Why Do the Oakland Athletics Struggle So Much in the Postseason?


Oct 10, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics center fielder Coco Crisp (4) argues a call with umpire Tom Hallion (20) during the ninth inning in game five of the American League divisional series playoff baseball game at O.co Coliseum. The Detroit Tigers defeated the Oakland Athletics 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

This year has been another year of playoff disappointment for the Oakland Athletics. After winning 96 regular season games and winning the AL West, many people, especially A’s fans, had high hopes for the Athletics in the postseason this year. Thursday night saw those hopes dashed once again, until next year, as Oakland lost Game 5 of the ALDS 3-0.

The season-ending loss has Athletics fans wondering why their team struggles so much in the postseason, especially after having such a great regular season. What does General Manager Billy Beane think? According to him, what happens in the playoffs is “luck.” That is one theory. The problem with simply delineating postseason struggles to luck here is that it isn’t just a couple of isolated incidents; there is a pattern.

If it were luck, then it would be just a matter of time until Oakland won. The number of times they’ve entered the playoffs only to be disappointed would give them an excellent shot at the World Series. If it were luck, with the number of times they’ve made the playoffs since 2001 (five times), they’d have likely made it further into the postseason at least once. They lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Yankees, the Twins, the Red Sox, and the Detroit Tigers (twice) in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2012, and 2013 respectively.

It doesn’t seem like luck is the source of Oakland’s postseason woes. Is it money? That also seems unlikely. While it’s true that many past championship teams are very high on the list of biggest payrolls (think the Giants in 2010 and 2012), if money equaled success, the Athletics would’ve struggled in the regular season too. It isn’t a coincidence I mentioned the Giants earlier as they underperformed this season compared to how well its players are paid. The LA Angels and the Phillies are other examples of high payrolls not amounting to wins or even making the playoffs.

My theory is that the Athletics’ problems are mental, for the most part. If we take a look at how Oakland lost their postseason series, we see they lost all of them in five games. We also see that in every instance, except the 2012 series against the Tigers, the Athletics had at least one chance to clinch the series before a Game 5 was even played. This leads me to believe Oakland has trouble “getting over the hump.”

It’s possible Game 5 of the series against the Yankees in 2001 was bad luck. After all, that was the series where Derek Jeter made his famous back-handed toss to home plate, which resulted in Jorge Posada tagging out an un-sliding Jeremy Giambi. Things like that can take a toll on a team. The 2002 team undoubtedly had the 2001 postseason fresh in their minds, and the 2003 squad remembered the playoffs from both 2002 and 2001. Even in 2012, those games were remembered, and 2012’s disappointment was fresh in the players’ minds this year. What I’m saying is, there’s a good chance that what started as what Billy Beane termed as “luck” became a pattern and later turned into an expectation somewhere along the way.

Thats my theory on how this “curse” started and why it still exists. The good news for Oakland fans is that curses don’t last forever; there will be a time when it is broken. If the Boston Red Sox can win a World Series, there’s no reason the Athletics can’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs and win a championship of their own.