Athletics

A's poised amid playoff pressure

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A's poised amid playoff pressure

OAKLAND -- The calendar flips six times during baseball's regular season. When it flips to October everything changes. There are way more media members swarming the A's dugout and clubhouse, scoreboard watching becomes a distraction, and the games have heavy implications. Sounds stressful, but is there anything better than October baseball? "No there's really not," Jonny Gomes said. "It was funny, I remember in 2008 my first go around with it and everyone was loading up with veterans. We were like, 'We don't need any veterans we've got it. We just won the division.'" "First pitch, playoffs I was like, 'Whoa. Totally different game,'" Gomes added. The A's know they are on the verge of doing something special. One win and they are in the postseason for the first time since 2006. Three wins and they are the American League West champions. It may not be the playoffs yet, but it sure feels like it -- and the A's are enjoying every second of it."It's a special team," Brandon Moss said. "We've got a lot of great personalities and a lot of guys who are striving to get there. It's the most fun I've ever had in baseball without a question.""We're in a playoff situation," Chris Carter said. "Making playoffs and doing stuff like that in the minors is one thing, but doing it here is a whole different level." Based on the magnitude of the situation, the importance of each remaining game, veterans like Gomes who have been there have to lead by example. The A's have a roster full of young players that have never been to the postseason. Gomes, Grant Balfour, Brandon Inge, Seth Smith, and Stephen Drew have been there before and are leading by example. "I know I get credit for being the older guy," Gomes said. "But these guys are doing it on their own."Most teams have a veteran presence, but the players on this team believe their leadership group is different. They allow young players like Josh Reddick to be vocal and pie people on the field. They let the young players be themselves and have fun as long as they get their jobs done on the field. "To have guys like that to keep it fresh, keep it humble, keep it fun, is huge," Moss said. "You see guys that have done it but they are having just as much fun as we are. It's not all business we're playing for fun." That doesn't mean the veterans don't have a few tricks up their sleeve if they need to crack the whip."There's certain things you can police with the eye stare, the silent treatment for a while," Gomes said. "Everything is going to happen quick so it's like if you do something wrong there's not really a guarantee there's going to be an opportunity again." As Gomes often explains, playing for fun, not contracts, is why the A's are successful. He says if you take away the good times, the A's might crumble under the pressure. A's manager Bob Melvin clearly agrees. He may shake his head and crack a smile when the team shoots a 'Bernie Lean' music video, or look away while a player dressed as Spider-man runs onto the field brandishing pies, but he knows his players are getting it done when it matters the most, and respecting the game on the field. "I think they have done a really good job of keeping us focused on the task at hand," Sean Doolittle said. "While still keeping the atmosphere pretty light and letting us play loose."Oakland has a chance to pop the champagne on Monday. It is safe to say no one saw it coming, but now everyone seems to be expecting it to happen. Pressure to perform can wear on a young team, but these guys don't seem to mind. They are playing with house money at this point. "Here none of us are expecting anything," Moss said. "We just go out and play."

A's hire Matt Williams as third base coach

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AP

A's hire Matt Williams as third base coach

OAKLANDThe Oakland A’s named Matt Williams as third base coach on Bob Melvin’s coaching staff for the 2018 season, the club announced today.

Williams spent five seasons on the Arizona Diamondbacks coaching staff as first base coach (2010) and third base coach (2011-13, 16) and also managed the Washington Nationals for two seasons.  He was named National League Manager of the Year by the BBWAA in his first season as manager in 2014, guiding the Nationals to a 96-66 record and an NL East title.  He went 83-79 in 2015 for a 179-145 (.552) record in two seasons as manager.

Williams played 17 seasons in the majors with San Francisco (1987-96), Cleveland (1997) and Arizona (1998-2003).  He was a .268 career hitter with 378 home runs and 1218 RBI in 1866 games.  Williams was a five-time All-Star and won four Gold Gloves as a third baseman.

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Ryon Healy trade has domino effect

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AP

Ryon Healy trade has domino effect

The A’s wasted no time making their first major move of the offseason, and it has a domino effect on how their 2018 lineup will take shape.

The trade of young slugger Ryon Healy to the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday paves the way for left fielder Khris Davis to start getting heavy at-bats as the designated hitter, the spot left vacant by Healy.

It also points to another move the A’s want to pull off — acquiring a right-handed hitting corner outfielder who presumably can eat up those defensive innings that Davis spends as the DH.

It’s a series of moves that isn’t all that surprising given the A’s roster makeup right now. Healy, who hit .282 with 38 homers in 221 games over his first two big league seasons, is capable of playing either first or third base. But Matt Olson and Matt Chapman secured those spots, respectively, with their solid showings as rookies last season.

“We’ve obviously talked a lot since the end of the season about adding to the bullpen,” A’s general manager David Forst said on a conference call Wednesday night. “At the same time, with the emergence of Matt and Matt, on the corners, maybe Ryon needed to be somebody we might have to move ...”

It makes sense for Oakland to find a way to shift Davis from being the everyday left fielder while still keeping his 40-homer bat in the lineup. Opponents have routinely taken extra bases the past two seasons on Davis’ throwing arm, and whether they add a newcomer to play left or shift Joyce or someone else there, chances are they can benefit from better defense in left.

The A’s also feel they got an important chip back from Seattle to help bolster a bullpen that ranked 13th in the American League last season with a 4.57 ERA. They received right-hander Emilio Pagan (along with minor league shortstop Alexander Campos), and figure that the 26-year-old Pagan is someone the A’s have pegged to be an immediate contributor in their ‘pen.

A 10th round draft pick in 2013, Pagan made his big league debut in 2017 and posted a 3.22 ERA over 34 games spread over four stints with Seattle. He endured a rocky first couple of outings but, after being called up for good in the second half, eventually worked his way into a late-inning setup role. Pagan struck out 56 and walked just eight in 50 1/3 innings, numbers that surely popped out to Oakland’s front office.

He’ll likely be called upon in middle relief to help set the table for Chris Hatcher and closer Blake Treinen, as the bullpen currently looks.

Campos, just 17, spent this past season in the Dominican Summer League, and Forst said the A’s were eyeing Campos last summer when they eventually traded Yonder Alonso to the Mariners. Oakland wound up getting center fielder Boog Powell back in that deal.

Did the A’s rake in enough for Healy? As with all trades, it will take time to judge. But it’s fair to say that Healy’s departure will be felt in a clubhouse that is characterized by the emergence of many young position players, and he was a part of that group. In fact, when Healy was called up in July 2016 — knocking Danny Valencia out as the regular third baseman — he became the first of several promising position-player prospects to establish himself in Oakland’s lineup.

He rented a house in the East Bay and eventually took in Chapman, Olson and Chad Pinder as roommates. There’s a fiery side to Healy’s on-field personality that was a positive for the A’s, and watching him play Oakland as a member of an AL West rival will make for entertaining theatre.

Another storyline is how Davis takes to being a regular DH. Forst praised Davis’ approach to his game and doesn’t anticipate any problems, adding that the A’s still want to get Davis some time in the outfield.