OAKLAND -- Perhaps there was never any way for the A's to top the magic of a 2012 season that saw them shock the world and win their division on the final day of the regular season. But they sure did try.
2013 brought about just as much success for the underdog A's, whose encore performance included two more wins than the 94 tallied a year before. It also ended the same way: a Game 5 loss to Justin Verlander and the Tigers in the American League Division Series.
Disappointment from that decisive affair perhaps temporarily clouded the memorable moments that came before it. But as the calendar flips, it's worth taking a look back at the top storylines that defined the A's year:
5. Beane goes shopping
General manager Billy Beane acted swiftly in his quest to improve a 96-win club that fell just one win short of a trip to the AL Championship Series. Before the year was even over, Oakland's general manager had already applied quite the makeover to his roster, flooding the offseason transaction wire in a frenzied 10-day span in December. First came the signing of Scott Kazmir to a two-year, $22 million contract, the largest ever given to a pitcher by the low-budget A's. Closer Jim Johnson, who has totaled 101 saves in the last two years, arrived just hours later via a trade with the Orioles, who got second baseman Jemile Weeks and catcher David Freitas in return. These moves rectified the losses of All-Stars Bartolo Colon and Grant Balfour, but Beane still wasn't done.
The wheeling and dealing continued with the acquisition of speedy outfielder Craig Gentry from the Rangers, at the cost of top outfield prospect Michael Choice. Seth Smith then left for the Padres, so that the A's could call setup man Luke Gregerson theirs. Beane remained busy at the Winter Meetings just days later, trading away hurlers Brett Anderson and Jerry Blevins in two separate moves, getting a handful of youngsters in return: pitchers Drew Pomeranz and Chris Jensen from the Rockies and outfield prospect Billy Burns from the Nationals.
4. Ageless Colon enjoys All-Star season
Beane's decision to bring back Colon on another one-year deal, just months after the right-hander was slapped with a 50-game drug suspension, was understandably met with much skepticism. Colon was to be 40 in May, and why trust that he could not only pitch at that age but do it without the help of performance-enhancing drugs? The 17-year veteran proceeded to go 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA, striking out 117 and walking 29 in 190 1/3 innings. He made 30 starts and earned an All-Star nod for the first time since 2005.
Those efforts led to a nice pay day for Colon, who left the A's as a free agent and signed with the Mets for two years and $20 million.
3. It's always Sonny in Oakland
Sonny Gray was a first-round Draft pick for a reason, but it seems no one could have predicted just how quickly he'd impact this A's team. Called up for a cup of coffee in the bullpen in July, Gray was back in the big leagues in mid-August, impressing enough in 10 starts to get the nod for Game 2 of the AL Division Series against Verlander.
Gray, just 23 and the sixth rookie in Oakland history to start a postseason game, wowed a nation, fanning nine over eight scoreless innings in a memorable pitching duel and eventual A's win. Though Verlander won the next battle in the decisive Game 5, Gray's efforts weren't forgotten, and they offered more than a glimpse of what's to come in Oakland for several years.
2. Donaldson enjoys breakout year
Josh Donaldson was just a catching prospect a couple of years ago, and not a highly-touted one either. Now he's considered one of the best third basemen in the game, after finishing his first full season as a big league regular batting .301 with 24 homers, 93 RBIs and three walk-off hits in 158 games, while flashing exceptional defensive work at the hot corner.
No one was more valuable to the A's than Donaldson, who captured fourth place in AL MVP Voting, only behind winner Miguel Cabrera and fellow sluggers Mike Trout and Chris Davis.
1. Another season, another division title
Despite their stance as defending AL West champions, the A's weren't considered favorites to win the division again heading into 2013. On paper, they appeared inferior to the Rangers and Angels, mostly because they lacked any of the game's sexy names. But it didn't matter, because they proved to be the more complete team, relying on enviable depth and a wondrous platoon system that not only allowed the A's to claim the AL West but run away with it, surprising a lot of people along the way -- again.