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The Oakland Athletics, since 1999 have been one of baseball's most consistent teams, posting a record of 658-475 (a .581 winning %). Although they have been consistent, they have yet to advance past the American League Divisional Series since losing to the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992. The only problem is, they aren't as consistent as the overall numbers show.
The A's have had a history of getting off to an extremely slow start only to make it all up in the second half of the season and gain it all back en route to a playoff spot or a close second in the division.
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By the time they make up all the lost ground from early on in the season, they have completely burnt themselves out. It is sort of like not doing your homework for a class and then just cramming a study session before the test, you completely burn yourself out and don't do as well as the kid who did their homework. The reason the A's have always been so far behind has been the fact that they rely so much on their young talent to pull them through, and in baseball especially you need a little time to get used to the big leagues. Look at the A's twenty-five man rosters from the last seven seasons and you will hardly find any truly seasoned veterans in key roles. They were factoring in the learning curve while still making an attempt at getting into the postseason, and it worked. The only problem with this was that by the time the team had gotten on a run and taken hold of a playoff berth they had completely burnt themselves out and had no veterans with postseason experience to rely on to get them to the next round.
Another problem was the A's lack of depth. Considering the fact that the A's were on such a small payroll compared to the rest of the teams in the league, they were not paying bench players millions of dollars a year to play part time. Hell, they were barely, if at all, paying their full-time players millions of dollars a year. This meant that when they were hit with the injury bug, it hurt a whole lot more than, say, the Yankees or Angels or Red Sox. At the start of the A's rise to respect they were relying on guys like Gil Heredia and Omar Olivares to hold down the end of the rotation and limited veterans or inexperienced youngsters on the bench to play if the team lost a key player to injury. Just last year when Rich Harden was hurt the A's were going through fifth starters like crazy, giving guys like Joe Kennedy and Seth Etherton spot starts. When the A's lost Erubiel Durazo and Bobby Crosby, their lineup was relying on Marco Scutaro and Scott Hatteberg to produce runs and also had to put Hatteberg in unfavorable matchups.
That is why this year is different. The A's finally got through an off-season with lots of addition with minimal subtraction. Last year the A's lost Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson. Before that they lost Miguel Tejada. They've lost every closer they've had. They lost Jason Giambi. This year? They lost Octavio Dotel, Ricardo Rincon, Scott Hatteberg and Erubiel Durazo. Their rotation features lots of youth that now has a full year of major league pitching under their belt. They added a veteran to the rotation in Esteban Loaiza who does everything Billy Beane likes his pitchers to do. Their bullpen is rock solid and finally has a solid closer in which they can rely on for years to come in Huston Street. Their lineup has gotten much better with the additions of 16-year veteran Frank Thomas and Milton Bradley. Their depth improved in the trade for Bradley by also acquiring Antonio Perez who can play every offensive position and can give Eric Chavez a day off at third base every once in awhile. They have enough guys in the outfield that they can now afford to give Mark Kotsay a day off to rest his back and also have the flexibility of playing Nick Swisher at first base. The addition of Thomas and Bradley adds the much needed power from the right side, and the fact that Bradley is a switch hitter adds a little more value to having him in the lineup. Chavez now has protection and has no excuses this year for not having his best offensive season.
My opinion on the A's is that now they have the depth and the experience, they should start off better. Even if the A's played .500 ball for the first few months, they would be ahead of the pace they have set for themselves in the first half over the past few seasons. Also figuring in that the defending American League West champion Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have gotten weaker gives the A's a better chance at sneaking into the playoffs as division champions and finally getting past that first round of the playoffs.