October 1, 2012
What You Need to Know
Monday, October 1
The Weekend Takeaway
The A’s went 4-6 on their recent 10-game road trip through Detroit, New York, and Arlington, doing just enough to avoid putting their hold on the American League’s second wild-card berth in jeopardy. They beat the Mariners in the first two games of a six-game, season-ending homestand, inching closer to a postseason spot that just months ago seemed unfathomable. But on Sunday, after the Rays had defeated the White Sox and the Angels had taken the first game of their doubleheader with the Rangers, the A’s came into the eighth inning of their series finale against Seattle in a 2-2 tie.
The stakes were high: a loss would thrust Tampa Bay and Anaheim, whose hopes had been dwindling, back into the race; a win would leave Oakland’s remaining competitors on life support. A loss would put the pressure on the A’s, with the Rangers, the best team in the junior circuit, coming to town the next day; a win would put the home nine on the doorstep of the playoffs and give Bob Melvin’s team control over its own destiny for a division title that no one thought it could win.
Cespedes had already left his stamp on Sunday’s game, showcasing his speed on a first-inning RBI triple and then again on Brandon Moss’ ensuing sacrifice fly. His bat and legs helped to produce the A’s first two runs, the only runs they would score off of Seattle starter Erasmo Ramirez and reliever Charlie Furbush. With one out and nobody on in the bottom of the eighth, Cespedes launched a moonshot down the left-field line, waited to see if it would stay fair, saw it settle to the right of the pole in the BBQ Terrace, and began his 23rd trot of the season with the 21,057 fans at the Coliseum in a frenzy. Josh Reddick added a two-run insurance homer minutes later, and Grant Balfour closed out the 5-2 win, but it was Cespedes who fueled the most important rally of the season to date.
The 3-for-4 outing improved Cespedes’ triple slash to .291/.353/.509, which might have been good for Rookie of the Year honors in any other season. He is only the third player in the modern era to hit at least 23 home runs and steal at least 16 bases in his first tour of the majors, joining Darryl Strawberry (1983) and Marty Cordova (1995). And he may be the most dynamic offensive player to begin his big-league career in Oakland since Jose Canseco in the mid-1980s.
Geoff Young wrote about Cespedes’ impressive stateside debut three weeks ago, noting the similarities between his production and that of Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Ben Badler tweeted on Sunday that Cespedes has immediately lived up to all expectations that scouts had for him. And, perhaps most impressively, Cespedes has shown tangible improvements over the course of the season.
After striking out in 48 of his 218 first-half plate appearances (22 percent), Cespedes has done so in only 53 of his 309 trips since the All-Star break (17 percent), resulting in a 40-point hike in his batting average and a 100-point bump in his OPS. He has also improved as a base stealer, succeeding on 10 of 11 second-half tries after going 6-for-8 in the first half. And he has made smooth transitions between left field and center field, contributing to the A’s sixth-ranked PADE. With a .317 TAv and 4.0 WARP, Cespedes has earned his $6.5 million 2012 salary with plenty of room to spare, ranking among the best bargains of the past winter and the prettiest feathers in Billy Beane’s cap.
But as MLB’s slogan for the 2011 postseason said, “Legends are made in October.” And if Cespedes wants Oakland fans to remember the first chapter of his big-league career, now is the time to capture their hearts.
The A’s need one win over the Rangers—or one loss each by the Angels and Rays—to clinch a one-game playoff with the Orioles or Yankees. They need three wins to shock the world with their first West division title since 2006. Their first, and perhaps best, chance comes tonight, behind rookie Jarrod Parker, Oakland’s current de facto ace. Parker beat the Rangers with six innings of three-run ball on Sept. 26, when the A’s sent fellow first-year pitcher Martin Perez to the showers with only two outs to his name. Cespedes got the ball rolling with an RBI triple in the first inning that day, just as he did on Sunday afternoon, and he’ll try to set the tone for Oakland again tonight (10:05 p.m. ET).
What to Watch for on Monday