OAKLAND -- While A's management and personnel believe the 2012 campaign ended far too early, the season itself proved to be one of great accomplishment.
Coming off a rebuilding offseason of sorts, following the trades of a trio of All-Star pitchers in Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey, the team entered Spring Training to expectations of a 100-loss season. Oakland responded by winning nearly that many, racking up 94 wins -- the last of which secured the American League West title.
The A's fell behind the Tigers in the first two games of the AL Division Series, before winning the next two to force a Game 5, ultimately dropping the elimination game at the hands of a dominant Justin Verlander to end a remarkable season.
To say general manager Billy Beane was surprised at all this wouldn't be exact.
"We had expectations. You'd be foolish if you don't," Beane said. "But our expectations were that the team would get better over the course of the season, which it did. Privately, we all thought we were better than everyone was giving us credit for, but there was no sense in saying that. There's no upside in telling anyone that. So I think these guys started at a point most people outside thought they wouldn't. But, from that, they did get better."
Added manager Bob Melvin: "I knew we had a chance to get better, and that was the expectation for myself and the staff, to continually get better throughout the season and then kind of find out who you are at the All-Star Break and go from there."
The A's found themselves at .500 when that time came, and Melvin's squad realized, "We're better than .500," the manager said.
Turns out they did play better than .500 ball, compiling baseball's best second-half record, all the while admirably overcoming much adversity and subsequently relying on rookies to steer the ship, after losing their three most veteran starters down the stretch.
Bartolo Colon surrendered to a 50-game drug suspension, Brandon McCarthy underwent emergency brain surgery after taking a line drive to his head, and Brett Anderson suffered a right oblique strain, before he ultimately returned to start Game 3 of the ALDS.
Add in the large number of platoons being used and the turnover that accompanied nearly every infield position this year -- by season's end, the A's had a catcher playing third base, a shortstop manning second base and an outfielder starting at first base -- and this story becomes all the more improbable.
"That was the strength of our team, the fact that so many guys contributed, and that becomes a very powerful feeling, that everybody has a role and everybody feels like they're a part of it," Melvin said.
It was certainly entertaining to watch. What follows is a look back at the good, the bad and everything in between n a season scripted for a storybook.
Record: 94-68, first in AL West
Defining moment: The A's stared down a brutal September schedule that featured 17 games on the road, as well as 20 of their final 23 contests against contending teams -- including seven against a Rangers club that held a firm grasp on the division heading into the month. Outsiders didn't expect them to come out alive from a 10-game swing through Detroit, New York and Texas, yet Oakland managed to go 4-6 on the grueling trip, which featured several extra-inning games. The A's ability to head home having made it through the daunting task proved vital to their postseason hopes, as they took the confidence gained from that trip and won out the rest of the way, claiming six straight victories to prevent Texas from securing its third-straight division championship.
What went right: The departures of Cahill, Gonzalez and Bailey led to the arrivals of the likes of Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, Josh Reddick, Ryan Cook and Derek Norris, all of whom made made significant contributions. Parker and Milone combined for 26 wins, Reddick enjoyed a breakout power year that included 32 home runs, Cook became a feared presence in the bullpen and made the All-Star team, and Norris softened the blow of losing Kurt Suzuki to a midseason trade. ... There was no questioning Yoenis Cespedes' talent when the A's signed the Cuban native to a four-year, $36 million deal last winter, but it was to be determined how well he could adjust to that seen in the Majors. Cespedes far surpassed any expectations, quickly modifying to big league pitching and busting out for more than 20 home runs, while also handling left field with ease after an early-season move from center. ... Essentially every platoon utilized by Melvin worked like a charm, most notably at first base, where the A's skipper allowed rookie Chris Carter and journeyman Brandon Moss to enjoy the type of success that previously seemed out of reach. Moreover, Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes legitimized the shared designated hitter slot.
What went wrong: Scott Sizemore, believed to be primed for a breakout season, suffered a season-ending knee injury on the first day of full-squad workouts in February, leaving a big hole at third base. Production at the hot corner was limited for much of the first half, before the A's found just that from Brandon Inge and Josh Donaldson. ... Jemile Weeks, just a year removed from a sensational rookie campaign, endured a sophomore slump, never really finding consistency at the plate. As a result, the second baseman was back in Triple-A in August, forcing the organization to question its future at the position. ... Daric Barton's stint with the team proved even shorter than the one Weeks endured, as the first baseman's disappointing offensive performance led to a demotion in June. ... Colon's suspension was a big disappointment, and his absence from the rotation was perhaps felt during the postseason, when the A's were forced to start rookies in four of their five games.
Biggest surprises: When Donaldson shed his catcher's gear in favor of a shot at everyday third-base duties, it was thought to be a temporary thing. Yet Donaldson showcased such great progression over the course of the season, both defensively and offensively, that he's now seen as a candidate to resume the job come Spring Training. ... First base prospect-turned-Major League reliever Sean Doolittle dazzled in his rookie season, quickly becoming the A's best lefty in a sturdy bullpen, just a year after he transitioned from first base to the mound. ... A.J. Griffin began the season at Double-A Midland and ended it with a Game 4 start in the ALDS. In between, the rookie right-hander offered plenty glimpses of a promising future in Oakland's rotation. ... Lefty Travis Blackley, who just last year was pitching in South Korea, proved instrumental to this team, both as a long reliever and spot starter.