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A's savor West title but seek greater heights

Balfour among those disappointed by ALDS exit after strong regular season

OAKLAND -- The A's put together six straight winning months of baseball, only to be taken out of the postseason picture in seven days.

Thursday marked the end for Oakland, which dropped its sixth consecutive Game 5 -- second in as many seasons to Detroit -- taking a 3-0 loss at the Coliseum to close the American League Division Series.

"I think we'll all look back and be honest and say we're disappointed," said Brandon Moss. "Last year, we were disappointed we didn't move on but more so thankful for the season we had. This year, it's beyond that. We believed, and we still believe, that we were just as good, if not a better team. We just got shut down by unbelievable pitching.

"It doesn't take away from what we did. We had a good season. We had a bad postseason."

It's a trend this franchise knows all too well, having lost nine of its last 10 postseason series. So what gives?

"Not play Detroit again," Josh Donaldson deadpanned. "I don't know. I don't have that answer."

The A's have five months to mull it over, to visualize every missed opportunity that came and went during this best-of-five ALDS. But they also have five months to reflect on a fruitful season that brought 96 regular-season wins and a second successive AL West title.

"Our guys are frustrated with the way the game went and some of the at-bats, but we still have a lot to be proud of," manager Bob Melvin said after his team's Game 5 loss. "We expected to go a little farther this year, but at the end of the day, we did have a great season. A little more disappointing this year, certainly, than it was last year."

That's because the A's expected to be back in the playoffs, not dancing their way in by some kind of miracle, much like what transpired last year.

"Obviously it's a great team, and we've done some great things over the last couple of years," said closer Grant Balfour, "but I'm not happy with the way it finished, plain and simple. I don't care what no one says. I'm not happy. I want to win a World Series. I'm not complacent."

"It's been awesome," Donaldson added, "but it's disappointing to stand here now talking about that, based on how things went tonight."

Putting aside his disappointing postseason performance, Donaldson was one of the many bright spots of Oakland's season, posting numbers -- a .301 average, .384 on-base percentage and a .499 slugging percentage -- that have placed him in the conversation for the AL Most Valuable Player Award. Ditto Jed Lowrie, who turned out to be one of the best offseason pickups by the organization.

The presence of Donaldson and Lowrie in the lineup made Oakland's offense one of the best all-around units in the AL, even when guys like Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes were struggling. Then there was the pitching, which was just as strong as it has been in recent seasons and is expected to be only better in 2014 with the likes of Sonny Gray aboard for a full season.

Gray, just 23, started 2013 in Triple-A Sacramento and finished it starting Thursday's Game 5.

"The sky's the limit," catcher Stephen Vogt said of Gray. "He's 23, already pitched in two of the biggest games of his life and answered the bell, so to speak. He lived up to all the hype, didn't cave up to pressure. He did an absolutely outstanding job.

"This pitching staff, this organization, they have such great pitching. You can see how deep the pitching was."

"That's our strength," said Lowrie. "They're a big part of what got us here. I think we accomplished a lot. We won the AL West again, and this ended shorter than we would've liked, but I thought we fought day in and day out and put together a really nice season."

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