Programming note: For all the day’s sports news, tune in to SportsNet Central tonight at 6 p.m., 10:30 and midnight on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area
OAKLAND –- The A’s switched up the narrative in 2014, but they’re once again left to ponder a postseason exit that arrived far sooner than they hoped.
At least in 2012 and 2013, they could curse Detroit’s Justin Verlander, their unconquerable nemesis in back-to-back Game 5 defeats.
This winter they’ll be left to stew over two leads -– including a four-run margin -- that evaporated in a 9-8 loss to the Kansas City Royals in the American League Wild Card game.
The sting was still felt a day later.
[STIGLICH: Odd and unfulfilling season ends for A's]
“This was as empty as you can be, because there was never a point in time where I thought we were going to lose the game,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said Wednesday while seated in his Coliseum office. “I thought we were gonna be in Anaheim today, and it never occurred to me we’d be sitting here right now.”
This season left fans, understandably, wanting more.
The A’s held the majors’ best record at the All-Star break, and the July 31 trade that brought over ace Jon Lester from Boston in exchange for All-Star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes raised the stakes, positioning the A’s as World Series favorites in the eyes of many around the game.
It never panned out. The A’s offense went south in the second half, and Oakland lost the Wild Card game in 12 innings, with Lester hardly showing top form in the starting assignment. The Lester trade, which also brought outfielder Jonny Gomes over from Boston, was a lightning rod for debate from the minute it was made for those who viewed Cespedes as too instrumental a piece to part with.
A’s general manager Billy Beane said Wednesday he has no regrets whatsoever about pulling the trigger on that deal.
“Simply put, if we don’t have Jon Lester, I don’t think we make the playoffs,” Beane said during his end-of-season media address.
He maintains that the A’s rotation, which lost Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin to season-ending injuries in spring training, was showing signs of fatigue by midseason.
“A guy like Jesse Chavez, he was pitching in a role -- going deep into the major league season (starting) -- that he had never done,” Beane said. “Once we got to the middle of the season, we always had this sense that we need to make sure (the pitching) didn’t collapse on us, which is one of the reasons we were so aggressive.”
Before the Lester deal even happened, the A’s acquired starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs, which cost them top prospects Addison Russell and Billy McKinney along with starter Dan Straily.
Beane doesn’t believe that importing so many new players at midseason upset team chemistry.
[STIGLICH: A's season ends with collapse in KC]
“I think more importantly is what happens on the field,” he said. “I think production ultimately creates chemistry.”
First baseman Brandon Moss pointed to the surge that the eventual A.L. West champion Angels made, saying he believes the A’s were probably destined for the Wild Card game no matter what.
“A lot is going to be said about the second half and individual guys struggling. Should we have done this? Should we have done that?” Moss said. “But I’ll be honest, it would have been tough to keep up with the Angels regardless of who’s on our team and who’s not on our team. They won that division. We didn’t play well, but we certainly didn’t give them that division. They won it.”