A View from Studio 3: Overlooked A's have attitude
Defending AL West champs might not get a lot of coverage, but they get results
PHOENIX -- I'm stepping away from Studio 3 for a while. This week's view is from the sun-splashed baseball fields in Phoenix, where the American League West champion Oakland Athletics are getting stretched out for the long haul.
Under perfectly blue skies, this club goes about its business with complete confidence and a bit of attitude. The A's have confidence because they've won two straight division crowns. The A's have attitude because they operate with a chip on their shoulder -- in a good way. You would also have an edge if year after year, you were overlooked in favor of clubs with bigger checkbooks.
"I guess we've put the pressure on other teams to the point where they feel like they have to make blockbuster moves and go out and spend a ton of money to try to recapture the [AL] West," said A's reliever Sean Doolittle.
As was the case during Spring Training in 2012 and '13, the lion's share of the media attention is on other clubs in the AL West.
"The first year I got here, it was [Albert] Pujols, then it was [Josh] Hamilton, now it's [Robinson] Cano," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "A lot of guys are coming into our division, so you do notice it, but it doesn't weigh on our minds too much, because we're more concerned with ourselves than the other teams."
When it comes to the A's bullpen, other teams better be concerned about Oakland. The front office reloaded the 'pen to create perhaps the most complete unit in the Majors. And this comes after the A's had the third-best bullpen ERA (3.22) in the AL during the 2013 season.
Newcomers Jim Johnson, Luke Gregerson and Eric O'Flaherty (expected to be healthy by midseason) join the likes of Doolittle and Ryan Cook. Getting acclimated to new surroundings doesn't appear like it's going to be an issue for these veteran additions. Gregerson, who posted a sub 3.00 ERA for three straight years with the Padres, is excited to be part of a team that's in contention on a regular basis. And Johnson points out that all relievers have a common bond.
"We all have a screw loose, so we all fall in line together," said Johnson, the Major League saves leader in 2012 and '13. "Once we're on the fields together killing some down time, you get more comfortable with each other."
Before the A's acquired Johnson in a trade, left-hander Doolittle was considered a possible replacement for former closer Grant Balfour, who signed with the Rays. That didn't happen, but it's not a big deal. While closers grab headlines, gain fame and often become the face of the bullpen, Doolittle speaks for a unit that doesn't tally individual accolades.
"We don't care if one guy gets singled out or not," Doolittle said. "As a unit, we want to be able to say we were the best in baseball and lived up to the hype that people were talking about in Spring Training."
Doolittle's maturity is only part of an impressive package. With only two big league seasons under his belt, the 27-year-old caught Melvin's attention from the get-go. Not just in what he does on the mound, but how he does it. Melvin also points out that Doolittle is not just a lefty specialist.
"You look at his numbers, and he gets righties [.214] out a little bit better than lefties [.230], so as far as the maturation process, he's been on it from when he got here," Melvin said. "He's been the same guy. It has to do with who he is as a person. He has a lot of confidence in himself."
Doolittle also understands that when he's away from the field, baseball doesn't define him.
"I appreciate absolutely every minute I have up here and I want to have fun with it," Doolittle said. "I get the chance to live a dream. I don't want baseball to be everything that defines me. I'm not just a baseball robot. "
But between the lines, Doolittle represents what the entire Athletics team does best: focus on the task at hand.
Nothing else matters.
"We have one main goal," said Doolittle. "From a bullpen standpoint, at the end of the year we want people to talk about how we had the best bullpen in league, that we were a shutdown bullpen."