A's second straight AL West title a true team effort
Club wins division for sixth time under GM Beane utilizing Melvin's platoon system
OAKLAND -- There was a bear hug waiting for third-base coach Mike Gallego, whether he wanted it or not. A.J. Griffin hoisted him up in the air while dousing him with beer. Sean Doolittle ran wild like his beard, while Brett Anderson helped Sonny Gray pop more bottles. Stephen Vogt had a hug for just about everybody.
Then there was Billy Beane, crowded into a corner, but nowhere near this perfect mess of a party. The A's general manager was surely enjoying the moment, but from afar, with daughter Tinsley in his arms. He's not new to this rodeo.
Beane has run the A's for 16 years, and his club solidified the American League West title for the sixth time under his helm on Sunday when the Rangers lost to the Royals. The A's then beat the Twins, 11-7.
"They're all good," Beane said. "But it's like asking, 'Who's your favorite child?' Each one is no less better than any other one."
The A's won the West last year, too, but not until the final day of the season when Oakland beat the Rangers to push Texas into second place. It was an emotionally draining year for the A's, who ultimately fell to the Tigers in Game 5 of the AL Division Series -- bringing back memories of their four consecutive ALDS appearances from 2000-03.
All went to Game 5. "We lost all of those, too," said Beane, smiling.
Oakland, in fact, hasn't won a game past the first round since 1992, but this year's club feels equipped to finally find its way over that bump, whether or not outsiders believe it can.
"This right here," said Josh Reddick, "it proves to a lot of people around this league that we're not just some other team. We're No. 1, and we've proven that back-to-back years after being pushed on the back burner. Hopefully they realize that. At the same time, if they don't want to take us serious, we're going to keep doing what we're doing."
What they're doing is winning, and in timely fashion, with consistent play that has them primed for their 25th postseason appearance in franchise history. Only the Yankees, with 51, and the Dodgers, who have secured 27, have more in that time.
In recent years, Beane has done it with few resources. And as much as he exemplifies financial wizardry, so, too, does his manager with platoons. For a second straight year, Bob Melvin has relied on them since Day 1.
"It works. We're not playing every day, but we're playing often," said second baseman Eric Sogard. "That system seems to give us the best opportunity to succeed as players, and we're thankful for that. It's not something that's done around the league, but it's working here, and we have a great group of guys that buy into it, and it's been fun for us."
"As much as everyone would love to be in there every day and make an impact, that's just not the way it is," added catcher Derek Norris. "It's a system that they've got here, and there's so many guys that get to portray their talents. Sometimes it may not be in an everyday fashion, but it's in a fashion that, every night, it's someone new coming up with the big hit, the big play, the big inning."
But to fully appreciate these A's is to also value what some of the few everyday players have meant to this club. Take Josh Donaldson's quietly brilliant season, for example. He started the year batting seventh in Oakland's lineup. Now his name's only found in spots two through four, and he's just as big a threat as Yoenis Cespedes.
Donaldson hasn't only turned in the best performance -- both defensively and offensively -- by any A's player this year, but it's been one of the most impressive in the league. His partner on the left side of the infield, Jed Lowrie, hasn't been as flashy, but he, too, has maintained a type of consistency that was hard to come by in Oakland's lineup this year. Just ask Reddick and Cespedes, who struggled after monster 2012 seasons.
Cespedes is seemingly coming around again, and at the right time. So is Coco Crisp, whose first-half struggles are easy to forget when looking at the numbers he's put up in recent weeks, including 12 home runs in his last 29 games. But even when their woes escalated, the A's hardly missed a beat. That was also true when Reddick, Anderson, John Jaso and Norris all went down to injury at different times.
"This team is probably a little deeper than the last," said Beane. "We were a pretty flexible club last year, but I'd say this year's team is slightly deeper with some of the guys we can bring off the bench."
"Our team is so deep in every aspect that there are so many guys we can lean on," said reliever Jerry Blevins. "And the fact that we don't have to lean on any one player in any role is huge."
The A's, who are also stacked in pitching, will maintain this approach, along with their one-day-at-a-time mantra, heading into the postseason under Beane and Co.
"We're pretty balanced," said Beane. "They don't get too high, they don't get too low, and we haven't had a losing month all season. That's hard to do in a baseball season. They've been very consistent. Even when they didn't play well, they found a way to put it behind them and look to the next day. Bob says all the time that the next day is the most important day. That's all we're focused on. The players, that's how they play."