Chemistry, leadership has been key to A's duplicating last season's success

Jonny Gomes is in Boston, Brandon McCarthy is pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Brandon Inge is out of baseball — yet the A's are just a few wins away from locking up their second straight American League West Division title.

Billy Beane's decision to part ways with three influential veterans from last year's club is proving to be a nonfactor as the team steamrolls its way down the stretch. The A's are 12-5 in September while the Texas Rangers — a team loaded with World Series experience — are free falling and at risk of not making the playoffs.

So much for team chemistry and clubhouse leadership, right?

In a sport where everything is spliced, diced and assigned a numerical value, fuzzy variables, like chemistry and leadership, are easily swept into the drain, like sewage in the A's dugout.

But if you listen to the guys in the clubhouse, chemistry and leadership are key ingredients to winning, like moving runners and working the count.

“It might mean more in baseball than any other sport,” reliever Sean Doolittle said. “We play 162 games, we play every single day. If you have guys that start turning on each other, guys that aren't buying into the team — it's not going to take long for things to unravel because you're on top of each other for eight, nine, 10 hours a day.”

In 2012, Gomes, Inge and McCarthy kept a clubhouse that used 17 rookies throughout the year loose as the A's pulled off a storybook comeback in game No. 162. While the veterans have moved on, Jarrod Parker said the culture they established has survived.

“A year later, I think we still base what we're doing — the way we act, the fun we have — around what we learned from those guys,” Parker said. "They're not here, but they're not forgotten.”

Last year, McCarthy took Parker under his wing. The 24-year-old right-hander said he picked the veteran pitcher's brain, watched how he prepared and tried to replicate his work ethic. Now, he's passing on what he learned to rookie Sonny Gray.

“It's really nice to just talk to him and see how he handled everything last year,” Gray said.

Pitcher Tommy Milone said chemistry is particularly important on a club like the A's, where the lineup is in constant shuffle. With multiple platoons and shifting roles, it's crucial that everyone sings along to the same tune, so that animosities don't fester.

“That's something that we do really well — picking each other up,” said Milone, a former starting pitcher who's currently throwing out of the bullpen. “If someone gets hurt or someone has a bad game, the other guy's going to step in and get it done.”

While this year's squad may lack the vocal leadership of guy like Gomes, catcher Derek Norris said veteran outfielder Chris Young influences the team with the attitude he brings to the ballpark.

“He's in the weight room every day, he's in the cage, always trying to get better, ” Norris said. “Being in a platoon and being in here for seven years, he could easily just check out.”

Of course, the A's are also leading the majors in home runs, slugging percentage and extra base hits over the last six weeks, which doesn't exactly hurt the team's playoff chances — Gomes or no Gomes.

Paul Gackle is a contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.

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