How they got there: The Oakland Athletics

Oct 3, 2006 - 6:38 AM BRISTOL, Connecticut (Ticker) - Three reasons why the Oakland Athletics were able to capture the American League West Division championship:

1. Re-emergence of Frank Thomas in the second half, giving the A's a much-needed run-producer. Following two injury-plagued seasons with the Chicago White Sox and batting just .190 at the end of April with Oakland, it appeared as if Thomas' productive days were over. Not quite. The "Big Hurt" came on strong in the second half and belted 20 home runs and 68 RBI in 72 games since the All-Star break.

"Frank Thomas is a great player," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We have to figure out a way to keep the ball in the ballpark, and he is up there because he can do some damages. ... Great players find ways to do great things."

2. One of most reliable staffs in baseball. Five quality starters and a deep bullpen, especially setup men Justin Duchscherer and Joe Kennedy, are key reasons why Oakland excels in one-run games. Barry Zito, the 2002 Cy Young Award winner, and Joe Blanton won 16 games apiece, Dan Haren had 14 victories and Loaiza 11. Due to injury, Harden (4-0) made only nine starts this season and the A's won all of them. Oakland was 32-22 in one-run games, winning 24 of its last 32.

"We are pretty strong one through four, one through five, whatever it is," Zito said. "These guys have all got success and play in the playoffs, so I want to go out and set the tone and put up a good outing, and hopefully it will turn out."

3. Typical second-half excellence. Oakland went 69-40 since June 1, the second-best mark in baseball, behind Minnesota, its first-round playoff opponent. The Athletics posted the best record since the All-Star break (48-26), continuing a trend since 1999 when the club is winning at a .635 percentage in the second half.

"More so than any other team, they are kind of mirrored like us," Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer said. "They have got a tight group of guys, great camaraderie, great chemistry and they are built around pitching and defense.

"So I think that's what makes them unique, and that's what makes the series intriguing is that you have got two teams that are kind of mirror images of each other."






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