Athletics, Yankees Fight For Playoff Positioning In New York

By: Bruce Marshall | Friday, September 21, 2012

Lots of pundits keep waiting for the bottom to drop out for the Oakland A’s. By now, however, it’s getting to the point that if and when it happens might be sometime in the postseason as the Billy Beanes close in on one the most-unlikely playoff berths in recent years.

The A’s and their modest $55 million payroll, however, aren’t there yet, and must run a nasty gauntlet over the last two weeks of the season that includes home-and-home series with the AL West leading Rangers plus this weekend set in The Bronx against the Yankees.

But we’d be fools to forecast doom for Oakland, as have so many others. The A’s have displayed admirable fortitude all season long as they have persevered through injuries (including pitcher Brandon McCarthy’s scary head injury when hit by a line drive two weeks ago) and even suspension (Bartolo Colon) yet have not skipped a beat, especially since June 1 when sitting 8 games under .500. Entering Friday’s series opener at Yankee Stadium, Oakland had gone 63-34 since, a cool .649 winning rate, and a big reason the A’s rate behind only Baltimore as in the MLB “money leaders” standings at +1884 units into Friday’s opener.

And when teetering earlier in the week after losing thee first two of a three-game set at Detroit, Oakland admirably restored order and easily averted a sweep when swamping the Tigers by a 12-4 count on Thursday.

After Friday’s matchup between Jarrod Parker and CC Sabathia, the A’s and Yanks play the middle game of this three-game weekend set on Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. Oakland will be sending young Travis Blackley to the mound to oppose New York’s Ivan Nova, and make sure to check out the latest Don Best MLB odds.

First pitch will be at 1:05 p.m. (ET), although for TV coverage you’ll either have to access your MLB package or extended cable TV. We might prefer Oakland’s Comcast Bay Area feed, with Glen Kuiper and the best color man in the business, Ray Fosse, over the YES telecast which will require listening to a lot of Michael Kay.

We know Yankee fans are going to prefer the latter, but we strongly suggest the A’s telecast if you have a choice.

Of course, the Yankees are in a dogfight themselves for the AL East crown, although their playoff prospects look a lot more secure at the moment than they did a week ago. With Tampa Bay and the Angels slipping off the pace, it would seem unlikely that New York could miss an AL postseason slot. There’s still a battle being waged with a gallant Orioles team (just one game behind the Bronx Bombers entering this weekend) for the top spot in the East, but even if the Yanks conspire to lose the division race they would seem to be close to a sure thing to qualify as an AL wild card.

In which case they might be facing the A’s in the one-game playoff in less than two weeks, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

As for the Yankees, they were no doubt encouraged by the most-recent start made by Nova, who went six strong innings last Saturday vs. Tampa Bay, allowing just 4 hits and 2 runs while striking out 8 in a 5-3 Yankee win. It was Nova’s return from a stint on the DL due to a sore shoulder and roughly coincided with another starting pitcher, Andy Pettitte, also resurfacing from the DL to give Joe Girardi his full complement of pitchers as he gears up for the postseason.

Over the past week, SS Derek Jeter returned to the everyday lineup after serving only in a DH capacity for a week after suffering a bruised heel. Slugging 1B Mark Teixeira, however, remains on the MLB injury report until later next week (at the earliest) as he continues to be burdened by a calf strain.

As for Nova, he’s faced Oakland twice this season, earning a win back on May 25 and then not figuring in the decision of a 3-2 loss on July 20. Both of those games were at the Coliseum and mark the only times in Nova’s career that he has faced the A’s. Overall this season, Nova’s numbers have not been terribly impressive (including a 4.85 ERA) despite his 12-7 record.

As for Oakland counterpart Blackley, he returns to the rotation and makes his first start since August 29 when the A’s beat Cleveland, 8-4. Manager Bob Melvin wanted to pitch the lefty Blackley against the Yankees in this game, a decision that was made even before Brett Anderson went down with an oblique strain earlier this week. This Saturday start was originally slated for Dan Straily, who will now instead pitch on Monday against the Rangers.

This will be the first time Blackley has faced the Yankees in his career.

The A’s are hopeful that catalyst OF Coco Crisp will be available for the Saturday contest and this series after missing three of four previous games heading into this weekend due to a bothersome case of conjunctivitis in both eyes. Meanwhile, slugging OF Yoenis Cespedes has been suffering from a bruised right foot but has continued to play and produce.

These teams have met in a pair of series earlier this season at the Coliseum with contrasting results, as the Yankees swept a 3-game set in late May before Oakland returned the favor, and then some, with a 4-game sweep not long after the All-Star break.

The Yankees entered this series having won five straight games, while the A’s had won 13 of their last 16 on the road prior to Friday night’s encounter.

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