You have to be conflicted today if you are a fan of the Oakland Athletics. Should you be incredibly bummed out that your club was eliminated from the ALDS by the Detroit Tigers last night? Or should you be elated that they had such a successful season, considering they were picked by most pundits to battle with the Seattle Mariners for last place in the AL West and maybe even lose 100 games? Does it really have to be one or the other, or can you be feeling both of these things right now?
On the one hand, of course it stings to know that your favorite team’s season has ended without a World Series win. That is always the ultimate objective (unless you are the Pittsburgh Pirates, of course), so to fall short of that goal is always disappointing. After you’ve surprised the world by not only finishing 26 games above .500, stealing the AL West crown from the reigning champion Texas Rangers on the last day of the season and finishing only one game behind the New York Yankees for the best record in the American League, it’s hard to see the magic die after only one series. It is disappointing, to be sure.
But consider the following. Opening Day starter Brandon McCarthy had his season cut short by a line-drive to the head that literally could have killed him. The most experienced starter, Bartolo Colon, had a successful campaign cut short by a pesky drug test he couldn’t pass. The best pitcher, Brett Anderson, spent 90 percent of the season recovering from Tommy John surgery and an oblique strain. The heart-and-soul of the pitching staff, the lovably surly Dallas Braden, didn’t even pitch this season because of his own injuries. Considering how many rookie pitchers the A’s started this year and how the pitching is usually supposed to be the team’s strongest point, you should feel fortunate their season was as miraculous as it was.
Then there was the offense. The hitting was abysmal until they started hacking at every pitch they saw in late June and started dropping bombs left and right, and then the offense only became erratically interesting because everyone in the lineup thought they were Jack Cust. Who in this lineup should opposing pitchers have been scared of before the season started? Unproven commodities like Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick? Cast-offs like Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes? Perennial minor leaguers and journeymen like Chris Carter and Brandon Moss?
Who exactly was supposed to start at the hot corner after Grady Sizemore—who himself was really supposed to be little more than a stopgap this season since no one else could really play the position—suffered a season-ending injury on the first day of training camp? Who was going to catch this pitching staff once the A’s jettisoned Kurt Suzuki off to the Washington Nationals, thinking their season was done? Jemile Weeks ran smack dab into the sophomore slump, Cliff Pennington forgot how to hit the ball and Coco Crisp was as inconsistent as ever until the final month or two of the season. Yeah, there was a lot to be afraid of there.
Let’s be honest. There is no reason this team should have been as successful as they were aside from the fact that they played like a team and didn’t give a rip about what everyone else thought about them. That’s what made them so magical. The Bernie Lean. The whipped cream pies in the face after dramatic wins. Scuffling along with the lowest team batting average for a playoff team since the 1968 Tigers and setting a league record for strikeouts, and yet still managing to lead the league with 15 walk-off wins in the regular season and postseason combined. It was improbable and defied explanation, and it was awesome to watch.
Yes, Oakland A’s fans should be sad that their season has ended, but they should also be ecstatic about what the team achieved this season and take comfort in knowing that they will be a contender again next year. They won’t be able to sneak up on anyone next year.