Surging A's reminiscent of '05 White Sox
Oakland rides a wave of confidence into ALCS
OAKLAND -- As his teammates were celebrating their sweep of the Twins by spraying each other with champagne, a few feet away in the Oakland clubhouse, A's slugger Frank Thomas stood off to one side out of the way of the bubbly.
Thomas didn't need to feel the champagne to appreciate Oakland's three-game sweep of Minnesota in the American League Division Series. Having been a member of the Chicago White Sox last year when the Sox surprised the baseball world with an 11-1 October and a World Series title, Thomas was asked if this convincing first-round win gave him any sense of deja vu.
"No deja vu," Thomas said. "We're happy, we're playing great, and we're not concerned about what other people think about us. This is a new year."
Yet it was hard not to watch this series and not see some similarities between this team and last year's White Sox:
Both began their October runs with surprising sweeps in the ALDS.
Both rely on outstanding starting pitching and deep bullpens stocked with young arms.
Neither has what would be characterized as a "scary" offense, but one that continually comes up with the hits in the clutch and does what it has to do to get the job done.
The A's, like the White Sox last year, weren't given much of a chance to go very far in the postseason.
Thomas conceded the latter point.
"Everybody says we can't do this and we can't do that," Thomas said. "On paper, we don't look that good. But you don't play the game on paper. It was the same thing with the White Sox."
There's a lot of baseball to be played before these A's can match what Chicago did last year, and yet the early indications are that this team is certainly not one to be taken lightly this October.
These A's didn't just snap their record 0-for-9 streak in clinching games, they absolutely stomped it into the earth and buried it. The elephant is off their backs, and now the A's are looking more like the elephant in the living room of this surprising postseason.
They are only the third team in Major League Baseball history to never trail in a postseason series, and they did it against one of the best teams in baseball.
The A's held the Twins, who led the Major Leagues in hitting this season, to just seven runs in three games and a .257 team batting average, 30 points below their season average. Like the Sox a year ago, these A's seem to come up with the home run or big play when they need it the most.
"This is a great team," Oakland right fielder Milton Bradley said. "It has the makings of something special."
Like the White Sox a year ago, the A's now have a break to line up their pitching staff for whoever they face in the American League Championship Series, the Tigers or the Yankees, as well as get an opportunity to get a few extra days of rest between now and Tuesday's ALCS opener.
The A's are also riding a wave of confidence right now and are ready to take on the next challenge.
"This is a very determined bunch," first baseman Nick Swisher said. "We missed an opportunity to clinch the AL West at home -- we weren't going to let this opportunity pass us by."
They appear equally determined to take this run even further, just as the Sox did a year ago.
Oakland has the pitching to keep this run going, with starters like Barry Zito and Dan Haren, who gave superb efforts in the ALDS, along with others who weren't even needed against the Twins, like Rich Harden and Joe Blanton. The bullpen gave up two runs in eight innings and preserved every lead they were given. They have a hard-throwing young right-hander in Huston Street to close out games. Street can bring it, just like Chicago's Bobby Jenks did last October.
These A's also have Thomas, who knows a thing or two about winning.
"I told the guys, 'Don't get hurt, we've got a long way to go,'" Thomas said. "This is just the first step."
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.