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Athletics, Cardinals surging toward playoff position

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Oakland and St. Louis both won again last night. The A’s for the fourth time in a row and for the eleventh time in thirteen games. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have won seven in a row, nine of ten and eleven of thirteen themselves. The A’s win over Seattle last night, combined with the Houston Astros loss to the Rockies, move them to within one game of the AL West lead. The Cards’ win over the Nationals combined with the Phillies’ loss moves them to within one game of the second Wild Card slot. They sit two behind the Brewers for the first slot and only four games back of the first place Cubs.

Absolutely no one picked the A’s to make the playoffs in 2018. If someone says they did, ask for receipts. As the season’s first couple of months unfolded, picking them to not contend seemed like the smart play. They trailed the Astros by 11.5 games as late as June 15. Last night Bob Melvin chalked the team’s success up to “hitting a lot of home runs and winning close games.” That’s true. It’s also true that the team has put together a huge number of spare parts and castoffs from elsewhere, particularly on the pitching staff — Edwin Jackson? Old friends Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill? Relievers Jeurys Familia, Fernando Rodney and Shawn Kelley ? — with an underrated core of Matts Chapman and Olson, Jed Lowrie and Khris Davis. It’s a balanced roster in an era of a striking lack of competitive balance and everyone is exceeding expectations.

The Cardinals are usually considered contenders, but when they fired manager Mike Matheny in mid-July they were only a game over .500 and seven and a half out in the division. It took them a little time to get some momentum under interim manager Mike Shildt — the Cardinals were sellers at the deadline, unloading Tommy Pham and dumping disappointing reliever Greg Holland — but they’ve put it together in spectacular fashion in recent weeks. An injury that took massively underachieving outfielder Dexter Fowler out of the lineup and allowed for more playing time for the speedy Harrison Bader helped. Matt Carpenter playing out-of-his-mind MVP ball has helped even more. Jose Martinez and even old timer Yadier Molina have been solid offensive contributors. Mood can’t hurt either, and getting rid of Matheny had to have helped that, at least if you believe the stories about the clubhouse atmosphere before he was canned.

Whatever the causes — and in baseball there are always several — the A’s and the Cards are on fire and are making real races in divisions that were not expected to have them this season. Now we watch to see if they can keep the pressure on the Astros, the Cubs and all of the Wild Card contenders for the final month and a half of the campaign.

Kenley Jansen expected to be OK for spring training after heart procedure

Kenley Jansen
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Building on a report from early September, Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen is slated to undergo a heart procedure on November 26. The estimated recovery time ranges from two to eight weeks, according to comments Jansen made Friday, and he expects to be able to rejoin the team once spring training rolls around next year.

Jansen, 31, was first diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat in 2011 and missed significant time during the 2011, 2012, and 2018 seasons due to the condition. He underwent his first surgery to correct the irregularity in 2012, but suffered recurring symptoms that could not be treated long-term with the heart medication and blood thinners that had been prescribed to him. Scarier still was the “atrial fibrillation episode” that the reliever experienced during a road trip to Colorado in August; per MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick, the high altitude exacerbated his heart condition and left him susceptible to future episodes in the event that he chose to return to the Rockies’ Coors Field.

Heart issues notwithstanding, the veteran right-hander pitched through his third straight All-Star season in 2018. Overall, he saw a downward trend in most of his stats, but still collected 38 saves in 59 opportunities and finished the season with a respectable 3.01 ERA, 2.1 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 71 2/3 innings. In October, he helped carry the Dodgers to their second consecutive pennant and wrapped up his sixth postseason run with three saves, two blown saves, and a 1.69 ERA across 10 2/3 innings.