Oakland A's MLN: Playoff-Bound

Three of the Oakland A's four full season affiliates are headed to the playoffs, while the fourth is clinging to a lead for the final spot. We have the details on the post-season plans and other news and notes from around the system inside...

In what has become almost an annual affair over the last nine years, the Sacramento River Cats clinched the Pacific Coast League's Southern Division title over the weekend. The division title marks Sacramento's seventh in nine years. The River Cats will attempt to defend their 2007 PCL and Triple-A championship starting next Wednesday, September 3rd when their first round best-of-five series begins at Raley Field.

If the season were to end today, the River Cats would take on the Salt Lake Bees in that first round series for the second consecutive year. Last season, Sacramento overcame an early 0-2 game deficit to win three straight and shock the Bees on the River Cats' way to the finals. Sacramento began that series on the road. This year, the series will begin with two games at home. Tickets for the series are available from the River Cats at http://www.rivercats.com or at 916-371-HITS.

Sacramento went 2-3 in a five game series against rival Fresno that began on Wednesday and went through Sunday. Lefty Brad Kilby had a hand in both of the River Cats' wins, earning a save on Wednesday and the win on Saturday. Kilby has spent the entire season in the River Cats' bullpen and he has a 7-2 record with a 3.24 ERA and one save in 66.2 innings. He has struck-out 64 and walked 22. Kilby, a 2005 29th round pick out of San Jose State, is a candidate to be added to the A's 40-man roster this winter. He has held PCL batters to a .202 average this season and has been particularly tough on lefties, who have hit only .167 against him.

Outfielder Aaron Cunningham had a big series versus Fresno, as well. He appeared in four of the five games and went six-for-15 with a homer and three RBIs. Since being promoted to Triple-A in early August, Cunningham is batting .327 with four homers and a 1033 OPS in 15 games (55 at-bats). For the season, Cunningham is batting .318 with 16 homers, 61 RBIs, 15 stolen bases and a 913 OPS in 102 games for Midland and Sacramento.

Stockton Heading To The Post-Season, As Well

After missing the playoffs in 2007, the Stockton Ports are heading back to the post-season in 2008. The A's High-A affiliate clinched a playoff berth with a 7-5 win over Visalia on Sunday. Chris Carter led the way offensively with three doubles and Corey Brown and Jermaine Mitchell both homered in the win. Playoff tickets can be purchased from the Stockton Ports at http://www.stocktonports.com or at (209) 644-1900.

Carter snapped a one-for-33 slide with his three doubles in five at-bats on Sunday. The corner infielder has seen his average slip to .259 with the slump, but he still has a robust 923 OPS and he is sitting on 99 RBIs for the season. His 36 homers are a Stockton Ports' single-season record and Carter has one more week to try to top the 40-homer barrier. He leads the Cal League in homers by 10 and in RBIs by three. His OPS is fourth-best in the league.

Brown struck-out four times on Sunday, but the one time he made contact, he made it count, going deep for the 14th time this season. Brown has homered 14 times in 41 games for Stockton after hitting 14 homers in 85 games with Low-A Kane County to start the year. He has a week to hit two more homers and reach the 30-homer plateau for the season. Combined with Kane County and Stockton, Brown is batting .263 with 28 homers, 80 RBI, 13 stolen bases and he has an 844 OPS.

Although he is 0-for-his-last-eight, Josh Donaldson has continued to shine since he was acquired from the Chicago Cubs. The catcher is batting .348 with a 1003 OPS in 41 games for the Ports. He has eight homers and 35 RBIs during that time. Before his recent mini-slide, Donaldson had a four-game hitting streak during which he went seven-for-18 with four doubles and three RBIs.

Matt Spencer has also thrived since joining the Ports after a trade. The former Phillies farmhand is batting .329 with five homers and 20 RBIs in 34 games for Stockton. Over his last 10 games, Spencer is batting .310 with six RBIs. He had a double and a triple on Sunday and has hit safely in eight of his last 10 contests. The only blight on his record with the Ports thus far has been his plate discipline, as he has struck-out 33 times and walked only four times in 140 at-bats.

Archie Gilbert has been a quiet force for Stockton all season. The outfielder has had two separate hit streaks of 20 or more games and is batting .278 with a .365 OBP in 115 games this season. The speedy Gilbert has a team-leading 35 stolen bases. After being caught 12 times in 29 chances before the All-Star break, Gilbert has swiped 18 bags in 22 chances since the break. For the month of August, he is hitting .304 with an 814 OPS and 10 stolen bases.

Mike Massaro has five hits in his last eight at-bats and is batting .328 in 49 games for the Ports this season. In 88 games for Stockton, Sacramento and Midland, the outfielder is batting .305 with 35 RBIs.

Closer Sam Demel is second in the California League with 18 saves. In 63 innings this season, the hard-throwing right-hander is 4-2 with a 3.29 ERA. He has 83 strike-outs and has held opposing batters to a .225 average. In his last 10 games, Demel has four saves and he has struck-out 11 in 11 innings while allowing two runs.

Craig Italiano has put together a string of good outings since August 8th. He hasn't allowed a run in four of his past five appearances. Over that stretch, Italiano has allowed only three hits and two runs in six innings. He has struck-out 11 and walked five.

Midland Making Push Towards Playoffs

The Midland Rockhounds are holding a two-and-a-half game lead in the wild card race in the Texas League going into their game on Monday versus the Frisco RoughRiders. Midland will then square-off with the San Antonio Missions for a four-game set starting Tuesday. The Missions are chasing Midland for the final playoff spot.

Midland should get some reinforcements this week to assist in their playoff push. Infielder Jesus Guzman has been added to the Midland roster after completing his rehab assignment with the A's Rookie League team. Guzman has been sidelined since injuring his quad muscle in early July with the Sacramento River Cats. Guzman hit .467 with one homer in five rehab games in Phoenix. He batted .359 with 13 homers in 72 games with the Rockhounds earlier in the year before being promoted to Sacramento, where he hit .237 with two homers in 15 games. Mike Affronti was placed on the DL for Midland on Monday, as well.

The Rockhounds' pitching staff may also receive a boost from Olympians Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson. According to A's farm director Keith Lieppman, Cahill and Anderson are scheduled to rejoin the Rockhounds on Monday and could pitch again for Midland during the regular season. Both hurlers helped the US win a bronze medal in the Olympic Games in Beijing last week. Cahill allowed two runs in eight innings in two Olympic starts, while Anderson earned the win in the bronze medal game and allowed seven earned runs in 12.2 innings. He was second on the USA squad with 10 strike-outs.

In the absence of Cahill and Anderson, 2008 draft pick Justin Murray has done a solid job filling in for Midland. The 21-year-old right-hander has made three appearances for the Rockhounds, and he is 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA in 6.2 innings. He has allowed only four hits and one run. Murray had allowed two earned runs in 10.2 innings for the A's Rookie League team before being asked to fill-in at Midland.

James Simmons gets the start for Midland on Monday. The right-hander is 9-6 with a 3.29 ERA in 23 starts this season. He has 111 strike-outs and only 28 walks in 125.2 innings. In his last two outings, Simmons has allowed only one run in 14.1 innings and he has struck-out 15. Over his last 10 starts, Simmons is 7-2 with a 2.53 ERA and 63 strike-outs in 67.2 innings.

Jared Lansford is putting together a Brad Ziegler-esque streak for Midland. In his first 20.1 innings at the Double-A level, Lansford has yet to allow a run. He has given up only 12 hits and he has struck-out 16 while walking seven. Lansford has been used in the late innings frequently with Midland and he has five saves. Despite being with the team only since late July, Lansford is second on the squad in saves. Andrew Carignan leads the club with 22 saves.

Heading into the season's final week, Tom Everidge looks like almost a sure bet to finish with the most RBIs in the Texas League. Everidge has 110 RBIs in 128 games for Midland this season. The next closest player has 92. Jon Zeringue is second on the team and fifth in the league with 85 RBIs. Guzman, despite playing only a little more than two months with Midland, is 12th in the league with 69 RBIs. Cunningham's .317 mark with Midland is good for fourth in the league. Todd Donovan, who broke the 300 career steals mark during the season, is fifth in the league with 36 stolen bases this year despite playing in only 77 games.

Starter Vince Mazzaro, who is now with Sacramento, is likely to finish the season with the best ERA in the Texas League. He left the Rockhounds with a 1.90 ERA in 137.1 innings. Simmons is third in the league with his 3.29 mark. Simmons is also third in the league in strike-outs, while Mazzaro is eighth.

Kane County Playing Out Stretch, Readying For Post-Season

The Kane County Cougars have had their playoff ticket punched since the first half of the season when they earned a wild card berth. The Cougars have had an up-and-down second half and sit at 30-32 for the second half of the season. On Sunday, the Cougars dropped a road game to the Clinton Lumber Kings by a score of 3-1. The loss was a rare one recently for Kane County, which has won eight of 11.

A's 2008 second round pick Tyson Ross struck-out a career-high seven in only 3.2 innings, but he was hung with the loss after allowing two runs (one earned) on three hits and a walk. The tall right-hander out of Cal missed five weeks with a sore shoulder, but he has been impressive when he has been on the mound. In 14.1 innings for the Cougars, Ross has 14 strike-outs against five walks. Four of those walks came in one bad outing, an outing during which he allowed four of the eight earned runs he has given up this season. Removing that one bad outing, Ross has allowed four runs in 11.1 innings with 14 strike-outs and one walk.

Infielder Justin Frash is quietly putting together a solid season. The University of Hawaii product is batting .300 in 67 games for the Cougars. He has 23 RBIs and is batting .317 over his last 10 games.

Outfielder Toddric Johnson has already established career-highs in doubles (21), triples (4), homeruns (13), RBIs (65) and stolen bases (11) this year. The Southern Miss product is batting .280 with an 816 OPS in 101 games.

Other News And Notes:

- A's seventh round pick Brett Hunter is in Arizona working out at the A's minor league complex. A decision will be made about whether Hunter will stay in Arizona or go out to pitch for an A's affiliate once he completes a throwing program in Phoenix, according to A's farm director Keith Lieppman. The hard-throwing Hunter signed a record $1.1 million signing bonus, the highest ever for a seventh round pick, on August 15.

- Lefty Josh Outman has seen time as both a starter and as a reliever with the A's since coming over in a trade with Philadelphia in July. According to Lieppman, the A's are still weighing both directions for Outman. The lefty allowed six runs in 12.2 innings with Midland and has allowed three runs in 10 innings with Sacramento. He made his first start with Sacramento on Saturday and allowed two runs on one hit in four innings.


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