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Early playoff exit has A's determined to take next step

Resurgence of Colon, rise of Gray key to Oakland's second straight AL West crown

OAKLAND -- Two years in a row the A's have claimed the top spot in the American League West only to be knocked out of the first round of the playoffs by the Tigers in disappointing fashion.

They want more.

"We've beaten on this door a couple times," said manager Bob Melvin. "We actually need to kick it in."

Melvin strongly believes this A's team is equipped to take care of such unfinished business. When asked why, he didn't hesitate.

"Last year," he said, "there was kind of the novelty thing. We came out of nowhere, there were no expectations, and when you have to do it when you have expectations, you find out who you are as a team.

"To have this type of year and the same type of finish, it sucks. But you have to move on at some point. And you look back and have to be proud of what we accomplished, too. We did have a good regular season. We won more games than we did last year. We were exciting again. We won our division. Those are all good things."

The year didn't start off so good. Again, the A's lost Scott Sizemore to a knee injury, blurring an already fuzzy second-base picture in the first month of the season. By April's end, Brett Anderson was out, too, after succumbing to an ankle injury. In May, it was announced he had a stress fracture in his right foot, and he wouldn't return to the mound until August -- as a reliever.

But for the most part, the A's had health on their side, which proved to be one of the biggest factors of their continued success. Even the loss of John Jaso to a concussion in July was offset with the acquisition of Kurt Suzuki, who provided a handful of key hits upon his return.

The catching position was one of many orchestrated by the platoon, which again was a telling component of this team's makeup. The A's also utilized it at first base and second base. Designated hitter, too.

They worked, as did most other things for the A's, who head into another offseason on the heels of a 2013 campaign that, though shorted, was largely successful.

Record: 96-66, first in AL West

Defining moment: Facing a 2 1/2-game deficit to the Rangers in the AL West in late August, the A's began what appeared to be a daunting task: Head out on the road to play three in Baltimore and four in Detroit, only to return home to play another pair of contenders in the Rays and Rangers. Texas' schedule paled in comparison, so this stretch was to make or break the A's season. They went 9-4, gaining so much confidence from it all that, not only did they claim the division title shortly after, but they ran away with it. As late as Sept. 23, the A's held an 8 1/2-game lead over the Rangers, who ultimately finished five back of Oakland and missed the playoffs.

What went right: As noted, the platoons worked like a charm, particularly at first base despite the offseason loss of Chris Carter. In exchange for Carter, the A's reeled in what turned out to be one of their most consistently productive players: Jed Lowrie. ... But no one impacted the lineup more than Josh Donaldson, whose play on both offense and defense made the A's question where they would've been without him. ... Pitching continued to dominate, and the surprising re-signing of Bartolo Colon proved to be one of the club's best offseason moves. At age 40, Colon racked up 18 wins, made the All-Star team and finished second in the league in ERA (2.65).

What went wrong: Following a 32-homer breakout season, Josh Reddick struggled for much of the year, in part because of a nagging right wrist injury suffered in Houston in May. ... Yoenis Cespedes also endured his own woes, though the Cuban slugger found his groove in the final month of the season and was an integral part of the club's September success. ... Anderson's injury in the early going was worrisome for a club that relies so heavily on pitching, and though the A's were able to utilize their depth to withstand the loss of their Opening Day starter, they didn't really have a home for him when he was healthy again. Anderson ended up in the bullpen and never truly looked comfortable in his undefined role. ... $8.5 million was too steep a price to pay for Chris Young, who finished the year batting .200 in a limited role.

Biggest surprise: Donaldson's AL Most Valuable Player Award-caliber season hushed any doubts about his ability to be an impact Major Leaguer. His defense, in particular, makes even the biggest A's fan forget that he was catching Minor League games just two years ago. ... Sonny Gray's promotion and ensuing success in the big leagues, just two years after he was drafted, wasn't so much of a surprise. How quickly it happened, though, was. Gray made just 10 regular-season starts before getting the calls for Games 2 and 5 of the AL Division Series, and he figures to be front and center of the rotation for years to come. ... One of Oakland's biggest weapons out of the bullpen was a quiet March waiver claim. Righty Dan Otero, who began the year in Triple-A, was one of the better feel-good stories on the team. So was Stephen Vogt, who filled in for Jaso admirably in the second half en route to his October heroics in Game 2.

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

Oakland Athletics, Bartolo Colon, Josh Donaldson, Sonny Gray, Jed Lowrie