OAKLAND -- The A's are primed for October baseball for a second straight year, after clinching yet another American League West title on Sunday afternoon at the Coliseum.
"I remember last year, a week before the season ended, people were saying we weren't going to make the playoffs," said Josh Donaldson. "This year was a little bit different. We were able to go to Texas last week and win every game, distance ourselves. I think that sent a statement to people around the league, saying, 'Hey, we're for real and we have big dreams.'"
The A's have much more than that in their pockets moving forward.
It's hard to limit the list of factors that contributed to Oakland's clinching ways, but here are 10 of them:
Beane and Co.: Known for making all the right moves at all the right times, A's general manager Billy Beane proved masterful at this yet again, taking a chance on the previously injury-prone Jed Lowrie, even though it meant giving away power bat Chris Carter and a handful of promising prospects in Max Stassi and Brad Peacock. And just when it looked like the non-waiver Trade Deadline would come and go without much fuss, Beane swung a deal for veteran infielder Alberto Callaspo, who has been a perfect fit in the A's lineup.
Speaking of the lineup, manager Bob Melvin has written out nearly 140 different ones this year, taking advantage of his multiple platoons and orchestrating them in a way that ensures the best possible matchups. He also deserves an abundance of praise for continuing to infuse belief and confidence in his team.
Donaldson's doings: No one player has proved more impactful than Donaldson, who shed his catching gear for a third-base glove less than two years ago. Playing in just his first full big league season, Donaldson has provided consistent production and plenty of power at the plate. He has been quite durable on the field, too, giving the A's a sure-handed glove at the hot corner while racking up countless web gems. Donaldson is fearless. He's clutch. And he's perhaps the biggest All-Star snub of the year. Don't be surprised to see his name on more than a few AL Most Valuable Player Award ballots.
The spark plug: Coco Crisp is the ultimate generator of Oakland's lineup, which doesn't operate nearly as well without him. Not only has the veteran continued to provide his spark-plug ways by getting on base and creating havoc all over them, but he's also enjoying his most prolific power season, having racked up more than 20 homers for the first time in his 12-year career -- all from the leadoff spot -- and 13 have given the A's the lead. Crisp raises the game of his teammates by his mere enthusiasm and full-speed approach, and it's a wonder where the A's would be without him.
The ageless arm: When the A's opted to re-sign Bartolo Colon -- even after he had been slapped with a 50-game drug suspension when testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone last year -- there was legitimate concern about his potential effectiveness as a starter without the added help. The debate about how good he could be was quickly mitigated the first month of the season, when he went undefeated. Colon only got better, even at age 40, and found himself on the AL All-Star roster. He's been as reliable as ever down the stretch, minus a small hiccup in August, and, along with Jarrod Parker, has resembled ace-like qualities. Heading into the playoffs, Melvin will have a difficult decision about who his Game 1 starter should be, and that's a good thing.
Organizational depth: The depth of every organization is seemingly tested at various times throughout the season, and how each prevails in such situations can largely impact the club's success. The A's, again, triumphed in this department, as they did last year despite the loss of players like Scott Sizemore, Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy.
Stephen Vogt, an under-the-radar acquisition in April, stepped in beautifully for the concussed John Jaso behind the plate and figures to find himself on his first postseason roster. Oakland's decision to keep Daric Barton in the organization also proved wise. When Josh Reddick hit the disabled list for a second time because of a wrist ailment, Barton was brought aboard to man first base while Brandon Moss played right field, and he's since provided his usual stellar defense along with a more aggressive plate approach that has benefited him greatly.
The bullpen: Though it's easy to dismiss their performance because of some recent struggles, the overall work compiled by Oakland's relievers has again been more than commendable. And it's why they're still considered some of the best in the league. All-Star Grant Balfour notched 26 consecutive saves -- 44 dating back to last April -- before suffering his first blown save of the season in late July. Setup men Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook have each endured separate hiccups, but more times than not, they have provided a sturdy bridge to the ninth inning. Not to be forgotten is Dan Otero, who has been a pleasant surprise out of the bullpen since his June callup.
Platoons: Building productive platoons out of spare parts is, in part, how the A's achieved a division title last year. It's also a big reason why they were able to do it again this season, and plenty of the credit goes to the front office and Melvin for perfectly managing these platoons. In doing so, they've created matchup advantages, allowing players with specific skill sets to succeed, and maximized production from them. Moss and Derek Norris are perfect examples.
Parker's continued emergence: Though there were signs as early as last year Parker could be the club's next ace, they didn't surface again this year until the end of May, following an ugly bout of struggles. It was at that time the right-hander embarked on what turned into a 19-game unbeaten streak, all the while reminding fans that he is indeed the type of pitcher a club can build around. Parker's dominance has been all the more significant with the Opening Day starter, Brett Anderson, out of the rotation, and he's likely primed for another Game 1 start in the AL Division Series.
The Lowrie trade: Less than two weeks before his club was set to open Spring Training, Beane reeled in some infield depth by way of Lowrie. At the time, it was assumed Melvin was going to have to get creative with Lowrie, who didn't have an everyday job at any one infield position but, instead, was expected to help at all of them. Yet it was Lowrie who began the season at shortstop, and it's been Lowrie who's started nearly every game there since. All the while, he's been a steady presence in a lineup that, at times, struggled to maintain consistency. Lowrie never did.
The division factor: The A's had 41 wins against AL West opponents leading up to their final road swing through Los Angeles and Seattle. Though they didn't dominate all division opponents, dropping 10 of their first 16 contests with the fourth-place Mariners, they got the job down against the Astros (15-4), and more importantly, outplayed division favorites Texas and Los Angeles. The A's entered the week a combined 20-15 against those two clubs.