A’s finish sweep of Rangers, win AL West

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The A’s finished off their incredible comeback in style Wednesday, overcoming a 5-1 deficit to pound the Rangers 12-5 and win the AL West.

Today marks the first time all year the A’s have been alone in first place in the AL West. They were as many as 13 games behind Texas on June 30.

The A’s claimed the division despite finishing the season with a rotation containing five rookies. They had one All-Star (reliever Ryan Cook) to the Rangers’ eight. It’s quite likely that they’ll place no one in the top 10 in the AL MVP balloting or in the top five in the Cy Young balloting.

Texas jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the third today in part because the A’s failed to handle a pair of popups. The first one resulted in one out anyway (the runner had to wait halfway between first and second on the fly to shallow right), but it likely would have been a double play had it been caught, since Josh Hamilton ran from second to third on the ball. The second popup fell just fair about a third of the way down the third-base line.

The A’s came right back in the fourth, though, collecting three straight hits to knock Ryan Dempster out of the game. They tied it at 5 on a Coco Crisp double. Later, with two outs and two on, Yoenis Cespedes hit a fly to center than Hamilton seemed to see all of the way. However, at the very last second, he apparently lost it in the sun, as it ended up going just wide of his glove for a two-run error.

The Oakland bullpen kept the Rangers quiet from there, doing a masterful job once again. Evan Scribner pitched three scoreless innings after starter A.J. Griffin was pulled in the third. Cook turned in a scoreless seventh while working for the fifth straight day and then fellow rookie Sean Doolittle tossed a scoreless eighth while pitching on a fourth straight day. The A’s busted it open in the bottom of the eighth, scoring four runs to up their lead from three to seven.

Despite the result today, the A’s still have no idea who they’ll be facing in the postseason. It could even be the Rangers if the Yankees lose, giving the A’s the AL’s top seed, and the Rangers win the wild card game against the Orioles or Yankees.

Oh good, it’s “Yasiel Puig is a showboat” season

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With the Los Angeles Dodgers punching their ticket to the World Series, Yasiel Puig is now going to be the subject of commentary by people who tend not to care about Yasiel Puig until it’s useful for them to write outraged columns or go on talk radio rants about baseball deportment.

We got a brief teaser of this last night when, after scoring the Dodgers’ ninth run on a Logan Forsythe double, TBS analyst Ron Darling criticized Puig for his “shenanigans” and “rubbing it in.” Never mind that his third base coach was waving him home and that, if he didn’t run hard, he was just as likely to be criticized for dogging it. In other news, baseball teams don’t stop trying in the fourth inning of baseball games, nor should they.

That was just an appetizer, though. The first real course of the “Puig is a problem” feast we’re likely to be served over the next week and a half comes from Phil Mushnick of the New York Post, who wrote it even before the Dodgers won Game 5 last night:

If you were raised to love baseball and to recognize the smart, winning kind from everything less, the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig is insufferable. As the sport is diminished by professionals who disregard the basic act of running to first base as a matter of style, Puig, an incurable home-plate poser, often makes turning doubles and triples into singles appear effortless . . . In the postseason, Puig continues to behave as if he’s in the Home Run Derby. He even seems to relish his high-risk flamboyant foolishness despite frequent backfires.

This may as well be a fill in the blanks column from 2013 or 2014, when “Puig is a flashy showboater who costs his team more than he gives it” columns were all the rage. It ignores the fact that Puig, commonly dinged for being lazy, worked his butt off in 2017, particularly on defense, to the point where he has a strong case for a Gold Glove this year. It also ignores his .455/.538/.727 line in the NLDS sweep of the Diamondbacks and his .389/.500/.611 line against the Cubs in the NLCS. In the regular season he set career highs for games, homers, RBI, stolen bases and almost set a career high for walks despite having seventy fewer plate appearances than he did back in 2013 when he walked 67 times. He’s not the MVP candidate some thought he might be, but he’s a fantastic player who has been a key part of the Dodgers winning their first pennant in 29 years.

But the dings on Puig from the likes of Mushnick have rarely been about production. They’ve simply been about style and the manner in which he’s carried himself. To the extent those issues were legitimate points of criticism — particularly his tardiness, his relationships with his teammates and his at times questionable dedication — they have primarily been in-house concerns for the Dodgers, not the casual fan like Mushnick. On that score the Dodgers have dealt with Puig and, by all accounts, Puig has responded pretty well. An occasional lapse to be sure, but nothing which makes him a greater burden than a benefit. I mean, if he was, would be be batting cleanup in a pennant-clinching game?

So if the beef with Puig is not really about baseball, what could Phil Mushnick’s issue with him possible be?

I, for one, have no idea whatsoever.