This is my Wednesday column on the A’s. WARNING: This is a baseball column. Forty-Niners fans, feel free to skip this.
Should we care that the A’s have six All-Stars this season – seven including Jeff Samardzija – and the best record in baseball? Is this the year they finally win the World Series? Or should we expect them to flop in the Divisional Round of the playoffs like they usually do?
Sure, the A’s have more All-Stars than any other team. Yes, the A’s currently are on pace to win 103 games. Nice. The A’s won 103 games in 2002 and lost to the Yankees in the Divisional Round, lost the decisive Game 5. The A’s never have won Game 5 of a Divisional Series during the Billy Beane Era. They’re 0-6 in Game 5’s.
And we’re supposed to take this team seriously?
Billy Beane builds the A’s for the regular season. He builds a deep team full of young players and a few old ones. They win about 60 percent of their games and then wear down when October comes.
When the A’s reached Game 5 against the Tigers in the Divisional Round last year, the A’s choice was give the ball to 23-year-old starting pitcher Sonny Gray – a rookie – or give the ball to Bartolo Colon – a 40-year-old. The A’s chose the young guy. He gave up three runs and the A’s lost. They probably would have lost either way – they faced Justin Verlander, who was 30, in his prime, and he gave up no runs in that game.
Beane always puts the A’s in that position, having to rely on the old guy or the young guy. In 2012, Jarrod Parker started Game 5 against Verlander, Parker a 23-year-old rookie. He gave up four earned runs and the A’s lost 6-0.
Go back eleven years. Barry Zito started Game 5 against Pedro Martinez in 2003. Zito was 25, Martinez was 31. Red Sox won 4-3.
Mark Mulder started Game 5 against Brad Radke in 2002. Mulder was 24. Radke was 29. Twins won 5-4.
Mulder started Game 5 against the Yankees in 2001. He faced Roger Clemens. Yankees won 5-3.
Gil Heredia started Game 5 against the Yankees in 2000. Remember Heredia? He won 15 games that season. The 34-year-old retired just one batter and gave up six earned runs in the first inning of Game 5. A’s lost 7-5.
No matter how well the A’s played in the regular season the past 15 years, they were outmatched in do-or-die playoff games because they faced teams that had star players who were in their primes.
I’m here to tell you all that has changed. Finally, the A’s have star players who are in their primes, too.
If the A’s reach the Divisional Round and play a Game 5, they won’t have their usual choice between a young guy and an old guy as a starting pitcher. The A’s don’t have any old guys in their rotation. They have one young pitcher – Gray, 24. In Game 5, the A’s can start Scott Kazmir (30 years old) if they want experience, or Jeff Samardzija (29 years old), or Jason Hammel (31 years old). All in their prime.
Before we go further, we have to define an athlete’s “prime.” I’m defining it as the period between the ages of 28 and 32. Crude definition, but let’s go with it.
In 1989, the last time the A’s won the World Series, they had six key players between the ages of 28 and 32: Rickey Henderson (30), Dave Stewart (32), Bob Welch (32), Mike Moore (29), Carney Lansford (32) and Dave Henderson (30).
The A’s have six key players in their primes this year, as well: Brandon Moss (30), Yoenis Cespedes (28), Josh Donaldson (28), Kazmir, Samardzija and Hammel, recently acquired from the Cubs.
Other important A’s in their primes: Jed Lowrie (30), John Jaso (30), Craig Gentry (30), Jesse Chavez (30), Luke Gregorson (30), Fernando Abad (28) and Dan Otero (29).
The A’s have just three key young guys – Derek Norris (25), Sean Doolittle (27) and Gray – and just one key old guy, Coco Crisp, 34.
This A’s team is nothing like the previous teams Beane built. It’s not a young team. It’s not an old team. It’s right in the middle – a group of experienced players who won’t wear down after the six-month regular season, players in their prime.
This is the best team Beane ever has built, the first Beane team that isn’t a mirage, the first Beane team that has a serious chance to win the World Series.
You might say Beane, 52, finally has reached his prime as a general manager. No excuse for a postseason flop this year.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.