A's are sleeper pick entering the postseason


By Mark Simon, ESPN Research

There is a very interesting mix of teams in the 2006 postseason.

On one hand, the Dodgers, Padres, Twins and A's have been as hot as anybody in recent weeks -- or months, as Oakland's best-in-baseball record since the All-Star break and Minnesota's ridiculous stretch since early June would attest.

On the other hand, there are two teams entering October on rather dreadful notes: the Cardinals and Tigers. Both clubs are trying to figure out how to fix what went wrong.

Lastly, there are the Mets and Yankees. All they did during the regular season was win 97 games each to finish tied for the best record in baseball.

The beauty of October is that everyone gets a clean slate once the playoffs begin. This portion of the season comes down to who plays the best against baseball's best over a one-month stretch. It requires skill -- but also plenty of good fortune. A brand new ball game starts on Tuesday afternoon, and any of these eight squads could walk away as a champion.




• The Twins will be the first team ever to participate in the postseason after taking sole possession of first place for the first time all season on the final day.

John Smoltz won his 16th game of the season to tie Aaron Harang, Derek Lowe, Brad Penny, Carlos Zambrano and Brandon Webb for the league lead in victories. Webb lost to the Padres on Sunday in a last-gasp effort to break the logjam. Prior to this year, no more than four pitchers had ever finished a season tied for either the AL or NL lead in wins.

• Carlos Zambrano became the third pitcher in major-league history to lead his league in wins (either tied or outright) in a season in which his team lost at least 90 games (the Cubs had a 66-96 mark). The others were Phil Niekro, 21-20 for the 1979 Braves (66-94) and Steve Carlton, 27-10 for the 1972 Phillies (59-97).

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