Five keys for A's in postseason
Greater expectations shadowed that 2006 squad, and these A's, of the baby-faced type, are relishing their status as the underdogs, knowing full well that they've placed the pressure on the other side.
Even still, plenty will have to go right for the A's to keep rolling in the fashion that led them to a win in Wednesday's de facto American League West title game against the Rangers. To expand, here's a look at five of those key factors:
Keep it loose
A's general manager Billy Beane hasn't always been the biggest believer in team chemistry being a leading factor in success on the field, yet it's hard to deny the role it's played on this A's squad, which has thrived on clubhouse culture.
This loose environment, very much supported by the veteran face of Jonny Gomes and manager Bob Melvin, who has preached the "one day at a time" mantra since Spring Training's inception, will be key for the young A's as they embark on a pressure-packed postseason.
It's what allowed them to get through a grueling 10-game September road trip through Detroit, New York and Texas unscathed, and it helped them win out in their final six contests, the last three against the Rangers, to claim the division.
"All the way down from Bob to the players, one thing that's unique about this group of players is that it really has operated on one day at a time, and I know it sounds cliché, but I think it's true," Beane conceded.
Never looking too far ahead, the clique-free A's have maintained the ability to play for the day and to do so with a sense of urgency, all in support of each other and not for one's self.
Rookies pitching like veterans Oakland's starting staff is incredibly young, and aside from Brett Anderson, who appears primed for a return to the mound in the postseason, all of the A's available starters are rookies, which would unnerve most managers. Yet Melvin's confidence in them, along with undeniably strong talent, has gotten them this far, so there's no reason why the A's don't see that success continuing past Game 162.
The under-26 crowd of Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone and A.J. Griffin, all of whom are expected to garner starts in the Division Series, radiate composure beyond their years, a calm collectiveness that should steer them in the right direction, even when things get dicey.
That being said, they'll have to push aside the numbers that suggest Detroit's hitters own the advantage. Oakland's staff compiled a 5.61 ERA against the Tigers -- who hit them for .298 -- this year, the second-worst mark vs. Detroit in the league, not to mention the A's worst ERA against any AL club.
Slamming the door
This job belongs to the bullpen, which often proves to be a team's most valuable asset during the playoffs. Good thing the A's are equipped with one of the best in the league, a quality that should carry them far in the postseason, so long as their arms don't fall off first.
Oakland relievers racked up plenty of innings in the final month, what with starters' arms naturally wearing some down the stretch. For the most part, they completed them with ease, particularly in the memorable three-game set with the Rangers this week, their 12 1/3 shutout innings arguably the difference-maker in the sweep.
Closer Grant Balfour's ninth-inning efforts were tremendous, as were the ones that came from the setup duo of lefty Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook. Balfour and Cook worked five straight days through Wednesday, so here's hoping they garner plenty of rest by Saturday.
"This many games in a row is a little uneasy as far as the feeling goes, but that's why you try to rest guys through the course of the season," Melvin said. "Once you get here you're playing on adrenalin and everybody wants to be out there and contribute to something like this."
Crisp on the bases
Coco Crisp's value to this ballclub is often overlooked, perhaps because his table-setting ways at the top of the lineup are simply expected. The A's are a different team with a healthy Crisp in tow, and his production could ultimately dictate that of the team's in the coming days.
So it goes without saying that the speedster needs to find ways to get on base and as much as possible, particularly if the A's have to resort to a dose of small ball if playing for the long ball isn't in their favor on any given day.
Hit for the fences
For as much as these A's struck out during the regular season, an American League-record 1,387 times, they ultimately hit enough home runs (195, including 112 after the All-Star break) to compensate for so many swing-and-miss outs.
They'll need to rely upon the long ball, yet again, to stay alive in this race, particularly when facing one of the league's best pitching staffs in the Justin Verlander-led Tigers.
"Pitch, play defense and hit homers, that's what we do," Gomes said.