A's looking to close the deal


By Mark Simon, ESPN Research

We've reached the breaking point of the Division Series, with each one shifting to new hosts for Game 3. A few teams are in need of quick fixes.

The anemic offenses of the Padres and Dodgers have the NL West representatives looking for answers and ways to get some of their better hitters (Mike Piazza and J.D. Drew among them) back on track.

Meanwhile, the Tigers and A's get to host a pair of games feeling rather good about themselves and should find the confines of home quite friendly.

The Tigers showed they belonged in the postseason with their performance in Game 2 against the Yankees -- particularly setup man Joel Zumaya, who was unintimidated by the fans in the Bronx.

The A's have shown why they were pegged as baseball's best all-around team at the preseason experts seminar on "Baseball Tonight." They've pitched, hit and come through when needed. Now, they just need to find a way to finish off an opponent so that the mocking of GM Billy Beane's "Moneyball" philosophy and its postseason failure will come to a halt.





The good news for the Minnesota Twins is that they can come to Oakland knowing they can't play any worse. The Twins committed two errors in Game 1, had a baserunning mistake and didn't move runners over when they had the opportunity. When you have two teams that are evenly matched like the Twins and A's, the one that makes the fewest mistakes is going to win.

I'm in the minority on this, but if Minnesota wins Game 3, there is no way I'd bring back Johan Santana for Game 4. He battled in Game 1 and already has thrown a lot of innings this season. Besides, the Twins need to win three games in a row, so someone other than Santana has to step up.

Minnesota already has lost Francisco Liriano, and Brad Radke is not 100 percent, so I would not take a chance on hurting Santana, who is probably still a little stiff from Game 1. I'm sure Santana will want to pitch Game 4 if the Twins win Friday, but cooler heads need to prevail. Keep him on schedule, because the Twins have had enough injuries to their rotation.

Meanwhile, the A's have used a lot of different players this year: Third baseman Eric Chavez missed some time, shortstop Bobby Crosby is out and outfielder Milton Bradley also was sidelined with injuries. Still, Oakland kept responding, and that's why the A's have the best record in baseball since the All-Star break (48-26).

Mark Ellis is one of the best defensive second basemen in the game, and despite hitting ninth in the A's lineup, his bat will be missed at the bottom of the order. (In Game 2, Oakland's 7-8-9 hitters were 5-for-12 with three runs scored; the bottom of Minnesota's order went 1-for-11.) Ellis is a big loss, but the A's have dealt with situations like this all season. Look at starter Rich Harden. He was supposed to be the ace of the staff, and he just returned in late September. This has truly been a team effort all the way around all season long in Oakland.

A's manager Ken Macha told us before Game 2 that designated hitter Frank Thomas has given this lineup the power it hasn't had since the days of Miguel Tejada and Jason Giambi. Chavez is a great player, but he's not going to hit 40 home runs. Thomas does a lot for the batters who hit in front and behind him in the lineup. Thomas hit his 12th home run of the season on June 1. By comparison, Oakland's designated hitters had 11 homers in all of 2005.


• The Tigers rallied from a 3-1 deficit against Mike Mussina, who was undefeated at Yankee Stadium over the past four regular seasons when staked to a lead of two or more runs (29-0 with six no-decisions). But Mussina is now just 5-3 in 10 postseason starts in which he has led by two runs, and his team lost both games in which he didn't record a decision.

• Here's a reality check for those who thought David Wells could spin postseason magic for the Padres: He has won two of his past seven postseason starts, including his Game 2 loss to the Cardinals. Wells made 10 postseason starts from 1995-98, posting a record of 8-1 with a 2.99 ERA. Since then, he is 2-4 with a 4.08 ERA.

Tom Glavine pitched six scoreless innings to earn the victory in the Mets' win over the Dodgers. Glavine, who has 290 regular-season wins, defeated Hong-Chih Kuo, who has one victory. Here's a surprise: Not only was that not the largest differential in postseason history, but it wasn't even close. The "record" was set during the 1925 World Series, when Walter Johnson of the Senators (397-257 at that time) defeated Emil Yde of the Pirates (33-12).

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