Ryan Cook

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.

Pirates sign left-hander Cory Luebke

Cory Luebke Getty
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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Eric O'Flaherty wasn’t the only reclamation project added by the Pirates today, as the club also announced that they have signed left-hander Cory Luebke to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Luebke once looked like a solid rotation piece for the Padres, but he hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since April 27, 2012. He’s undergone a pair of Tommy John surgeries since. Now 30 years old, he logged seven innings in the minors last season before requiring a procedure to remove loose bodies around a nerve in his forearm. The Padres cut ties with him in November after declining a $7.5 million club option for 2016.

It’s hard to count on much from Luebke at this point, but he told Adam Berry of MLB.com that he feels healthy and hopes to compete for a bullpen job in the spring.

White Sox reportedly considering Ian Desmond

Ian Desmond
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Many have speculated on a potential match between the White Sox and Ian Desmond this winter, but we haven’t heard much in the way of legitimate interest. That could be changing with spring training right around the corner, as MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports that Chicago is among the teams considering the free agent shortstop.

After turning the page on Alexei Ramirez this offseason, the White Sox currently have Tyler Saladino in line to serve as their starting shortstop in 2016. The 26-year-old is considered a strong defender, but he batted .225/.267/.335 with four homers over 254 plate appearances as a rookie in 2015. Desmond is coming off a nightmare of a walk year and has seen his strikeout rate climb by 8.5 percent since 2012, but he possesses more offensive upside and it’s not hard to imagine a bounceback campaign while calling U.S. Cellular Field home.

Similar to fellow free agents Yovani Gallardo and Dexter Fowler, Desmond is attached to draft pick compensation after turning down a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Nationals. It’s a big reason why a potential deal with the Rays is reported to be a “long shot.” Chicago’s No. 10 overall pick in this year’s draft is protected, so they would give up their No. 28 overall pick if they sign a qualifying offer free agent like Desmond.

Pirates sign reliever Eric O’Flaherty

Eric O'Flaherty
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Left-hander Eric O'Flaherty has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Pirates that includes an invitation to spring training.

O’Flaherty was one of the best relievers in the league for the Braves from 2009-2013, posting a combined 1.99 ERA in 249 innings, but Tommy John elbow surgery derailed his career and he struggled for the A’s and Mets in 2015 while dealing with shoulder problems.

It’s tough to know if O’Flaherty is healthy at this point, but the 31-year-old southpaw certainly has a chance to be a nice reclamation project for the Pirates on a no-risk contract.

Mariano Rivera to get his plaque in Monument Park on August 14

Mariano Rivera
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The greatest closer in history is going to get the ultimate honor the New York Yankees bestow on August 14. That’s when Mariano Rivera will get his plaque in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium before a game against the Rays.

There was some chatter in the last year or two about whether the Yankees were somehow lowering their standards out there, what with guys like Tino Martinez getting honored. But if that’s something you care about it won’t matter in this instance. Rivera would’ve been worthy even if the old snobby ways had held and only inner-circle types got a plaque, what with him being a key member of five World Series-winning teams and his status as the all-time saves leader in the regular season and the postseason.

The Yankees retired Rivera’s No. 42 in 2013. He’ll get his plaque in August. Then, on the first ballot for which he is eligible, he’ll be voted into the Hall of Fame, likely with a percentage in the mid-to-high 90s.