Josh Hamilton

Fantasy baseball: What we learned from the opening week of MLB play

With most teams just about a week into regular season play it may be a little bit early to start making assumptions and start throwing labels on players.

Nonetheless, there is still a lot of fantasy baseball knowledge that can be taken from the first week of the season and here are a few of the things that all fantasy players
should consider:

First off we learned that while starting pitchers are hit or miss, they could also make or break the outcome of your games. I’m not sure if you took my advice from a previous blog post and pulled the trigger on drafting Clayton Kershaw, but if you did I’m sure you are quite pleased. On the other hand, if you took my advice and drafted Justin Verlander or Stephen Strasburg then you are probably not as pleased, and this illustrates my point perfectly.

Pitchers do not have the same opportunity as hitters do to work themselves out of a slump, because they only play every five days and a win or loss for them can be heavily dictated by the run support they receive from the rest of their team. The bottom line is you need to keep a close eye on the performance of your pitchers, if they are struggling then do not be afraid to sit them and look for other options.

Second, we learned that drafting a star player that switched teams in the off-season could be quite risky. Josh Hamilton is a prime example of that, in his first seven games he has struggled from the plate hitting for an average of just .160 and recording just four hits and two RBIs in 25 at bats. I’m sure that Hamilton will turn it around, but do not be surprised if he has a shaky adjustment period as he learns to coexist with his new team, full of star power and big bats. Hamilton is not the only star to switch teams and struggle immediately, take for instance his new teammate Albert Pujols, who struggled in his first few months after signing with the Angels a year ago.

Lastly and most importantly, we learned that it is way too early to really judge the potential of anyone’s fantasy team at this point in the season. New stars will emerge out of nowhere, current stars will fade, players will get injured, creating opportunities for lesser known players to shine and all of that unpredictability is why we love to play fantasy baseball. Before you start bragging about how you are going to dominate all season or before you say you are already done with fantasy baseball this season, just remember that it’s not all about how you draft, it’s also about the intelligence of the moves you make throughout the entire year.

Struggling Josh Hamilton greeted by unsportsmanlike display from Rangers fans, adds fuel to fire

Josh Hamilton is currently batting .138 with three RBIs through six games with the underachieving 2-4 Angels. He has four hits and 11 strikeouts. Meanwhile, the Rangers (6-2) are in first place in the AL West and aren’t showing much decline from the team that has made the playoffs for three consecutive years, despite losing their star player and face of the franchise. After signing a $125 million contract with Los Angeles in December, Hamilton can expect to be criticized for a sluggish start.

Albert Pujols can attest to how much pressure signing a shiny, new contract can put on you, especially in a market like Los Angeles. This past weekend, Rangers fans greeted Hamilton with a chorus of boos every time he stepped to the plate in his first game at the Ballpark in Arlington with his new team. It didn’t stop there. On Friday night, Katie Hamilton, Josh Hamilton’s wife, says she was forced to call stadium security because of fan abuse during the Rangers home opener.

According to Hamilton, “They were saying personal stuff, stuff that was inappropriate with kids around.” Handmade signs taking personal jags at Hamilton, such as “Go home Hamilton, you’re drunk” were seen across the stadium. I saw another that read, “I am a true baseball fan and I get it and I burned my Hamilton jersey,” with a picture of a sapphire No. 32 jersey in flames. Many other Ranger fans chose to cover their faces with newspapers during Hamilton’s at-bats.

I understand that there are going to be many fans that feel as if Hamilton betrayed the Rangers franchise by not re-signing with them and following the cash instead. However, my initial thought was that the way in which Rangers fans conducted themselves this weekend was embarrassing. The situation reminded me of what occurred in Cleveland when LeBron chose to “take his talents to South Beach.”

I remember the initial burning of the No. 23 jerseys in Cleveland and the boos he received during his return trips to Cleveland as a member of the Heat. However, I don’t remember it getting as bad as it did this weekend for Hamilton and his family. Then, after reading more about the buildup to this weekend’s series, I was made aware of the comment Hamilton made in February, calling the Dallas/Fort Worth area “spoiled” and “not a true baseball town.”

This make it easier to see why short-fused Rangers fans, already angered by Hamilton’s move to LA, reacted the way they did. Though, I still don’t see their behavior as justified in any way. I believe Hamilton made these comments in regards to the fact that he was getting boos at the end of last year’s Wild Card loss to the Orioles, while still a member of the Rangers.

In addition, Joe Nathan, from his perch in the Ranger bullpen, kept a steady eye on the situation between Hamilton and Rangers fans, especially when Hamilton went out to play right field.

“I think him being more vocal than he should have been may have created more hype and more hostility,” Nathan told Casey Stern and Jim Bowden on MLB Radio Network. “He egged them on a little, playing with them…I hope it’s not like this every time he comes into town.” There were other reports that spoke of Hamilton making inappropriate gestures to Rangers fans while in the outfield, but Hamilton rejected these claims, stating he was making a ”football sign” instead. So there.

In the defense of Rangers fans, Hamilton certainly didn’t handle his homecoming as gracefully as he could’ve, but I still feel that it still doesn’t create an excuse for Rangers fans to continue their classless behavior every time the Angels come to town.

Recapping the opening week Silver Boot Series betwen the Rangers and Astros

The opening night of the baseball season came to an exciting start for the Astros and their fans as a young, overachieving team dominated the Rangers, a potential playoff team. The Astros lit up Rangers southpaw, Matt Harrison, scoring six runs off him in less than six innings. Bud Norris looked to be in midseason form, allowing two earned runs in 5 2/3 innings and Erik Bedard channeled his 2007 self, shutting the door by allowing but one hit over the final 3 1/3 innings. The Astros looked like a team poised to shock to baseball world, but perhaps the Rangers just had a terrible game or the Astros just severely overachieved because the next two games exemplified baseball’s polar effect.

The Rangers proceeded to win the series by giving up seven total hits to the Astros over the next 18 innings, quelling the worry of troubled Rangers fans still scarred by the loss of Josh Hamilton. Yu Darvish and Alexi Ogando proceeded to completely shut down the strikeout-prone Astros offense, as the Rangers staff K’ed 30 Astros hitters shut them out in consecutive games. In the series, the Astros also managed to break the record for the most strikeouts by a team in its first three games of the season, with 43.

Not all was bad for the Astros during the series, though. Some of the positives taken from the three games were the emergence of consistent starting pitching and the continuation of Jose Altuve’s consistency. After Bud Norris' solid performance in the series opener, Lucas Harrell held the Rangers to one earned run and six hits in the second game. In game three, Phillip Humber allowed one earned in 5 2/3 innings. In addition, Altuve is hitting .417 and gives fans hope for the Astros to send a worthy player to the All-Star game. In order to get back on track the Astros clearly have to get more disciplined at the plate (especially the middle of the lineup) and the bullpen cannot continue causing all quality starts by Astros starters to be all for naught.

For the Rangers, former Astros great and member of the “Killer B’s,” Lance Berkman, returned to Houston to pester his former team. He went 6-for-10 over the three-game series with three RBIs. Everyone knows about Yu Darvish’s 8 2/3 perfect innings and Marwin Gonzalez, a career .236 hitter, knocking a single up the middle to dash all hopes of history being made in Houston on opening week. Twitter exploded with clever puns like, “Yu mad?” and “Yu can’t always get what Yu want.” Others, such as sportswriter, Bill Simmons, stated his blunt outlook on the Astros future – “Don't worry, we'll get to see someone throw a perfect game against the Astros this season.” In order for the Rangers to return to the playoffs, others in the lineup have to make up for the offensive loss of Josh Hamilton and Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Colby Lewis need to return to form and become more consistent.

MLB predictions: Who will win the AL West?

The West looks to be a three-team race in 2013 between the Angels, A’s and Rangers.

The Astros…well…The Mariners could put together a decent .500 season on the strength of their solid rotation and bullpen. Although the lineup has serious power, it also has run production issues. Until that issue is addressed, it will be hard for the Mariners to compete with the top dogs in the AL.

I believe the Rangers will encounter more difficulty than they have over the past few seasons. They will rely heavily on Nelson Cruz, Adrian Beltre, Lance Berkman and Ian Kinsler to make up for the runs they lost with the departure of Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Mike Napoli. The lineup includes lots of aging talent, but talent, nonetheless.

Meanwhile, look for the A’s and the Angels to battle it out for the division crown. Maybe Billy Beane and “Moneyball” have convinced me to subconsciously believe in the A’s, even though they may not boast the star power other teams do. Their never-say-die style of play and extremely talented, young pitching staff has also made me very optimistic about their future.

The Angels are coming off a very disappointing season, in which they missed the playoffs after making two huge deals. This year - after the addition of Hamilton to a lineup that already includes all-stars Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo - I don’t see how the Angels don’t win the division and make the playoffs easily. The rotation will rely heavily on stars Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, but I see it being enough to get the job done.

Cactus League preview: Rangers move on without Hamilton, Giants begin pursuit of third World Series title in four years

The most exhilarating organized stretching and long toss practice of the season took place Monday afternoon, officially marking the unofficial start to the 2013 baseball season. While it didn’t take place for every team in Major League Baseball, the battery mates got the ball rolling yesterday, with a flood of more pitchers and catchers set to report. In honor of one of the single greatest days of the year, here is the reporting date for each team followed by a single sentence that summarizes each team’s 2013 campaign

Cactus League, Arizona (date pitchers and catchers due to report in parantheses):

Arizona Diamondbacks (Monday, Feb. 11)
• Did trading Justin Upton really help this team?

Chicago Cubs (Feb. 10)
• Still the Chicago Cubs, the Curse of the Billy Goat goes on for another year.

Chicago White Sox (Feb. 11)
• Can the young rotation, led by Chris Sale, lead the Sox into the postseason?

Cincinnati Reds (Feb. 11)
• The experimental move of Aroldis Champan to the rotation should be fascinating to watch.

Cleveland Indians (Feb. 10)
• The Tribe faithful are hoping Terry Francona and a new outfield, including Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, can pay dividends.

Colorado Rockies (Feb. 10)
• Carlos González will waste another year of his career playing in the mountains.

Kansas City Royals (Feb. 11)
• Royals fans everywhere are going to be enamored since the team appears to finally be out of their two-decade-long rebuilding mode and into a win-now mode after their trade to acquire James Shields.

Los Angeles Angels (Feb. 11)
• Does the addition of Josh Hamilton make this team the favorite to win the American League?

Los Angeles Dodgers (Feb. 12)
• With a 123 percent increase in salary since last July, they better win something or they’ll be a laughing stock.

Milwaukee Brewers (Feb. 12)
• Ryan Braun and the Brewers faithful pray the latest performance enhancing drug scandal doesn’t turn into anything serious, or 2013 could be a nightmare.

Oakland A’s (Feb. 11)
• Surely the extremely young pitching staff can’t lead the team to another AL West crown, can they?

San Diego Padres (Feb. 12)
• At least they play in an absolutely beautiful ballpark.

San Francisco Giants: (Feb. 12)
• Defending World Series champions brought the whole band back together to make another run. Can they win three out of four titles?

Seattle Mariners: (Feb. 12)
• Improved, but most fans will only tune in one out of every five days to watch King Felix work his magic.

Texas Rangers: (Feb. 12)
• Does the loss of Josh Hamilton remove this team from the list of World Series competitors?

Best under-the-radar moves of the MLB offseason

It is almost time.

With a week to go until pitchers and catchers begin to report to their respective camps in Florida and Arizona, the MLB hot stove is beginning to cool down with teams starting to turn their attention to the upcoming season. There are a few big-name free agents left on the market, including pitcher Kyle Lohse and outfielder Michael Bourn, so there are still options out there for teams to try and improve themselves between now and Opening Day, but for the most part, the flurry of activity is coming to an end as we head toward April.

Everyone took notice of the Brinks truck that the Dodgers backed into Zach Greinke’s driveway over the winter. We all saw the Angels bolster their outfield with the addition of Josh Hamilton.
We all heard about the trades involving Justin Upton and James Shields that have them changing addresses. Here we’re going to analyze the top three moves that mostly flew under the radar this offseason, strengthening each respective team without breaking the monetary or prospect bank.

1. Torii Hunter signs in the Motor City

In one of the very first moves of winter preceding the onslaught of activity, the Detroit Tigers upgraded their outfield by signing aging veteran Torii Hunter. While the prime of Hunter’s
career is in his rearview mirror, he proved this past summer with the Los Angeles Angels that he can still be a cornerstone, batting a career-best .313 while knocking in 92 runs. Hunter had the fifth-best Wins Above Replacement in the American League amongst position players with 5.5, which would essentially make him the second most valuable player on the Tigers roster if he can keep up that production. The Tigers made it all the way to the World Series last fall before falling to the Giants, but the addition of Torii Hunter should provide a nice boost to help
get them over the hump. Even better for the Tigers is the price tag that came with him. While the Angels signed Josh Hamilton for $125 million over five years, the Tigers added the American
League’s second most valuable outfielder last season for only $26 million over two years. He may not be the Torii Hunter of old, flashing the leather in centerfield and robbing home runs, but his
stats prove him to be a valuable asset, and the Tigers hope they can milk the last productive years out of him in the search for a World Series title.

2. The Blue Jays sign outfielder Melky Cabrera to a two-year deal

As of today, it certainly seems as though the Toronto Blue Jays were the big winners of the winter. They made a couple of blockbuster trades, including the R.A. Dickey deal, along with the massive trade they made with the Miami Marlins that landed them Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson. While those two trades certainly help the Blue Jays become instant contenders, the signing of Melky Cabrera for two years and $16 million flew mostly under the radar due to the rest of their seismic activity. Cabrera was enjoying an MVP-type season with the Giants last summer, hitting a whopping .346 before he was suspended for performance-enhancing drug use. While Cabrera may not have the type of season with the Blue Jays that he was having with the Giants, he is certainly still a valuable asset, and at $8 million a year, he is an efficient asset. Cabrera’s 2012 was an outlier in statistical terms to the rest of his career, but he’s always been a serviceable piece. If he does replicate the tear he was on in San Francisco, then the Jays may have themselves the steal of the offseason.

3. The New York Mets acquire minor leaguers Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard in exchange for R.A. Dickey

OK, so this trade may have been classified as a blockbuster when it went down, but not because of what the Mets landed. In mid-December, the Mets sent the reigning National League
Cy Young winner to Toronto in exchange for a plethora of highly ranked prospects. While Dickey being dealt did send some shockwaves through Major League Baseball, not many people
took notice of what the Mets got in return for the 38-year-old starter. In the deal, they landed the top catching prospect in all of baseball, Travis d’Arnaud, along with hard-throwing pitching
prospect Noah Syndergaard. While dealing a Cy Young winner is tough, Dickey wasn’t a typical ace. His age makes him a risk to sign long-term, and relies on the often unreliable knuckleball.
While Dickey’s last two seasons were booming successes, the Mets capitalized on his value, and in return landed the type of haul that can change a franchise's future. The Texas Rangers did an about-face when they dealt slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira to the Braves, and it would appear as though the Mets just made a similar type of deal. Yes, this trade wasn’t quite under the radar, but what the Blue Jays acquired was.

No doom and gloom for the Texas Rangers

Professional sports are a business, and fans of the Texas Rangers were reminded of that in December. Longtime face of the franchise Michael Young was traded to Philadelphia. The tip of the Rangers’ offensive spear the last five years, Josh Hamilton, left for enemy territory and signed a contract with the Los Angeles Angels. Fan favorite Mike Napoli changed zip codes and left for Boston.

While the holes left by those defections seem ominous heading into the 2013 season, Rangers fans need not fret. While the Rangers played with a full deck the last three seasons, two of which landed them in the World Series, the Rangers still have more than enough fire power to compete for a division crown and a chance to finally win their first ever World Series.

The Rangers return their top three starters from last year’s 93-win team. Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish were both All-Stars in 2012 and both held sub 4.00 ERAs through the end of the season. Jon Daniels and his staff also decided to move flame-throwing righty Alexi Ogando from the bullpen back into the rotation, where he was an All-Star and anchor through the 2011 season. Derek Holland, coming off his 175-inning campaign last season figures to have more in the tank heading into 2013, and an unnamed fifth starter out of a pool of promising prospects figures to round out what should be a rather formidable rotation. And whatever you do, don’t forget that Colby Lewis will return to the rotation at some point in the summer. He’s arguably the best pitcher in the Rangers’ recent run of dominance, and the 2012 season started going sideways almost as soon as Lewis went down with injury. His return should provide a big boost.

The bullpen lost key pieces in Mike Adams and Koji Uehara, and Alexi Ogando’s move to the starting rotation doesn’t help the cause. Even with all those subtractions, the bullpen still figures to be good enough to get the job done. Left-hander Robbie Ross figures to be ready for a more prominent role in the back end of the bullpen if he doesn’t win a rotation spot, and the signing of Joakim Soria will help when he returns from Tommy John surgery. Joe Nathan should continue to be a rock as the closer, and the free agent addition of Jason Frasor should add to the depth. The kids, including Tanner Scheppers, Wilmer Font and Martin Perez will also beef up the pen and add quality depth.

The pitching looks to be in good shape heading into spring training barring any injuries, but the offense is where the question marks start to seep in. The loss of Hamilton will undoubtedly sting, but Mike Napoli had a rough year at the dish and Michael Young was one of the statistically worst everyday players in all of baseball. Past nostalgic memories of those players don’t contribute to future success, and although their losses will be felt, the Rangers should be just fine. Healthy seasons from Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz will go a long way, and a new hitting coach, who can hopefully get Ian Kinsler back to his productive ways, will help as well. The addition of Lance Berkman to the middle of the lineup should help to ease the loss of Hamilton and the Rangers will have a couple of the best prospects in all of baseball, Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt, waiting in the wings in Round Rock if the offense gets off to a rough start. While the Rangers may not lead the league in runs scored like they did in 2012, they should produce enough to keep them in competition.

Yes, change is always scary, especially when you get away from a couple of players who were such core pieces in the franchise’s first taste of real success. But looking back at the past couple of World Series winners, it’s not always the most talented team that comes out on top. The Giants, twice, and the Cardinals were both anchored by pitching and defense with just enough offense to get the job done, and that looks like what the Rangers have heading into 2013. If the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays have taught us anything, it’s that pitching and defense matter most. Don’t fret the upcoming 2013 season, Rangers fans. Barring anything catastrophic, they will be right in the thick of things come October.

Five things to expect this winter

As quickly as it began, the Fall Classic came to a close Sunday night, as the Giants swept the Tigers to clinch their second title in three years. And while there is a long wait till April until we get to see Major League Baseball back in action, the Winter Meetings and subsequent offseason action will have more than enough fireworks to hold us over for the time being. Here are the top five things you can expect to see this winter.

1. Zach Greinke signs a monster deal.
If last year’ Winter Meetings are any indication, there is no way of knowing who will throw their hat in the ring for the high-priced free agents, and Zach Greinke’s negotiations don’t figure to be any different. The Angels are thought to be the frontrunner, who acquired Greinke at the Trade Deadline in a deal with the Brewers. The Rangers and Red Sox have also been rumored to be interested in the ace. There’s always the possibility of a dark horse candidate coming into the picture later, and the $144 million deal Cole Hamels signed mid-season appears to be the kind of deal Greinke is aiming for.

2. Shohei Otani comes state side
The 18-year-old fireballer out of Japan has already made his intentions known that he plans to bypass the NPB league in Japan in favor of signing with an MLB team, but the question now is, where does he fall? The Dodgers, Rangers and Red Sox are rumored to be the three front runners in signing the young right hander, with the Dodgers thought to have the lead amongst those in the know. What we do know is that the new CBA only allows a $2.9 million spending limit on international signings, so money will not be the most important factor in wooing Otani.

3. Josh Hamilton continues his career outside of Arlington
The former AL MVP could not strike a contract extension with the Rangers during the course of the season, and it appears as though he has worn out his welcome within the Rangers organization. A colossal slump, the dropped pop fly in Oakland on the last day of the season, or the 0-for-4 appearance in the Wild Card play-in game amongst a chorus of boos seem to indicate as much. While there certainly still is a possibility the Rangers may resign the transcendent talent, it will depend on what the market bears. The Rangers know what Josh Hamilton is good for, and also know the headaches he can cause each season. If a team decides to break the bank on Josh Hamilton for five or six years, you’ve probably seen Hamilton play his last game in a Rangers uniform. If no team does, however, the Rangers may extend a contract offer his way. This one will be interesting to watch unfold.

4. Trades, Trades, Trades
Without a crystal ball this could prove to be pretty useless, but we’ll give it a shot. Do the Diamondbacks move Justin Upton? Do the Rangers trade for Jacoby Ellsbury to replace Josh Hamilton? Is there any way the Yankees can unload Alex Rodriguez and his insane contract? Do the Angels do away with Dan Haren like they did when they sent Ervin Santana to the Royals on Wednesday? There are numerous possibilities floating around all 30 GM’s cell phones, and there is sure to be some sizeable moving and shaking going on this winter.

5. One of the games greats calls it a career
Mariano Rivera has been a boulder in the backside of the Yankees bullpen for the last 18 years, and has the all-time lead in career saves with 608. In early May, during batting practice in Kansas City, Rivera was shagging fly balls in the outfield when he buckled to the ground due to a torn ACL. While he hasn’t come out to say what his intentions are, it wouldn’t be a shock to anyone if “The Sand Man” called it a career and hung up the cleats. Rivera will go down as the best closer in the history of baseball, and is certain to be a first ballot hall of famer when his time comes. Now we sit and wait for one of the game’s greats to decide.

When asked earlier this year what his favorite rule change in Major League Baseball was, Elvis Andrus didn’t say it was instant replay. Or the designated hitter.

He didn’t say it was interleague play or the fact that the All-Star Game determines which league’s representative will get home field advantage in the World Series.

No, instead, Andrus expressed his approval of the new Wild Card system.

“All of those games make the game more interesting,” he said. “I love the idea of the extra Wild Card. Fans will enjoy that extra game and it’s a chance for another team, so it’s always good for fans to be able to see that.”

“Interesting” may not be the word Andrus would use to describe the new playoff format now.

Not after the Rangers blew a four-run lead for the second time in three days, falling to the A’s, 12-5, Wednesday at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in their regular season finale. The Rangers were swept by the A’s and did not win the American League West despite leading the division for 178 days — the most by a team that didn’t win its division since the divisional era began in 1969.

Instead of popping champagne, Texas will try to regroup in time for its Wild Card game against the Orioles in Arlington. For a team that has lost five of their last six games and nine of their last 12, that will be much easier said than done for the slumping Rangers.

Only two teams have erased deficits bigger than the 13-game hole Oakland dug itself out of to win the AL West this year, as the A’s went 57-20 (.740) in their last 77 games, winning their last six.

But even numbers as mind-boggling as those don’t explain the full magnitude of what happened in Oakland, Calif. on Wednesday afternoon.

Josh Hamilton settled under a fly ball in shallow center field off the bat of Yoenis Cespedes. What should have been an inning-ending can of corn turned into a two-run error as the A’s took a 7-5 lead in a six-run fourth inning, one frame after the Rangers pushed five runs across. The A’s would score the last 11 runs of the game.

Hamilton was one of the biggest reasons why the two-time defending AL champion Rangers were in such great position to win a third straight division title. But that moment epitomized Texas’ recent struggles. The Rangers, who held a 13-game lead over a previously nondescript A’s team and who held a 5-1 lead over this same squad before the fourth inning began, were suddenly trailing and eventually without a division crown that seemed wrapped up this time last week.

It will be interesting to see how the Rangers respond.

Rangers’ manager Ron Washington converses with second base umpire Lance Barksdale after Adrian Beltre  was forced out of second base in the third inning in a 12-5 loss to the A’s.  

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. — Josh Hamilton made one thing clear: The Texas Rangers will forget their stunning season-ending sweep at Oakland and regroup as an American League Wild Card.

So much for a third straight AL West crown. Texas needed one win against the upstart Athletics in three games, and didn’t get it.

“You guys have a hard time believing we can forget about it and move ahead,” Hamilton said. “But that’s what we get paid to do. We’ll go home, regroup and go figure out what we have to do.”

The Athletics captured the AL West with another improbable rally in a season full of them, coming back from four runs down and a 13-game division deficit to beat the two-time defending league champion Rangers 12-5 on Wednesday.

Hamilton dropped a fly ball in center field for a two-run error that put the A’s (94-68) ahead 7-5 in a six-run fourth inning. The A’s only added to Texas’ troubles the rest of the way.

“You can have all the experience as you want but when you run into a team that’s hot, experience has nothing to do with it,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said.

Texas (93-69) is headed to the new one-game, Wild Card playoff at home against Baltimore on Friday night, with the winner playing the New York Yankees in the division series.

The A’s get some time off before opening the division series in their first postseason appearance since 2006, playing Game 1 at Detroit on Saturday.

The Athletics needed a sweep and they delivered to win their first division crown in six years and 15th in all. They overcame a five-game deficit in the final nine days and took sole possession of the West’s top spot for the first time this year.

“We knew this is a beast of a team we would have to beat, and to be able to beat them three games in a row and win the division on top of it, really it’s a magical type thing,” manager Bob Melvin said.

Grant Balfour retired Michael Young on a fly to center for the final out, then raised his arms in the air as the A’s streamed out of the dugout and began bouncing up and down in the infield.

“2012 AL WEST CHAMPIONS” flashed on the scoreboard two days after the A’s clinched a playoff spot Monday and held a wild dance party in the clubhouse.

“I’m glad there’s not one tomorrow or Friday,” owner Lew Wolff said. “I can relax and go home. I’m running out of underwear.”

Players high-fived fans while taking a victory lap through the rundown Coliseum, where the outfield still has a light patch of grass from football in the venue shared by the NFL’s Raiders.

Soon, the celebratory champagne and beer made its way to the field — and players sprayed it into the stands. The A’s returned to the field almost an hour later to greet fans still gathered along the top of the dugout.

Oakland pulled off another remarkable performance in a season defined by thrilling walkoffs, rallies and whipped-cream pie celebrations by a team that was never supposed to be here.

A club that trailed Texas by 13 games on June 30. A club with a $59.5 million payroll, the lowest in baseball. General manager Billy Beane found ways to get a blue-collar franchise back to the playoffs for the first time since being swept by Detroit in the 2006 AL championship series.

Coco Crisp hit a tying two-run double in the fourth against Derek Holland (12-7) and Brandon Moss drove in three runs, including a two-run single in the four-run eighth.

Rookie winning pitcher Evan Scribner (2-0) left the mound in the sixth to a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 30,067. He allowed two hits and struck out two in three scoreless innings after replacing struggling starter A.J. Griffin.

Ryan Cook, pitching for a fifth consecutive game, gave up a double to Nelson Cruz before retiring the next three Texas hitters with strikeouts of David Murphy and Mike Napoli. Catcher Derek Norris pumped his right arm as the Coliseum fans jumped to their feet.

Norris then homered leading off the bottom of the eighth for his second RBI. It was his seventh homer and Oakland’s majors-leading 112th since the All-Star break.

“Ever since Day 1 I’ve been here, it’s been, the A’s can’t compete with the payroll, can’t compete with this team or that team,” Norris said. “We’re better off if we’re down. It just gives us the extra energy.”

The A’s join the NL West champion San Francisco Giants as division champions. The Bay Area is already buzzing about a possible Bay Bridge World Series like the 1989 championship swept by Oakland, one interrupted by an earthquake.

Hamilton’s miscue while charging forward might haunt the to-be free agent if his Rangers don’t get past their Wild Card game.

“I just missed it, man,” Hamilton said.

Murphy’s two-run single highlighted a five-run third inning that put Texas in prime position.

In the fourth, Moss drew a leadoff walk and Josh Reddick followed with an RBI double. Josh Donaldson singled and Seth Smith’s base hit made it 5-3 and chased Ryan Dempster with none out and runners on first and second.

Washington turned to the lefty Holland, a starter who was tagged for four runs in the first inning of the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader with the Angels before working into the seventh.

He retired the first two batters before Crisp’s double down the right-field line.

The only other teams to come back from at least 13 games down to win the division were the 1914 Boston Braves, the 1951 New York Giants, the ‘78 Yankees and the ‘95 Seattle Mariners.

“Anything can happen in the long season,” said Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish, who will start the Wild Card game. “That’s why we play 162 games. We’re going to forget about this and get ready for the next one.”

Now, Texas has all the pressure as they try to make another run deep into October.

These are the same Rangers who twice came within one strike of the franchise’s first World Series championship before losing Games 6 and 7 to the wild-card St. Louis Cardinals. It was Texas’ second near miss in as many years after losing the 2010 World Series to the Giants.

“We have to go win that playoff game,” Napoli said. “We didn’t come here to lose. They got it done and we didn’t, plain and simple. It’s going to be a tough road.”