A's believe they have moxie to go far
Players point to team's ability to play as critical factor
OAKLAND -- Shortly after helping the A's close out a three-game sweep of the Twins in the American League Division Series on Friday, third baseman Eric Chavez said, "Talent-wise, this is one of the least-talented teams I have even been on and participated in the playoffs."
He meant it as a compliment, and nobody knew that better than ace lefty Barry Zito, who is the only other player on the roster qualified to compare each of Oakland's five playoff teams in this decade.
"That's one of the beautiful things about Chavvy; he pretty much blurts out whatever comes to mind. No filter at all," Zito said. "But I know exactly what he means. He's just saying in terms of quote-unquote 'star power,' we might not stack up with some of the A's teams that went to the playoffs from 2000 to 2003. He's saying we're more of a team, and I totally agree with that.
"That's not to say those other teams didn't play team ball, but this group is more of a complete team. We might not have monster names all over the place like we did in, say, 2001, with the Big Three [Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder] and Miggy [Miguel Tejada] and Chavvy and G [Jason Giambi] and Johnny [Damon] and J.D. [Jermaine Dye] and Izzy [Jason Isringhausen], but we do have 25 guys who fit into roles and play the game hard and smart and fundamentally sound."
That much was evident throughout the ALDS, in which the A's never trailed and got contributions from virtually every player who participated. In sweeping Minnesota, which was the hottest team in baseball over the final four months of the regular season, Oakland essentially out Twins-ed the Twins.
"When people talked about the Twins before the series started, you heard about their pitching and their bullpen and their defense and how scrappy they were," said A's first baseman Nick Swisher. "And all of that's true about them. They're obviously a great team. But we've got all of those elements on this team, too, and we've got a bunch of gamers who lay it all out there every day."
Twins catcher Joe Mauer, the AL batting champion, couldn't help but notice.
"You've got to tip your cap to Oakland," Mauer said. "They pretty much played mistake-free baseball."
"That's what you need to do to win in the postseason," said A's designated hitter Frank Thomas. "We talked about minimizing mistakes, and this is a team that doesn't make many mistakes to begin with. I told the guys, 'If we just keep playing our game, we can take anybody down.' And that's what we did."
Thomas, of course, is a "monster" name. He's a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame. Zito and Chavez aren't exactly no-names nationally, either, and Swisher, closer Huston Street and Game 3 winning pitcher Dan Haren are stars on the rise.
But as catcher Jason Kendall noted, what makes these A's so complete -- and tough to beat -- is the presence of what Chavez, after dropping his "least-talented" line, called "a bunch of hard-nosed players who love to play the game of baseball."
"This team just loves to get after it, from top to bottom," Kendall said. "Guys like [center fielder Mark] Kotsay, [left fielder Jay] Payton, [shortstop Marco] Scutaro, [injured second baseman Mark] Ellis, [right fielder Milton] Bradley, [reserve outfielder Bobby] Kielty and [relievers Kiko] Calero and [Justin] Duchscherer, on down the line.
"Everybody on this team just gets off on playing together, and that's something I've never experienced before in my career. It's incredible."
Only Thomas, Payton, Haren, Calero and Esteban Loaiza have experienced a League Championship Series among the 25 players on the first-round roster, but at least two Twins are among the many who think these A's are capable of winning a World Series title.
"They have the pitching," said Minnesota DH Jason Tyner. "I think they have what it takes."
Added Twins center fielder Torii Hunter: "They'll do fine. I hope they go all the way."
First, however, they'll have to get the Tigers, who were just starting Game 3 of the other ALDS against the Yankees when the A's were still celebrating Friday evening. Detroit won Game 4 Saturday for the improbable 3-1 series victory.
"We match up well against both teams," Haren said. "I don't think anyone on our team is scared to go into New York, and we know we can play with Detroit."
"Right now, I don't care who we play," added Kendall. "We can't change [the way we play] either way."
Notes: Zito appears set to start Game 1 of the ALCS, but the rest of the rotation likely won't be announced until Sunday at the earliest. ... It's possible that the A's will throw righty Rich Harden, who hasn't pitched since last Sunday and was scheduled to pitch Game 4 of the ALDS (if needed), will work Game 2 rather than Loaiza, who pitched Game 2 of the ALDS. ... It's also possible that if whatever decision is made regarding the rotation forces too long of a layoff for a particular starter, he'll be sent to Arizona to pitch in an instructional league game prior to his ALCS outing. .... Still no word on which infielder the A's will add to replace Ellis (broken finger) on the second-round roster, but it's been confirmed that Keith Ginter remains a possibility. Ginter had filed for free agency after the Triple-A season, but the club has been told he'd be eligible for the ALCS if the A's give him a contract for 2007. Ginter has been sent to Arizona to work out in preparation for a possible deal.
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.