cleveland blows 2-0 series lead, Yankees win Game 5, head to ALCS

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USATSI

Cleveland blows 2-0 series lead, Yankees win Game 5, head to ALCS

BOX SCORE

CLEVELAND -- These young Yankees were unshaken, resilient and as tough as the city they represent.

The baby Bronx Bombers have grown up fast.

Didi Gregorius, following in the October footprints left by Derek Jeter, homered twice off Corey Kluber as New York beat the Cleveland Indians 5-2 in Game 5 on Wednesday night to complete its comeback from a 2-0 deficit in the Division Series and dethrone the AL champions.

The bend-but-don't-break Yankees, way ahead of schedule, staved off elimination for the fourth time in this postseason and advanced to play the Houston Astros in the AL Championship Series starting Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

With a blend of young stars and older veterans coming up big, the Yankees rocked Cleveland and bailed out manager Joe Girardi, who failed to challenge a key call in a Game 2 loss that threatened to sabotage New York's season.

"These guys had my back and they fought and fought," Girardi said. "They beat a really good team. What those guys did for me, I'll never forget it. "

The Yankees went 2-5 against the AL West champion Astros, led by 5-foot-6 dynamo and MVP candidate Jose Altuve. But none of that matters now to this group of New Yorkers.

After winning twice at home, and after Girardi said he "screwed up" and felt horrible about it, the Yankees - with little offensive help from rookie star Aaron Judge - came into Progressive Field and finished off the Indians, who won 102 games during the regular season, ripped off a historic 22-game winning streak and were favored to get back to the World Series after losing in seven games a year ago to the Chicago Cubs.

Cleveland's Series drought turns 70 next year - baseball's longest dry spell.

"Nobody wanted the season to be over," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "It doesn't wind down, it comes to a crashing halt. It's disappointing. We felt good about ourselves. We made it harder to win, especially in the last two games."

The Indians closed to 3-2 in the fifth against starter CC Sabathia before David Robertson pitched 2 2/3 hitless innings for the win. Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, who faced Cleveland in last year's spine-tingling World Series and signed an $86 million free agent contract in December, worked two innings for the save.

Chapman went to the mound with a three-run lead in the ninth after Brett Gardner battled Cody Allen for 12 pitches before hitting an RBI single, with New York's fifth run scoring when Todd Frazier raced home on right fielder Jay Bruce's throwing error.

Gardner's gritty at-bat was symbolic of these Yankees. They wouldn't give in.

"We can win a lot of different ways," Gardner said.

When Austin Jackson was called out on strikes to end it, the Yankees rushed to the mound to celebrate with a wide-eyed Chapman. An elated Girardi hugged his coaches.

The Yankees became the 10th team to overcome a 2-0 deficit to win a best-of-five playoff series. New York also did it in 2001, rallying to beat Oakland - a series remembered for Jeter's backhand flip to home plate.

Gregorius, who took over at shortstop following Jeter's retirement after the 2014 season, hit a solo homer in the first off Kluber and added a two-run shot in the third off Cleveland's ace, who didn't look like himself during either start in this series.

One win shy of a Series title last year, the Indians had only one goal in mind in 2017.

They came up short again, and have now lost six consecutive games with a chance to clinch a postseason series. The skid dates to last year's World Series, when they squandered a 3-1 lead to the Cubs.

Cleveland is the first team in history to blow a two-game series lead in consecutive postseasons.

Everything was set up for the Indians: Kluber on the mound, Game 5 at home, sensational setup man Andrew Millerrested.

The Yankees, though, wouldn't be denied. They battled back from a 3-0 deficit in the first inning of their wild-card game against Minnesota and then had to overcome a crushing loss in Game 2, when Girardi's decisions led to him being booed at Yankee Stadium.

But these Yankees displayed pinstriped pride.

They're moving on.

JUDGE NOT

The Yankees advanced without much help from Judge, who struck out four times in Game 5 and went 1 for 20 (.050) in the series with 16 strikeouts - an ALDS record. But the 6-foot-7 rookie might have saved New York's season in Game 3, when he reached above the right-field wall to rob Francisco Lindor of a two-run homer in a 1-0 win. "I didn't do my job at the top of the order, but my teammates came up big for me," Judge said.

KLUBER KLOBBERED

Kluber was one of baseball's most consistent pitchers all season, winning 18 games and leading the AL with a 2.25 ERA.

However, October was cruel to the right-hander. He allowed nine runs, including four homers, over 6 1/3 innings in two postseason starts, hardly what he or the Indians expected.

Kluber overcame a back issue earlier this season and it flared up this fall.

"He's fighting a lot," Francona said. "I think you also have to respect the fact that guy wants to go out there and he's our horse. And sometimes it doesn't work."

SLUMPS

The Indians batted .171 as a team with All-Stars Francisco Lindor (2 for 18) and Jose Ramirez (2 for 20) unable to snap out of funks.

SWEET SWING

Gregorius set a franchise record for home runs in a season by a shortstop with 25, one more than Jeter hit in 1999 when No. 2 led the Yankees to a second straight World Series title.

Gregorius got New York off to an ideal start, homering with two outs in the first when Kluber grooved a fastball. The shot deep into the seats in right raised the anxiety level to an already jittery Cleveland crowd fearing the worst.