Rangers clinch the AL West with 3-0 win over Athletics

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The Rangers became the first American League team to clinch a postseason berth after a 3-0 win over the Athletics on Friday night.

If the A’s had their way, tonight would have gone the way of the league’s 24th perfect game. For six innings, Kendall Graveman Oakland starter Kendall Graveman failed to allow a single baserunner. That dream was quashed in the seventh when Rangers’ leadoff batter Carlos Gomez ran a base hit up the middle. Carlos Beltran scored the Rangers’ first run on a productive out later in the inning, while Adrian Beltre smashed his 31st homer of the year, a two-run shot that gave Texas enough of a cushion to clinch the division.

Opposite Graveman, left-hander Cole Hamels took the hill for the Rangers. While FanGraphs values Hamels’ 2016 season at just 2.6 Wins Above Replacement, far below the 4.2 fWAR he accumulated in 2015, the lefty has been the strongest asset in the Rangers’ rotation this season. In the second half, he knocked his BB/9 and HR/9 down a few pegs and raised his 8.76 K/9 rate to a 9.40 mark.

Hamels tossed seven scoreless frames against the A’s, walking two and striking out six in his 15th win of the year. Behind his fifth shutout performance of the year, the bullpen got into a little trouble in the ninth inning when right-hander Sam Dyson put runners on first and second. Yonder Alonso subbed in for Jake Smolinski, working a 2-1 count before hitting into a game-ending force out.

With the win, the Rangers have clinched their sixth division title since 1996. It’s still possible that Texas will see some AL West competition in the ALDS, as the Astros and Mariners sit 2.5 and 2.0 games back of a wild card berth, respectively.

Right now, however, it’s time to celebrate.

Orioles sign OF Aaron Hicks, put Cedric Mullins on 10-day IL with groin strain

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BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Orioles signed outfielder Aaron Hicks less than 24 hours after Cedric Mullins went down with a strained right groin.

Mullins went on the 10-day injured list, but the Orioles are hoping Hicks can help defensively in the spacious outfield at Camden Yards. Hicks was released last week by the New York Yankees with more than 2 1/2 seasons left on his contract.

“We had noticed that he was a free agent even before the injury,” Orioles general manager Mike Elias said. “When the injury occurred and it became pretty clear this was going to be an IL, it seemed like a good fit even more so at that time.”

The Orioles are responsible for paying Hicks just $483,871, a prorated share of the $720,000 minimum salary. The Yankees owe him the rest of his $10.5 million salary this year, plus $9.5 million in each of the next two seasons and a $1 million buyout of a 2026 team option.

The 33-year-old Hicks hit just .188 in 28 games for the Yankees this year.

“We have stuff that we look at from a scouting and evaluation perspective,” Elias said. “It’s very different from just looking at the back of a baseball card, and we hope that we get a bounceback from anyone we bring here.”

Hicks batted .216 last season.

“Hopefully that’s a good thing for him,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of the Baltimore deal. “A lot of time here and a lot of good things happened for him here. I know the last couple of years have been a struggle. But hopefully it’s a good opportunity for him and certainly wish him well. Not too well being in our division and a team we’re chasing, but hopefully it’s a really good fit for him.”

Mullins left a loss to Cleveland after he pulled up while running out an infield grounder. Outfielder Colton Cowser – the fifth pick in the draft two years ago – is hitting .331 at Triple-A Norfolk, but he went on the IL in the past couple weeks.

“Certainly he was building a case towards promotion consideration prior to his injury and prior to Cedric’s injury,” Elias said. “We’ll just see where we’re at.”

Hicks was active for the game but not in the starting lineup. Austin Hays, normally Baltimore’s left field, was in Mullins’ usual spot in center.

When the wall in left at Camden Yards was pushed significantly back before last season, it made left field a bigger challenge defensively.

“In this park … you really need two center fielders,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Aaron’s got a lot of center-field experience. Played left field here before also. Brings the defensive aspect and then the switch-hitting.”