The Oakland A’s are preparing for Major League Baseball’s postseason with their second straight American League West Division title already secured. Last year, the A’s were swatted from the playoffs by the Detroit Tigers in the divisional round. Monty Poole is a columnist for the Oakland Tribune and San Jose Mercury News In a column published this week, Monte Poole wrote “If 2012 was about discovery for the A’s, 2013 is about ownership.” Monty Poole joins me now. Monty, tell us what ownership means to this year’s A’s.
BL: Tell us what ownership means to this year’s A’s.
MP: Last year they really sort of stumbled into the playoffs. I mean, they got hot at the end. Most of them had not had any kind of postseason experience. This year it’s different because they believe in themselves and they won’t be satisfied with just getting there.
BL: The A’s failed to make the playoffs in their four-plus years under previous manager Bob Geren. But in each of Bob Melvin’s first two [full] seasons they’ve won more than 90 games. I’ve got two questions: First of all, what is with Oakland’s obsession with former catchers named Bob when it comes time to fill the managerial slot, and what is this Bob doing differently than the last Bob?
MP: Bob Melvin is one of the best communicators as a manger in the game. He talks with players, he feels them out. I mean, Bob Geren, bless his heart, to put it kindly he was semi-robotic. The players felt rather segregated from him and didn’t feel comfortable approaching him with stuff, and now it’s flipped totally.
BL: Oakland’s top starting pitcher is 40-year-old Bartolo Colon. He began this season by finishing up a 50-game suspension that started last season because of performance-enhancing drug use and ties to the now infamous Biogensis clinic. But he’s among the league leaders in wins and earned run average this year. Has the suspension dampened fans’ enthusiasm to his performance?
MP: Not by much. I think last year the suspension hurt the A’s because he wasn’t there for them. This year they hope to have him start Game 1 of the playoffs. I think the A’s fans have kind of forgiven him and just hope that he can be the guy … they need to to win two games in the first round of the series.
BL: A’s General Manager Billy Beane’s “small ball” approach was the basis for the book and movie titled ‘Moneyball.’ But coming into the weekend, the A’s were fourth in home runs in all of baseball. Home runs are not supposed to be part of small ball. Has Beane changed his approach?
MP: No, Billy’s always loved the home run. His problem was home run hitters tend to want big salaries because they deserve them, they’ve earned them. And the A’s, they all say the same thing, that one of the secrets to our success is that we don’t rely on a single big superstar or two or three superstars. They rarely run out the same lineup. They’ve run through over 130 lineups over the course of this season, which goes to show that Bob Melvin is kind of allowed to mix and match, and it’s really worked out well for them.
BL: As you’ve suggested, the A’s are a young team — more guys in their 20s than in their 30s. Was the team’s one-series-and-done experience in the playoffs last year enough to prepare Oakland for a deep run this time around?
MP: They believe so. They talk about last year as in, “We were happy to get there. We were hoping to do more.” But last year they got Verlander-ed. They ran into Justin Verlander in Detroit, and he beat them twice in a five-game series. I think this year they’re a hungrier team, and it goes back to their belief in themselves.