The Final Countdown

Ed Szczepanski-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

This is it, folks.

And then there were three. Days, that is. In the season. Well, the regular season. There is an entire "post season" immediately thereafter. This article isn't starting well. Let me try again.

We've reached the final series of the 2012 regular season. For the Oakland A's, it all comes down to 3 games at home against the Texas Rangers. Win all 3, and the A's win the division. Win 2, and there is an outside chance of stealing the first Wild Card away from Baltimore (or whoever finishes 2nd in the East). Win 1, and the A's at least clinch the second Wild Card spot, and are guaranteed at least one postseason game in a season in which they were supposed to lose 100+ games. Win zero, and they still might limp into the playoffs unchallenged, with the worst-case scenario being a tiebreaker game against the Angels or Rays. Those are the stakes. Now, here are some details, and some things to watch for over the next 72 hours.

Let's start with the pitching match-ups. Tonight's opener features Texas's Martin Perez (aka, their worst starter) against Oakland's Jarrod Parker (aka, our best starter). In Perez's last start, he was absolutely manhandled by the A's. He allowed 5 runs in the 1st inning, and was removed after recording just two outs. On the flipside, in Parker's last start, he fixed the economy and cured cancer. He's just the best. This is a must-win game, not because the A's will be eliminated if they lose (although that is also true, divisionally speaking), but because on October 1st, you need to know that your ace can beat the other team's minor-league fill-in. It's a must-win game in a foreshadowing sense.

The second game is the complete opposite of the first. Texas will call on Matt Harrison (their best starter, maybe), and Oakland will trot out Travis Blackley (currently our worst starter, definitely). Harrison is totally solid, but totally beatable if the A's have a good day. In his last start, the A's hit two homers off of him and only struck out twice in 6 innings. Blackley is...off his game. He was accidentally ignored for several weeks, and then asked to step back into the rotation on a moment's notice. He's completed just three innings in his last two starts combined. In his last "start," he allowed 5 runs in the 1st inning. Unlike Martin Perez, though, Blackley was at least able to record the 3rd out. That's a 50% increase in number of outs recorded, which sounds 1000% more impressive than it actually is. I don't know how this game will go, but I do know that Jim Miller will be involved, for better or for worse. I will set the over/under for Blackley's start at 8.5 outs.

The finale may not matter. Texas may have already clinched the division, in which case they would likely rest their regulars and hand the game to the A's. As things stand right now, Texas will send Ryan Dempster to face Oakland's A.J. Griffin. Dempster has been very pedestrian since his acquisition from the Chicago Cubs this summer. He's thrown 66 innings over 11 starts, with a 4.64 ERA, a strikeout per inning, and nearly three strikeouts per walk. He's given up too many homers, which is convenient, because the A's love to hit homers. After two poor starts (against the Tigers and Yankees), Griffin sort of rebounded in his last outing. Or, he may have just faced the Mariners. Difficult to say. He didn't look all that impressive, but he got the job done. If this game still matters Wednesday morning, then it could be a very high-scoring affair.

Here are some things to look for over the next three days:

  • Can the back-end relievers come through? The Chosen Four (Balfour, Cook, Doolittle, Blevins) all pitched yesterday. Doolittle and Blevins may be available, but Cook and Balfour have each pitched the last two days. Hopefully, Newbob has learned his lesson regarding calling on either of those guys for a third day in a row. It usually doesn't end well (he said, without checking at all to make sure). Evan Scribner, Pedro Figueroa, and Jim Miller are going to be called on at some point to record big outs. When this happens, remember to breathe.
  • Building on the previous point, can Parker save the bullpen? Seven innings out of Parker would go a long way toward setting the tone in the series. A combo of Doolittle/Blevins/Neshek could finish off the last 6 outs, which would save everybody else for the inevitable 2-inning Blackley start on Tuesday. Seven innings from Parker and a large lead late in the game could give every important reliever a much-needed day off.
  • Will Adrian Beltre's shoulder injury affect the series? The team believes that he will be available to play tonight, but that doesn't guarantee that he'll be 100%. As Kevin Spacey once said, "I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Adrian Beltre." He was talking about Keyser Soze, but it turns out that they are the same guy, so I just swapped the names. That's right: Adrian Beltre is Keyser Soze. And he is terrifying. If he is at anything less than 100%, in any part of his game, then that is a big deal.
  • Is Josh Reddick back? Over his last 5 games, he's 6-for-19, with three homers and two walks to three strikeouts. He's finally out of the 3rd spot in the lineup, he finally shaved off his filthy mountain-guru goatee, and he's finally stopped flailing at every single breaking pitch he sees. A productive Josh Reddick changes everything.
  • Brandon Moss. Just watch him. I said that this was a list of things to watch, and he is a thing to watch. He is wonderful. He's hit 21 homers in half of a season. Can you imagine if the Red Sox had Moss and Reddick in the outfield corners, with Jed Lowrie playing shortstop? They could have had that. Of course, they wouldn't have Mark Melancon, Andrew Bailey, Ryan Sweeney, or sweet memories of Jason Bay not winning a World Series. Life is just a series of trade-offs, you know?
  • What's the deal with Seth Smith? He looks lost at the plate right now. Luckily, the Rangers are starting lefties in the first two games of the series, so Smith will be a pinch-hitter at most. Instead, we may get to see a bit of Chris Carter today and tomorrow. It may come down to a choice between Carter and Gomes; who would you rather see start? Moss is so hot right now that you have to play him, even against a lefty. Cespedes, Coco, and Reddick are locked into the outfield spots. So, it comes down to two spots for Moss, Gomes and Carter. Go with the season-long platoons, or ride the hot hand?
  • Scoreboard watch: The O's and Rays lock horns this week. What happens when a magical object goes up against an enchanted force? This series will ultimately be documented in an 8th Harry Potter book, titled "Harry Potter and the Hidden Ball Trick." The Orioles are the (other) miracle team of 2012, but the Rays practically invented being the miracle team (since 2008, at least). This is really the only series that I care about right now. The Yankees are playing Boston; call me if they lose the first two games, and I'll get interested. The Angels face Felix tonight, but even if they sweep the Mariners, it probably won't matter. Probably. Hopefully.
It all starts in five hours, folks. In conclusion, I will leave you with Brandon McCarthy's reaction to Saturday's walk-off homer (Oakland's 14th of the year):

Guys I think Bob Melvin might be a witch

He might indeed.
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