A's proving their worth in ALDS
Oakland has played flawlessly to beat Twins in first two games
OAKLAND -- Considering how convincingly they were outplayed in their own ballpark by the A's, it would be easy to dismiss the Twins as overrated or a team that ran out of steam following an impressive second-half run. But that would be a superficial assessment, and not fair to either team.
If anything, these Oakland A's are better than most people realize, and the fact that they have a chance to sweep a very good Minnesota team in Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Friday at McAfee Coliseum should send a message to whoever winds up facing the winner of this series in the ALCS.
If the Twins and Cy Young Award front-runner Johan Santana were considered the most dangerous opponent outside of New York in these playoffs by a lot of observers, what does that make the A's?
In case you hadn't noticed, these guys can flat out play.
The A's bullpen has outpitched one of the best bullpens in baseball, and Oakland's starting pitching has done a better job than its Minnesota counterparts.
The A's defense has been superb and clearly better than a Twins unit that ranked among the league leaders in several statistical categories.
An Oakland offense that hit 27 points lower than league-leading Minnesota (.287) during the regular season has outhit and outscored the Twins, so far.
"They've done everything right and haven't made mistakes," Twins center fielder Torii Hunter said. "We haven't played our best, but that's not the only reason we lost, a lot of it is their pitching and defense. You have to give them credit, they're playing great baseball."
The A's have indeed stepped up. They have been better in clutch situations while the Twins are 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position. Part of the problem for Minnesota has been the lack of traffic on the bases.
"We've had guys on, but usually it's been with two outs," right fielder Michael Cuddyer said. "We haven't been able to put anything together consistently. We've got to get some guys on to start some innings and put something together, because you can't count on two-out rallies when you're going against pitching like this."
The Twins don't buy into the theory that they have had a letdown after the emotional finish of the regular season. If anything, they were pumped to start the playoffs at home.
"[It has] been two close, hard-fought games," Hunter said. "Nobody has blown anybody out, and either game could have gone the other way. It would be different if we were getting beat 10-0, but these games have been close."
The Twins knew going into the series that the A's would be a formidable opponent, even if others weren't as convinced. The A's have had their share of doubters all season long and have used that perceived lack of respect as a sort of rallying cry.
"Nobody gave us a chance," Oakland first baseman Nick Swisher said. "We weren't supposed to get to the playoffs and we weren't supposed to win two [at Minnesota]. But you know what, that's fine if people want to go on thinking that."
Some probably will continue to doubt the A's until they close out a series. They have three more chances to advance to the ALCS for the first time since 1992. They have lost their last nine clinching games.
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Dan Haren, another Oakland talent who will be a household name very soon, will take the mound on Friday. Haren showed the world what he was made of in the 2004 World Series when he turned in a fine relief effort for St. Louis against Boston at Fenway Park.
This time, he has another tough task as he goes against one of Minnesota's best, Brad Radke. Radke is pitching with a fractured shoulder and is possibly making the last start of his career.
"He is our best chance, we know that," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He threw five innings at home and the ball came out of his hand great, and that's what we wanted to see. We wanted him out on the mound. It's a lot of pressure on a guy who hasn't pitched but five innings, but if there is one guy who can go out there and do something special, it would be Brad Radke."
Against this Oakland team, he'll need to be special.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.