The 2012 Oakland Athletics were picked by just about everyone to finish in last place, and experts agreed they’d be lucky to win 70 games. In late May, the team suffered a nine-game losing streak, and on May 31, they had a 24-32 record.
But then something clicked: the A’s won 70 of their final 106 games, overcame a 13-game deficit in the division, and became the first team in history to erase a five-game deficit with only nine games to play.
The playoffs didn’t go right, and that’s the breaks: everyone knows the baseball postseason is more about fate and fortune than it is about anything else. Teams don’t play well for 162 games, only to collapse in a five-game postseason series.
Sadly, only those who don’t understand baseball believe the postseason defines everything, and while the hardware of the playoffs lasts forever, teams that make the playoffs in the first place have accomplished more than what two-thirds of the league has.
Oakland now has won 15 division titles since 1969, and only two teams have done better historically (the Braves and the Yankees). That says a lot about the A’s season this year.
WHAT WENT RIGHT IN 2012: Pretty much everything broke Oakland’s the way the final four months, so it’s hard to pinpoint anything specific here in a season where the team won 94 games. But team chemistry was one of the big stories for this team in 2012, and many guys coming together – rookies, veterans, castoffs and pretty much anyone who put on the uniform. Credit two people for this: general manager Billy Beane for assembling the pieces, and manager Bob Melvin for using them properly, over and over again. This team never quit, and it paid off with a stunning resiliency. The A’s led the majors with 14 walk-off wins in the regular season, and they did it with the lowest payroll, too. The Oakland return-on-investment this year was easily the best in MLB.
WHAT WENT WRONG IN 2012: For a team that won 94 games, a lot went wrong – Bartolo Colon’s drug suspension, injuries to a lot of starting pitchers that forced the team to rely on rookies for a MLB-record 101 starts, and a slow start that left the team deeper in the standings than any team would really want to be. The A’s cost-conscious ways force them to take chances on players that come with such risks, sadly.
OUTLOOK FOR 2012: In all honesty, the A’s won’t sneak up on anyone in 2013. Both the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels will greatly outspend Oakland, and those two teams will be favored to finish ahead of the A’s again next season. And maybe deservedly so, because it’ll be hard for Oakland to recreate this kind of magic. But the league and its players saw something this year at the Coliseum they may consider when looking for a new home: team camaraderie, spirit and success in a place where there hasn’t been a lot of that going on lately. Can this help the A’s attract more free agents who come with less risk than guys like Colon? Only if ownership is willing to spend a little more. Signing Yoenis Cespedes was an interesting move, and it paid off tremendously. Beane will need to pull off more signings like this to help the A’s capitalize on the momentum of 2012. If Oakland can also use this success as a springboard to getting a new stadium deal, somewhere, that would be a plus, too.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.