The Oakland A’s under Billy Beane have had a very specific – and well-known – strategy for building teams without having a large payroll. The A’s have found players that could fill specific roles on their team who have been cast-off from other places, as well as developing players from within their own system. Rather than having a few star players on their roster, the A’s have focused more on quality depth from 1-25, and it has paid off. Despite spending less than most teams each year, Oakland consistently finds themselves at or near the top of the standings, and often in the playoffs. Since 2000, the A’s have made the playoffs an impressive seven times.
That, however, is where it starts to get complicated. Of those seven series, the A’s have won just one. That one series win, in 2006, was followed by a sweep at the hands of the Detroit Tigers. In their six ALDS series losses over that span, the A’s have made it to a fifth and deciding game each time – and lost them all. That includes four seasons in a row from 2000 – 2003. While there is always some level of random chance involved in playoff baseball, the A’s certainly don’t have a good track record of carrying over there success from the regular season.
As the A’s continue on a path to again qualify for the playoffs in 2014, the obvious question remains – what will be different this time around? Are they going to be able to get out of the first round, or is this October issue one that is here to stay? There are really two schools of thought when it comes to the problems the A’s have had in the playoffs. The first way of thinking is that the A’s have just be the victims of bad luck and poor timing. After all, they made it to a fifth game in those six first round losses, so the season basically came down to nine innings. Anything can happen in one game, and it is just coincidence that they keep coming up short.
The other way of thinking believes that the problem lies in the way the A’s construct their roster. By favoring depth over star power, Oakland seems to be perfectly suited to playing well in the regular season. They can withstand injury, and replace players who are underperforming with someone else on their deep roster. However, when October comes around, that depth doesn’t really have a chance to show itself. The series are short, and the games are often won and lost by the star players on either side. For example, the last two seasons have seen Oakland lose out to the Tigers led by Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera – star players who Oakland simply can’t match.
Only time will tell of the A’s are able to break this trend and achieve success in the playoffs. They appear to be a sure thing to have another chance in 2014, although they may have to go through a one-game playoff if they are unable to better the Angels for the American League West crown.