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Wednesday, September 4
A's simply awesome down the stretch

By Rob Neyer

At the request of numerous readers, today I'm going to revisit an old column.

Actually, it's not old. It just seems that way, because the world looks so different today. Also, if I claim it's an old column, I can also claim that I've had more than enough time to become wiser, so wise that I'll never write anything so wrong again.

From three months ago ...

... if a June series can be critical to a team's chances, then this week's Mariners-Athletics series might be critical for the Athletics.

Because while the A's are currently eight games behind the first-place Mariners, they're nine games behind the Yankees and 11 games behind the Red Sox. In the wild-card standings. If such things existed yet.

Granted, the A's don't have to win the West. They could get hot like they did last year and win the wild card like they did last year. The A's are currently 27-28. Through 55 games a year ago, they were ... would you believe 27-28? It's true. The Athletics got off to exactly the same start last season (at least in terms of wins and losses)...

They're not going to do it again. There will be those who view last season as evidence that the A's can turn things around this season and win 100-some games again. I view the rarity of their performance last season as evidence that they almost certainly cannot win 100 games again...

Except they probably are going to do it again, and they certainly can win 100 games again. And in the meantime, the Athletics are making a case for themselves as one of the great second-half teams of this era. Or any other.

       Pre-Break  Post-Break 
1999     43-44      44-31 
2000     48-38      43-32 
2001     44-43      58-17 
2002     50-38      37-13 
Totals  185-163    182-93 
         .532       .662 

How do they do it? A couple of weeks ago, when this crazy winning streak was just getting started, I asked A's general manager Billy Beane this very question.

He told me that in August and September, it's easier for the good teams to win, because the bad teams have essentially given up. It's not that the players aren't trying to win. Rather, the organizations don't have "win now" at the top of their priorities list. Veterans are traded, and raw kids are brought up from the minors for seasoning.

Beane also suggested that Oakland's youth gives them an edge. Now, a lot of baseball people will tell you that it's the veterans who come to the fore down the stretch, because they've been there so many times before. But Beane thinks you're better off with young players late in the season, because they don't wear down like older players do.

There's another explanation, an explanation so obvious that Beane didn't even bother mentioning it.

Billy Beane knows what he wants for the stretch run, and he knows how to get it.

At the trade deadline in 1999, Beane acquired second baseman Randy Velarde (.333 batting average and 48 runs scored after the deal) and pitchers Kevin Appier (7-5, 5.77 ERA), Omar Olivares (7-2, 4.34), and Jason Isringhausen (2.13 ERA and eight saves in eight opportunities).

At the trade deadline in 2000, Beane acquired relief pitcher Jim Mecir (3-1, 2.80 ERA after the deal).

At the trade deadline in 2001, Beane acquired outfielder Jermaine Dye, who drove in 59 runs in 61 games after joining the A's.

And this year? Trading Jeremy Giambi for John Mabry in May has somehow worked both in the clubhouse and on the field. And before the trade deadline, Beane acquired reliever Ricardo Rincon (2.25 ERA in 12 innings) and second baseman Ray Durham (.371 on-base percentage).

Essentially, Beane watches his team play for a few months, and then he gets to work. And when Billy Beane gets to work, the rest of the American League had better watch out.

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