Following the 2011 season, the Oakland Athletics traded away two-fifths of their starting rotation for young players and prospects. Another of their starting pitchers was injured heading into the year. The biggest signings were Bartolo Colon, Manny Ramirez and a four-year gamble on unproven Cuban free agent Yoenis Cespedes. Fans were lamenting the 2012 season before it even began.
Dallas Braden never made it back from the DL. Brett Anderson was great in September after returning from Tommy John surgery, only to head back to the DL again. Bartolo Colon lost the end of his season to a suspension after testing positive for testosterone. Manny Ramirez was released without ever playing a regular-season game. On October 3, the A's defeated the Texas Rangers in Game 162 to complete a three-game sweep and capture the American League West division title. The A's capped off one of the most improbable runs in history by chasing down a team that for much of the season looked like the best in baseball.
Even though the AL West boasts only four teams, with two clear candidates to take the division title, it feels like 2012 might be a year where all bets are off ...
The A's might be the biggest wild card in the AL West. While they don't look like a team that is poised to run away with the division, they have a weirdness factor and potential that likely makes opponents uneasy. When Ramirez returns, the offense may turn into something rather formidable. And despite the loss of [Gio] Gonzalez and [Trevor] Cahill, Brandon McCarthy ... and Bartolo Colon will provide plenty of shutdown innings, while lefty Tom Milone is poised to have an enormous rookie season.
Oakland has vast potential; the only question is whether they will reach it.
We hedged our bets by suggesting that Oakland might surprise some people, but we -- like everyone else -- expected the Angels and Rangers to be duking it out for the division title. No one expeced this. No one. Five games out with nine to play. The only day spent alone in first place being the last day of the season. Leading the league in walk-off wins. Out-homering everyone and flat-out outplaying everyone after the All-Star Break. This was a storybook season that trumps even the story told in Moneyball. When everyone thought Billy Beane's magic had long worn off, he pulled off his magnum opus.
While those A's of the early 2000s were a riotous bunch that was easy to root for, the 2012 Athletics may be one of the most all-around likeable rosters the East Bay has ever seen. In that sense (and with their second-half heroics), this year's Athletics team is very reminiscent of the 2010 San Francisco Giants. And we all know how that turned out.
Just take a look at this season's key contributors. Josh Reddick went from being a player the Boston Red Sox couldn't use to belting 30-plus home runs for the A's and anchoring the outfield. Yoenis Cespedes went from a raw talent who couldn't hit a breaking ball to a well-rounded superstar. Jarrod Parker, Milone and A.J. Griffin emerged as legitimate (and at times dominating) major league starters. Brandon Moss and Chris Carter arrived from out of nowhere as a modern-day Bash Brothers. Brandon Inge arrived from the cutting room floor of the Detroit Tigers to go on a phenomenal tear before falling victim to injury. They'll make a movie out of this year; how could they not?
While the postseason is just getting started, the A's have proved to everyone that they are capable of absolutely anything. It's going to be a wild ride, but Oakland fans will be ready for it every step of the way. It's already been more fun than we've had in years.