Teammates wait for Oakland A’s right fielder Stephen Piscotty at home plate after he hit a game-winning grand slam against the Texas Rangers at the Oakland Coliseum on Aug. 4. (Chris Victorio/Special to S.F. Examiner).

Teammates wait for Oakland A’s right fielder Stephen Piscotty at home plate after he hit a game-winning grand slam against the Texas Rangers at the Oakland Coliseum on Aug. 4. (Chris Victorio/Special to S.F. Examiner).

In an unusual year, Oakland Athletics put in their usual winning performance

Unusual years aren’t unusual for the A’s. Whether it is a record-breaking 20-game winning streak in 2002 or something forgettable like Jeremy Giambi not sliding in the 2001 playoffs, there have been plenty of quirks.

Along with those offbeat items, one thing has been consistent: The A’s win. With everything that made 2020 unusual, the A’s did their normal thing and were among the best teams in Major League Baseball.

En route to winning the American League West title for the first time since 2013, there were a few weird moments. One that went viral was when a teddy bear sitting in the stands down the left-field line was struck in the head by a foul ball. The next day, the teddy bear was back in its seat with a bandage around the wound.

Here are the top five stories from 2020:

Heated rivalry

1 The A’s and Houston Astros already had a competitive fire as they are both in the same division. But the heat was turned up in the Astros’ cheating scandal that was revealed last offseason and the key whistleblower, pitcher Mike Fiers, signed with the A’s. Emotions boiled over Aug. 9 when A’s center fielder Ramon Laureano was hit in the back by a pitch. Laureano ended up charging the Astros’ dugout after Houston hitting coach Alex Cinton began chirping from the bench. Both were suspended. After the A’s ended Houston’s run of three straight West titles, the two teams squared off in the AL Division Series, with the Astros winning in four games.

A’s shortstop Marcus Semien, a Bay Area native and former Cal star, is an attractive free agent candidate. (Chris Victorio/Special to S.F. Examiner)

A’s shortstop Marcus Semien, a Bay Area native and former Cal star, is an attractive free agent candidate. (Chris Victorio/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Bye, Billy?

2 Billy Beane isn’t getting the headlines he did in the early 2000s, when the small-market A’s were the feel-good story in MLB and the subject of “Moneyball,” the book and the movie. Included in that was a flirtation with the big-market Boston Red Sox to be their general manager. But Beane has been loyal to Oakland throughout and even holds a minority share of ownership. Now, there is reported interest in one of Beane’s companies, RedBall, becoming part of the Fenway Sports Group. It is a bigger venture, with FSG running the Red Sox and Liverpool of the English Premier League. Beane has been with the A’s since 1989. Is he ready to leave?

Free to go

3 On a team with a tight budget, players often get to a point where they get too expensive and take their talents elsewhere. The A’s entered this offseason with 12 free agents, but two names stick out — shortstop Marcus Semien and closer Liam Hendriks. Semien has overcome fielding woes from a few years ago to be a solid defender at a critical position and was an MVP candidate after hitting 33 homers in 2019. The Bay Area native and former Cal star could take a hometown discount to remain with the A’s. Hendriks, meanwhile, is unlikely to return. He was the AL Reliever of the Year in 2020 and, like Semien, will have plenty of suitors.

Oakland Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman, pictured Aug. 4 in a game against the Texas Rangers in Oakland, is a power hitter and a great defensive player. (Chris Victorio/Special to S.F. Examiner).

Oakland Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman, pictured Aug. 4 in a game against the Texas Rangers in Oakland, is a power hitter and a great defensive player. (Chris Victorio/Special to S.F. Examiner).

Star goes down

4 Matt Chapman is one of those dual-threat baseball players. Not only does he make an impact with his bat, he stymies opposing teams as one of the best defensive third basemen in MLB. Factor in his leadership in the clubhouse and you know how important Chapman is to the A’s. After having 60 homers in the previous two seasons, the right-handed slugger was having another big power year in 2020 with 10 homers in 37 games. However, his season came to an end Sept. 6 when he injured his right hip and required surgery. The two-time Gold Glove third baseman is expected to be ready when spring training begins.

Power show

5 Believe it or not, the A’s weren’t known for hitting the long ball in 2020. With sluggers such as Chapman, Semien and first baseman Matt Olson, the A’s finished ninth among the 15 AL teams and 18th in MLB with 71 homers in 60 games. But in the ALDS against the Astros, the A’s flexed their muscles. Game 3, in particular, was quite the show for the A’s. Facing elimination in the best-of-five series, they hit five homers to stay alive with a 9-7 victory. The five homers gave the A’s 10 in three games, breaking their postseason record of nine in four games in the 1989 World Series win over the Giants. The A’s added two more homers in the Game 4 loss to the Astros.

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