Nine times from 2000-03 the A’s went into playoff games needing a single victory to move on to the American League Championship Series. And nine times they lost.
Such an ugly recent history has to be something of a monkey on the backs of the Elephants as the 2006 postseason dawns, doesn’t it?
Um, no. Not in the slightest.
Of the 25 A’s who will suit up for the AL Division Series, only two of them — Game 1 starter Barry Zito and third baseman Eric Chavez — were with the team for all four ALDS failures. And only four others were with the team for any of those series: Second baseman Mark Ellis for 2002 and 2003, pitcher Rich Harden and backup catcher Adam Melhuse for 2003.
The four consecutive early-October exits happened three, four, five and six years ago — an eternity in modern-day baseball. Teams change dramatically from one year to the next, rendering history moot.
The true leaders on this version of the A’s are designated hitter Frank Thomas, center fielder Mark Kotsay and catcher Jason Kendall, and Kotsay and Kendall have never even been to the postseason. So much for history.
“What happens one year has nothing to do with what happened the year before,” says Thomas. “Look at the White Sox. We won the World Series last year, and most of that team was back this year and they missed the playoffs.”
Another theory you’ll hear about the A’s heading into the ALDS is that their offensive philosophy — work the count, look for walks, don’t give away outs and play for the big inning — isn’t conducive to winning in October.
It works in the regular season, goes the thinking, when you’re facing the fourth and fifth starters of bad teams on a regular basis. Not so much against the top pitchers on playoff teams.
Runs are hard to come by against aces and only the teams that know how to scratch out runs.
Problem with that thinking: These A’s have only two consistently legitimate power hitters — Thomas and Nick Swisher — and have been scratching out runs all year. You don’t win a division with the second-worst offense (statistically) in baseball without being able to scrap.
So, if those are your reasons for discounting the A’s, it’s time to come up with something else. This team has the pitching and defense you need to win in the postseason, and they’re not as bad as the experts will have you think at the plate.
No matter if it’s the Detroit Tigers or Minesota Twins, the A’s will advance. And the monkey that isn’t really there goes away.
Mychael Urban is the author of “Aces: The Last Season On The Mound With The Oakland A’s Big Three — Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito” and a writer for MLB.com.