A's make history, take the AL West

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A's make history, take the AL West

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OAKLAND -- Well, they did it. The Oakland Athletics are the 2012 American League West Champions and it is safe to say no one saw it coming outside of the guys in the clubhouse, and even they looked a little stunned at times when realizing they were wearing grey shirts with the words "2012 American League West Champions" across their chests.

Not a lot of the so-called baseball experts believed this could happen. They weren't being cynical, just realists. The A's were 13 games back on June 30, they were five out with nine games to play -- a deficit no team in Major League Baseball history has ever come back from. They had lost players like Brandon McCarthy, Brandon Inge, Bartolo Colon, and Brett Anderson all in a much-too-cruelly-short span of time. They survived a daunting 10-game road trip through Detroit, New York, and Texas that was supposed to sink their season.

Heck, they traded away almost every player that had any value in the offseason. Yet here they are. Popping the champagne for the second time in the last three days.

They finished the regular season with 94 wins, 26 games over .500, their 10th best win total in Oakland history.

"I don't think any of us have ever been in this situation maybe but three or four guys," rookie catcher Derek Norris said. "I just think we are too young and dumb to know the difference between what's pressure and what's baseball, you know?"

The A's never held sole possession of first place in the American League West until they won the last game of the season to take it from the Texas Rangers. Oakland is only the third team in the history of Major League Baseball to clinch a pennant with just one day alone atop the division.

It's not how you start, it's how you finish.

"One day don't matter," outfielder Josh Reddick said. "It's like a race you can lead 300 of 301 laps if you don't get the last laugh it don't count."

With the back-to-back defending American League Champions visiting the Oakland Coliseum, the A's had a very tough task ahead of them. Sweep the Rangers and win the West. The A's played loose, insisted on having fun, and didn't wear the pressure. As the games played out the guys in Green and Gold didn't look like a young inexperienced team with their backs against the wall. The team with eight players on the 2012 All-Star team, however, looked like they were pressing.

"They were the ones with everything to lose today," Brandon Moss said. "They had the division lead almost the entire season. They were trying to cling to it. We had nothing to lose, everything was ours to win."

The A's took the first game of the series 4-3 which clinched them a spot in the postseason and celebrated like they won the lottery. Then they came back to work the next day and defeated the Rangers 3-1. Then on Wednesday, with everything on the line, they broke out for a 12-5 win and achieved the truly improbable, but apparently not impossible.

"I've seen a lot of things happen before that people say have never happened," Moss said. "In this game anything can happen. Just like how we were supposed to lose 100 games and almost won 100 games. That's not supposed to happen but that's why you play the games."

The A's did it in front of sell-out crowd of 36,067. The fans were on their feet, deafeningly loud at times, and provided the team with a spark. For a fan base that is often ridiculed for it's poor attendance, they showed up when it mattered the most. It didn't go unnoticed.

"When we came out there it was electric from the moment we came out on the field," Melvin said. "And hopefully the fans know that. They went a long way in us coming back and being able to finish it off today, our hats are off to them and we really appreciate the support."

The A's will start the postseason on the road against the Detroit Tigers. Winning the West is a feather in their cap, but the postseason is just beginning. Now they have to contend with a Tigers team that has Justin Verlander, the reigning MVP and Cy Young in the starting rotation, and Miguel Cabrera, who won the first triple crown since Carl Yastremski did it 1967, in the lineup. The A's could be considered the underdogs again, a role that suits them better than Kelly Green, Fort Knox Gold, and Wedding Gown White.

"Ever since the first day I've been here it's always been all about everybody saying the A's can't compete with the payroll, can't compete with this team and that team," Norris said. "You know what? We are better off if we are doubted it just keeps giving us the extra energy and I hope that they keep doing it."

They certainly aren't lacking in confidence.

"I wouldn't want to play us," third baseman Josh Donaldson said. "We've got guys up and down the lineup that are coming through at any given point. We've got a bullpen that is nails right now. Our starting pitching depending on the day has been nails."

"People say this is a miraculous season, or a Cinderella season," Moss said. "With the pitchers we have and the hitters we have all we are doing it playing to our ability."

The A's have reasons to be confident. Their pitching staff finished the season with a 3.48 ERA, which was second best in the American League. Their 111 home runs since the All-Star break led all of baseball. The 53 wins accumulated by rookie starting pitchers were the most in major league history. The A's made history on Wednesday, but maybe it is less of a surprise than we thought.

New-look A's continue the youth movement with Maxwell's arrival

New-look A's continue the youth movement with Maxwell's arrival

OAKLAND — The A’s set off for Chicago on Thursday evening to begin their next road trip, and how their dynamic has changed over the course of one week.

They began their most recent homestand by cutting ties with veteran third baseman Trevor Plouffe to make room for hotshot prospect Matt Chapman. On Thursday, catcher Stephen Vogt suffered the same fate as Plouffe, getting designated for assignment to make room for another young player in Bruce Maxwell.

The calendar may still read June, with more than half of the season remaining, but the A’s are cleaning house, undergoing a reboot and playing the rest of 2017 with an emphasis on what lies ahead.

Five of the nine position players in their starting lineup for Thursday’s 12-9 loss to the Houston Astros are what you would consider “future” guys — center fielder Jaycob Brugman, third baseman Ryon Healy, second baseman Chad Pinder, Maxwell and right fielder Matt Olson.

They will shuffle around the diamond a bit, and Olson may only stay with the big club until Chapman comes off the disabled list (though Olson’s full-time status in the bigs doesn’t seem far off). Regardless, the plan is crystal clear — the A’s are hitching their wagon to their young core and are prepared to let them develop at the major league level, with whatever successes and failures may come with the growth process.

“We do get excited about giving these guys playing time,” A’s general manager David Forst said before Thursday’s game.

The Astros finished off a four-game sweep of Oakland with their 12-9 victory, jumping out to a 10-0 lead and then holding on after the A’s mounted a late charge. Glance up and down the box score, and those key young players were instrumental in so much that went right for the A’s.

Maxwell went 3-for-4 with an RBI. Olson drove in two runs. Pinder had two hits and an RBI. Brugman chipped in an RBI single and walked twice. That was the silver lining on a day that starting pitcher Jesse Hahn struggled mightily, allowing nine earned runs in just two innings.

“These guys are gonna be important,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “The last thing you want to see when you’re down 10-0 is guys just cash it in, and that wasn’t the case. These guys all have something to play for. They’re playing for jobs. And in the future, starting jobs.”

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, middle infielder Franklin Barreto will join the mix from Triple-A Nashville. For now, an immediate storyline is the health of Chapman, who joined the 10-day disabled list with a case of cellulitis (bacterial infection) in his left knee. The A’s checked him into a hospital Wednesday night to get an intravenous antibiotic, after his condition “plateaued” with oral antibiotics, according to Forst.

He said Chapman is likely to leave the hospital Friday, and the A’s are hopeful the rookie third baseman will be able to return when he’s eligible to come off the D.L. His stint can be backdated to Monday, meaning Chapman is eligible to return next Thursday at Houston.

He’s part of the youth movement that resulted in Vogt getting shown the exit. Maxwell sent Vogt a text message wishing him the best Thursday morning, and Vogt quickly responded, wishing him the best. That meant a lot to Maxwell, who didn’t learn until Thursday morning that his roster spot was coming at Vogt’s expense.

But Maxwell said he’s excited to be surrounded by so many players that he’s advanced through the minors with.

“Once we get everybody acclimated to each other and the game up here,” he said, “I feel like we could potentially set up a turning point for this organization for years to come.”

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Astros' sweep of once-hot A's

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Astros' sweep of once-hot A's

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OAKLAND — Under some circumstances, a 4-4 homestand against the Yankees and Astros wouldn’t seem so bad for the A’s.

This wasn’t the way they would have preferred it however.

After sweeping New York in four at the Coliseum, the A’s proceeded to drop four in a row to Houston, including Thursday's 12-9 loss, making this an historic stay at home whether they wanted it that way or not. Only one other time in the past 106 years had the A’s played back-to-back four-game series and swept the first while being swept in the second.

The first time it happened was in September 1977, when they were swept by Texas before taking the broom to Kansas City.

Thursday’s contest got out of hand early, with the Astros jumping out to a 10-0 lead by the second inning before Oakland came roaring back late.

Jesse Hahn (3-5) was out of whack from his first batter and lasted just two innings, getting hammered for a career-high 10 runs (nine earned) and allowing two home runs.

On the same day Oakland designated Stephen Vogt for assignment, another noteworthy former Athletic enjoyed a huge day against his old team as Josh Reddick finished just a single short of the cycle and scored four runs.

But the A’s came alive for a six-run rally in the eighth to close to within 12-9 and make the Astros sweat it.

But Oakland wound up falling a season high-tying 11 games under .500 at 31-42. A six-game road trip is up next to play the White Sox and, once again, the Astros, who ran their winning streak at the Coliseum to 10 and have won 15 of their past 16 against the A’s.

Short day for Hahn: It was clear early that Hahn didn’t have his ‘A’ game. He hit George Springer with a 3-1 pitch to begin the game — Springer exited with a left hand contusion — then walked the next two batters to load the bases with no outs. He limited the damage to two runs in the first, but the Astros poured it on for eight runs in the second, including three-run homers from Jake Marisnick and Marwin Gonzalez.

Maxwell returns with strong game: With Vogt designated for assignment, Bruce Maxwell was promoted to assume catching duties alongside Josh Phegley, and Maxwell enjoyed a 3-for-4 day, including an RBI double as the A’s rallied in the eighth.

The other new arrival also shines: Matt Olson, also called up Thursday as Matt Chapman went on the 10-day disabled list, went 2-for-3 with two RBI.

Reddick has big day: Reddick doubled in the second, homered in the sixth and tripled in the eighth, but didn’t get a chance to complete the cycle against his former club.

Smith steadies things on mound: : Josh Smith took over after Hahn left the game and threw three scoreless innings, striking out four and keeping manager Bob Melvin from having to empty his bullpen.