The A's haven't won a playoff series since 2006, getting bounced in the first round by Justin Verlander and Tigers in Game 5 of the American League Division Series in each of the last two years. This time around, they must start the process even sooner, in the AL Wild Card Game at Kansas City, only escalating the challenge of advancing not only past the first round but into the next and onto the World Series.
But there's good reason to believe these A's can make it there -- and win. Here are five reasons:
Starting rotation built for October
The A's success has typically run parallel to the depth of their starting staff, though this hasn't quite translated into the postseason, where they've too often been overmatched by their opponents' arms. But this rotation is equipped with something they haven't had in their previous two postseason losses to Verlander: their own bona fide ace. Jon Lester is just that, and he not only boasts a long postseason resume, but a dominant one.
Still missing Yoenis Cespedes? Consider this: Lester has a 2.11 ERA in 13 career playoff appearances, 11 of them starts -- and three of them World Series starts, all of which produced wins.
||KC 9, OAK 8
This is the exact reason why the A's parted with their Cuban slugger. Cespedes is no doubt a threat in any lineup, but he can't carry it on his own. Lester, though, can carry an entire team, and the guys behind him in the rotation aren't half bad, either. Jeff Samardzija, though lacking postseason experience, is perhaps the fiercest competitor on the A's staff. Sonny Gray, too, lacks similar qualities, and already has two playoff starts at the tender age of 24. Finally, don't discount Scott Kazmir, despite some second-half stumbles. The lefty was an All-Star and finished the regular season on a high note with seven strong innings in Texas. Jason Hammel, excellent of late, could also factor into this mix.
Together, they're a World Series-caliber bunch.
Don't forget about the bullpen
Oakland's pitching depth seeps into its enviable bullpen, too. Led by closer Sean Doolittle, he of a remarkable 89-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio, along with setup man Luke Gregerson and the incomparable Swiss army knife that is right-hander Dan Otero, the A's relief corps is among the best in baseball -- a vital piece of any World Series team.
In nine of the last 19 World Series, the winning team received fewer than six innings per game from its starters. The A's employ several starters destined to go even deeper than this, but they're in good hands if not. Doolittle has quickly turned into a shutdown force, while Gregerson has been equally effective in the eighth. Otero, Ryan Cook, Eric O'Flaherty and Fernando Abad are interchangeable in the sixth and seventh, rounding out a balanced attack.
When at its best, the A's platoon operation is a dangerous force, allowing the club to play to matchups every inning of every game. It's only as effective as its commander, though, and no one in the game maneuvers his men better than manager Bob Melvin, who has embraced platoons and versatility in each of the A's last three winning seasons.
Now, Oakland's offense wasn't exactly powerful down the stretch, exploiting the club's platoon system and its potential holes more so than it ever has been before. But the A's have proven that when they are firing on all cylinders offensively, they're as deep a lineup as any in the league.
Dunn's not Dunn
Adam Dunn has zero postseason experience in 14 Major League seasons but absolutely 100-percent motivation to take full advantage of his first attempt to get into the Fall Classic and win it all. This may be the veteran's final season, before he's expected to announce his retirement, and what better way to end it than with a ring?
Dunn is hungry for it, perhaps more than anyone, and so are several other A's first-timers in the playoffs -- including Gregerson and Samardzija. These are the intangibles that often define a World Series club.
Strength by adversity
In recent months, the A's often appeared as if they were headed toward a major collapse, going from a team with the Majors' best record for the better part of four months to one stuck in a complete nosedive. They held an 11-game division lead and ultimately needed Game 162 to clinch just a Wild Card spot. But they may be better for it.
The A's have proven resilient numerous times in recent years, rising to the occasion in the face of adversity, and there's real reason to think they can use this trait to their advantage in the World Series, showing doubters that, yes, they really did belong there all along.