OAKLAND -- Just as the so-called critics made a habit out of writing off the A's before they even stepped on the field for their first preseason workout, so too did the green and gold of proving them wrong.
Oakland dealt the biggest blow to the naysayers on Monday by way of a playoff-clinching victory over the Rangers, who were supposedly going to fight to the finish line alongside fellow money-spender Los Angeles. The A's, it seems, had other plans in mind, erasing a sizable early-season deficit in the standings to land their first playoff berth in six years.
"We were underestimated by everybody across the board," outfielder Coco Crisp said. "It's OK, because we knew what we had in here, the young talent, and we went out there playing as a team, loving each other all the way through."
Their work not complete, the A's are already looking ahead at their next task at hand, a division crown. In the meantime, it's worth taking a look back at 10 reasons why they have that opportunity.
Oakland dealt three All-Star pitchers in exchange for multiple prospects last winter, this after the Angels and Rangers had restocked their roster with stars. The team took much criticism for this, as it signaled something of a rebuilding effort, yet each move has worked out better and much sooner than anticipated, with several of the return goods -- outfielder Josh Reddick, catcher Derek Norris and pitchers Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone and Ryan Cook -- giving the A's tremendous performances all season long. Not to be forgotten is the late-August acquisition of Stephen Drew, a nice offensive upgrade at shortstop.
Rookies on the mound
The A's used 19 rookies, most in the American League and second most in Oakland history. Of that group, an Oakland-record 12 were pitchers, and five currently make up the club's rotation, which has been one of the best in baseball. Together, A's rookie pitchers combined for more than 50 of the team's wins.
Moreover, on the offensive side, rookies (led by Yoenis Cespedes and Chris Carter) have accounted for nearly 60 home runs, making the A's just the second team in Major League history to have rookies combine for at least 50 wins and 50 home runs in the same season. They're also the first to make the playoffs with as many as 70 starts from rookie pitchers, having received nearly 100.
The long ball
Whereas home runs used to be at a premium in Oakland, this A's team has revived the long ball, getting several from up and down its lineup. Previously restricted to small ball because of their roster makeup, the A's suddenly had the luxury this year of waiting on the long ball and the mindset that one could come at any time from any player, and many ended up being the difference-maker in close or tied games. With Cespedes, Reddick and Brandon Moss all past the 20-homer mark, the A's employed three players with 20 or more home runs for the first time since 2006.
It begins at the top
Besides engineering ingenious trades in the offseason that resulted in a plethora of effective players for the present, A's general manager Billy Beane and Co. made all the right moves at the right times this year, bringing in the likes of Moss, Carter and Brandon Inge, all of whom greatly contributed to wins immediately upon their arrival.
Then there's Melvin, who utilized them as best as he saw fit, and whose calm demeanor has helped these A's weather the storm of an up-and-down season. His ability to get the best out of each of his players, and to instill belief in them since Day 1 that they're contenders, should lend him deserving support for the AL Manager of the Year Award.
The A's have posted the best record in the Majors since June 2, the date they snapped their season-high nine-game losing streak and fell to eight games below .500. That alone should speak volumes about this club's resiliency, which was also seen during the countless times of turnover, whether it was expected or not.
This was the case when Bartolo Colon was erased from the active roster because of a drug suspension and Brandon McCarthy was sidelined after taking a line drive to his head and undergoing emergency brain surgery. Others stepped in and made seemingly tough transitions smoother than expected.
The fun factor
There's no downplaying team chemistry with the A's, who used it all season long to their advantage to create a relaxed environment that proved friendly to all of the new and mostly young faces. They thrive on being loose and lighthearted, always quick to mention how much fun they're having and to replace a negative thought with a positive one. The personality of the A's has remained constant through all of the ups and downs -- and there have been plenty -- that have led them to this point.
One or two platoons -- as is typical for a team to employ -- just wasn't going to do for these A's, who at one point or another this season utilized platoons at catcher, first base, second base, shortstop, third base and designated hitter. Most of those are still intact, a rare trait to have for a team geared for the playoffs.
The credit goes to Melvin, who has perfectly orchestrated these tandems on a daily basis in an effort to allow each of his players, no matter if they're the everyday type, to succeed. Just ask Jonny Gomes and Seth Smith, who have combined for productive at-bats while alternating at DH, or Moss and Carter, the first-base duo that has totaled nearly 40 home runs.
The Cuban missile
Cespedes won't reel in as much support for the AL Rookie of the Year Award as will the Angels' Mike Trout, but his value to the A's is unmatched. Essentially an unknown commodity entering the season -- given the fact he had never faced big league pitching -- Cespedes quickly quieted the doubters, and he has showcased tremendous power in the middle of the lineup and rare athletic ability seen on the bases and in left field, where he's made all the right adjustments. The A's have not had this type of threat in their lineup in years.
Like the rest of the club's parts, this squad is young, yet age hasn't been an issue for one of the game's best relief corps.
The bullpen is led by its eldest member, veteran righty Grant Balfour. Lefty setup man Sean Doolittle was manning first base in the Minors a year ago, while Cook, his right-handed counterpart, was an unknown entering Spring Training and managed to find his way onto this year's All-Star roster. Southpaw Jerry Blevins is enjoying his best season yet, and complementary additions Evan Scribner, Jim Miller and Pat Neshek have equated to consistently strong performances, which was key for an A's team that has played in so many close games.
Success on the road
After posting a dismal 31-50 ledger away from the confines of the Coliseum last year, the A's made it their mission to improve on that mark, and boy did they ever, going 44-37 on the road during this inspiring campaign. This while throwing rookie after rookie on the mound, where intimidation never proved to be a factor for them. Moreover, a powered offensive bunch took advantage of playing away from the Coliseum, a pitcher-friendly park, and tallied 103 home runs on the road.