Consistency was the mantra of the A's 2013 regular season. While individual players may have had their ups-and-downs during the year, the A's remained remarkably consistent as a team. The A's won 16 games in April, May and June, 15 in July, 14 in August and are sitting on 16 in September, giving Oakland winning months in every month this season. Through Sunday, the A's had either tied or won the season series against all but three of the teams they had faced this season.
After earning a surprise AL West title in 2012, the A's were considered a playoff contender coming into the 2013 season. Oakland spent the off-season adding several veteran position players (Jed Lowrie, John Jaso and Chris Young) to enhance what was a potent offense during the second half of the 2012 season. However, most pundits had the Los Angeles Angels (who added Josh Hamilton) or the always-dangerous Texas Rangers winning the West over the A's. Instead, it was the A's who took home the title.
By clinching on Sunday, the A's earned their earliest AL West title since they clinched after Game 154 in 1990. While their path to a division title a smooth one, it certainly wasn't "by the book." Several of the A's who were expected to have big seasons did not, while injuries also impacted the A's roster at various points during the year.
One player who exceeded all expectations was third baseman Josh Donaldson, who, at times this season, single-handedly carried the A's offense while also playing the best defensively of any A's infielder. Donaldson is in the running for the AL MVP award and currently has a .306/.388/.511 slashline with 24 homers and 92 RBI and a team-best 8.1 WAR through Sunday.
Centerfielder Coco Crisp has also had a huge impact on the A's this season offensively. Although his stolen base totals are down from the 2012 season, Crisp has provided a surprising power source. His homerun on Sunday was his 22nd of the season. He also stole his 20th base of the year on Sunday, making him the 10th player in A's history to put together a 20/20 season.
A mid-season call-up last year, Brandon Moss has been a factor for the A's all year in 2013. He currently leads the A's in homers with 27 and in SLG with a .513 mark. Moss has also provided valuable versatility, playing at first base and both corner outfield spots.
Versatility has played a major role for the A's this year. The team has been able to survive injuries to key players such as Jaso and Josh Reddick in large part because they have had a deep and versatile roster. Nearly every position player on the A's roster has logged time at more than one position this year. The A's only mid-season acquisition this year – Alberto Callaspo – also brought that versatility with him, logging time at both second and short.
Power was a big part of the A's 2012 division title run. In 2013, the A's didn't hit for as much power early in the season, but since the All-Star break, no team in baseball has hit as many homeruns as the A's. Oakland has four players with at least 20 homeruns (Donaldson, Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes and Moss) and seven in double-digits. Derek Norris and Seth Smith each have eight homeruns this season and have a chance of joining the double-digit homerun club themselves.
Through Sunday, the A's are third in the American League in scoring, behind only the Detroit Tigers and the Boston Red Sox (both of whom will be the other division title winners in the AL this year). The A's have averaged better than 4.7 runs per game this season. They trail only the Baltimore Orioles and the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL in team homeruns (180). The A's are fourth in the league in triples, tied for second in doubles and are fifth in OBP and fourth in SLG. The A's team OPS is 746, fourth-best in the AL.
That offense would have been enough to sustain even a mediocre pitching staff, but the A's have had anything but a mediocre staff this season. Led by the ageless Bartolo Colon (who currently leads the AL in ERA), the A's staff is second in the American League in team ERA, trailing only Kansas City. The A's have had the third-most shutouts in the league with 12 and have held opposing batters to the second-lowest batting average in the AL. Their starters have combined for a 3.71 ERA, second-best in the AL, while their bullpen has the third-best ERA in the AL at 3.35.
Colon has been arguably the best free agent signing of the off-season. The right-hander finished last year in disgrace, as he was suspended in the middle of the A's push for the post-season. Many believed Colon would never pitch in the big leagues again, but the A's brought him back on a $3 million deal, and he has rewarded them with 184.1 innings and a 2.64 ERA. Colon has won 17 games despite missing two weeks on the disabled list with a leg injury.
Closer Grant Balfour has also been a revelation this year. The A's struggled to find an everyday closer last season before Balfour took the reigns late in the season. Although he has struggled some in September, Balfour has been one of the top closers in the AL this season. He has a 2.72 ERA and 66 strike-outs in 59.2 innings to go along with a career-high 38 saves.
Rookies played a huge role in the A's success last year. The A's haven't needed as many rookies this season, but could feature two in their post-season rotation. Dan Straily got his feet wet in the big leagues last year, but he had his first full big league season this year. Straily has thrown 145.2 innings in the big leagues this year and he has 10 wins and a 4.08 ERA. Sonny Gray didn't make his major league debut until July this season and has appeared in only 11 big league games (nine starts). However, despite that inexperience, he has been so good in his big league outings that he might make the post-season rotation. Gray has a 2.90 ERA and 59 strike-outs in 59 MLB innings.
In the bullpen, rookie Dan Otero also figures to factor in the post-season picture. A former San Francisco Giants farmhand, Otero threw 12.1 innings for the Giants last year. He was cut during spring training by San Francisco and claimed by the A's. Oakland would eventually designate him for assignment, but he cleared waivers and remained with the organization as a non-roster player. After dominating as a closer for the Sacramento River Cats for the first two-and-a-half months of the season, he was called up in mid-June. Since then, Otero has established himself as one of the A's most reliable middle inning relievers. In 37.2 innings, he has posted a 1.43 ERA and he has walked only six.
On offense, only one rookie has been with the A's all season: first baseman Nate Freiman. Playing a platoon role against left-handed pitchers, Freiman has posted a .275/.329/.392 line with four homers in 189 at-bats. Catcher Stephen Vogt joined the team full-time when injuries struck the A's catching corps and he has provided a solid power source with a .410 SLG in 122 at-bats.
The A's will play six more games over the next week before they start their post-season run on Friday, October 4. Although the A's have wrapped up the division, they still have plenty to play for over the next week. Oakland currently has the second-best record in the American League at 93-63. To earn homefield advantage throughout the post-season, they will need to finish ahead of the Boston Red Sox (currently 95-62). To have homefield advantage in the ALDS, they will need to finish ahead of the Detroit Tigers (currently 91-65).
Oakland will play three games in Anaheim Monday through Wednesday and will finish the regular season in Seattle with a three-game series that begins on Friday.