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Three keys for A's vs. Tigers in ALDS

Colon looking to keep renaissance season going; Cespedes' health critical

SEATTLE -- These aren't your 2012 A's.

Those were the comeback kids, full of surprises -- the underdog darlings of the postseason.

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As manager Bob Melvin simply states, "We were hoping to get a Wild Card spot, and the next thing you knew, we had the division.

"We were just riding that emotion and certainly happy to be where we were. But the mindset was different this spring; the expectations were different."

In short, the A's expected to be here, back in the playoffs as the American League West champions. And they were expected to win, too. These are your 2013 A's, a franchise prepared to avoid another quick postseason exit.

Following Sunday's regular-season finale in Seattle, the A's are slated to resume work on Friday for Game 1 of what will be an AL Division Series rematch with the Tigers, who put a premature stop to Oakland's season last year as well as in 2006, when they swept the A's in the AL Championship Series.

Oakland took four of seven games against Detroit this season, gaining confidence in knowing it can beat a formidable Tigers rotation. But the A's will need more than that to make it back to the ALCS.

Here are three keys for the A's in the postseason:

Bartolo Colon
Consider Colon's presence on the postseason roster to be the A's biggest weapon. The A's didn't have the veteran right-hander last October, while he was serving a 50-game suspension for violating the Joint Drug Agreement, and they know he could be a difference-maker this time around, based on a fantastic regular season that concluded with 18 wins and a 2.65 ERA, which ranked second in the AL only to the Tigers' Anibal Sanchez (2.57).

Sanchez is one of several candidates to start Game 1 for the Tigers, who also have Justin Verlander -- winner of Games 1 and 5 in last year's ALDS -- and 21-game winner Max Scherzer atop their rotation. No matter, the fact that any of those starters will probably be going up against Colon makes the A's believe they hold the advantage. Seemingly nothing stirs Colon, whose demeanor will perfectly serve him in the confines of a rowdy Coliseum crowd.

Most importantly, it's Colon who gives the A's the best chance to take a series lead, something they never had last year.

No matter how well Colon and his rotation-mates perform, the bullpen's ability to follow with shut-down innings is paramount to the club's success, particularly when it comes to the typically dominant back-end unit comprised of closer Grant Balfour and setup men Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle.

Each has endured periods of struggles this year, and this is no time for those woes to resurface. All seem to be on track heading into the postseason, notably Cook, who is finally coming out of a two-week stumble, and that's great news for the A's -- not to mention bad news for a Tigers club that has watched its own bullpen falter one too many times this season.

Entering the mix this time is lefty Brett Anderson, who outdueled Sanchez in Game 3 of the ALDS last year. Oakland's Opening Day starter has found a new -- albeit temporary -- home in the bullpen following four months on the disabled list, and his versatility as a reliever could be a real asset for the A's. Moreover, the club's ability to weather Anderson's absence for most of the season is a testament to the rest of the rotation and the depth it boasts, and it's no secret that postseason success begins, and often ends, with starting pitching.

A healthy Yoenis Cespedes
Cespedes is the heart of the A's lineup. No matter how many other working parts they have, a healthy Cespedes makes it function better. That's why his ailing right shoulder, which kept him out of the lineup for the final two games of the regular season, is a concern for an Oakland team that went 83-51 with Cespedes in the starting lineup and 13-15 when he didn't start.

The Cuban slugger didn't have the monster year many expected of him, but he did enjoy a highly productive September that has the A's believing he's finally turned a corner. It couldn't come at a better time, but that won't matter if he's not healthy.

Cespedes proved he could handle October as a rookie last year, hitting .316 (6-for-19) with two RBIs in five games during the ALDS. And his ability to hit a home run at any given time is a big boost for the A's, who have relied so much on the long ball in recent months.

Jane Lee is a reporter for Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB.

Oakland Athletics, Grant Balfour, Yoenis Cespedes, Bartolo Colon, Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle