Season in Review: Oakland Is Still the Bay Area Baseball King
The 2013 Oakland Athletics added yet another jewel to the organization’s rich history of Major League baseball success, winning the American League West division for the 16th time since divisional play began in 1969. Simple math tells anyone the A’s have won more than a third of the division titles over 45 seasons, which is absolutely astounding considering the division had seven teams in it from 1969 to 1993.
Even in the time period when there were only four teams in the AL West (1994-2012), Oakland still managed to win five division titles in those 19 seasons — more than equal distribution might suggest if the law of averages were to hold true in baseball, which any fan knows is a tragic fallacy of the sport itself. With the five-team division format going forward from 2013 into the future, who knows how many more AL West crowns the A’s can win?
Throw in the A’s wildcard playoff spot in 2001, and the team has made the playoffs 17 times since moving to the Bay Area for the 1968 season. Oakland’s consistent winning ways — despite challenges with ownership, fan attendance, stadium issues, etc. — truly is one of the more stunning realities in MLB today, even if they haven’t managed to win a World Series since the 1980s.
It was a great season, again, for the A’s even though they lost in the playoffs too soon, as they continued to extend their winning traditions in Oakland in a way the other team across the Bay has never been able to do. Even since the San Francisco Giants opened up their new ballpark in 2000 after only making the postseason five times since moving West in 1958, the A’s have still made the postseason more often than the Giants (seven times to five) despite facing incomprehensible financial adversity time and time again.
The A’s are the consummate underdogs, the Little Team That Does and Commissioner Bud Selig’s worst nightmare — just the way the Oakland fans like it, probably. General Manager Billy Beane relishes this perception, even if he still desperately wants to win a World Series his way.
Some things will never change for Bay Area baseball, that’s for sure, as we take a quick look back at this season at the O.co Coliseum.
WHAT WENT RIGHT IN 2013: Other than a little bump in the early part of the season, Oakland was the best team in the major leagues all season, simply based on the fact they were the only squad to post a winning record in all six months of the season. In fact, the A’s now have a 10-month streak of consecutive winning months, the longest in Oakland franchise history. Even with some key injuries and slumps, the offense finished fourth in the majors in runs scored, and the pitching staff finished seventh in ERA overall. The A’s were very well rounded, and they even generated some MVP buzz for third baseman Josh Donaldson, who finished second in the AL in the sabermetric WAR (Wins Above Replacement) category, trailing only Los Angeles’s Mike Trout. Manager Bob Melvin pushed all the right buttons, again, and new rookies like Sonny Gray fit right in with the team’s already-stellar chemistry.
WHAT WENT WRONG IN 2013: Injuries happen to every team, of course. But the wrist injury suffered by right fielder Josh Reddick early in the season sapped him of his power, and the A’s could have used his 2012 batting line this year. Starting pitcher Brett Anderson continued to struggle with his health, and he’s basically become an afterthought in the rotation. And in the end, Oakland still hasn’t solved its American League Division Series hex, as the team lost yet another Game Five in the October postseason. It’s hard to complain about a 96-win season, but after two years combined where the A’s have won the most games of any team, it’s frustrating to not get a trip to the World Series out of the experience.
OUTLOOK FOR 2014: Oakland plays in a tough division, as the Texas Rangers lost a wild-card play-in game after leading the division race in early September. The Los Angeles Angels had some injuries which hurt them, but they have deep pockets to fix all their holes and will want to keep pace with the high-flying Dodgers in the L.A. baseball market. The Seattle Mariners have nowhere to go but up, and they have aggressive ownership that wants to win again. There are no guarantees in baseball, so the A’s will have to re-load a bit in 2014. All-Star pitchers Grant Balfour and Bartolo Colon probably won’t be back, as they get older and more expensive. The A’s can overcome those subtractions with players already on the roster, and hopefully Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes can get back to their 2012 stat lines. Oakland probably wants to move Jed Lowrie to second base, find a stronger defensive shortstop and re-sign center fielder Coco Crisp — while always keeping their eyes open for the right players to fit in with what Beane and Melvin are doing so well right now together. Oh, and perhaps Selig will figure out what he wants the A’s to do about a new stadium sometime soon — but don’t hold your breath.