It could be said the A's 2007 season was really over months ago, but today made it official. In front of 28,000 dedicated fans, including my wife and me, the A's beat out the playoff-bound Los Angeles Angels by a score of 3-2, sending us home happy, despite the team's 76-86 finish, good for 3rd in the 4-team AL West.
While it would be too easy to look back on the 2007 season as one of failure and frustration, that would be the easy way out, and incorrect. While many of the team's biggest names fell to injuries, and still others were traded, or never achieved their potential, in their wake, we saw the emergence of some well-liked players who should be contributing to the team in 2008 and beyond.
Top 5 2007 Surprises
Travis Buck: This wild-haired outfielder was supposed to start the season in AAA Sacramento, but debuted in Oakland, immediately making an impact on the club, with speed, average and power. Though he too fell to the injury bug in the latter half of the season, he gave us a look at a future #1 or #2 hitter of years to come.
Kurt Suzuki: Behind the plate, Suzuki emerged after the All-Star break to become the A's full-time catcher, displaying home run potential and RBIs from what, for years, had been a gaping hole in the A's lineup. It was his timely hit tonight that made the difference in the bottom of the 9th.
Jack Cust: His start was one of storybooks, joining the A's from relative obscurity, buried in the Padres' farm system, only to join Oakland and immediately hit home run after booming home run. Despite joining the team a month late, Jack led the team in home runs, RBIs, had more than 100 walks, and led the league in strikeouts. Considered a liability in the field, we gained confidence with his every game.
Chad Gaudin: Known as a wild, often promising reliever in 2006, Gaudin was a cornerstone of the A's 2007 staff. Though he still had his spats where he couldn't find the plate, he's now established himself as a bona fide #4 starter. He set a career high today with 11 K's against the Angels.
Daric Barton: We always hoped this guy would be a stud, and with a late-season callup, he proved us right, batting around .350 in 20 games, with the occasional double and home run. He should be a real force and candidate for 2008 Rookie of the Year.
Top 5 2007 Disappointments
Rich Harden: The man who could be Cy Young couldn't keep healthy, again, tantalizing us with his unattainable talent. Where he once could be a #1 ace, the buzz now is that he just might be a bullpen mainstay, if he ever gets healthy.
Eric Chavez: His struggles in 2006 were excusable, as he battled through soreness, and didn't rest. In 2007, he lacked any presence at the plate, occasionally struggled in the field, and will lose his string of six Gold Gloves. He's already had one major surgery going into the off-season, and may need another.
Bobby Crosby: This guy was a disaster for the A's this year. Coming into Spring Training after a round of rehab, Crosby never got any momentum, failing to learn from his bad habits, swinging at pitches a foot outside and becoming a double play machine at the plate. Once he finally listened to advice, an inside pitch from the hated Angels broke his hand and ended his season - none too soon for frustrated fans.
Milton Bradley: When he played for the A's, he smacked of promise, but one injury after another sealed his fate, as he was traded out of town, to the Padres, who have seen him again battle injuries and a short fuse. While I really liked Milton when he was here, he was always a question mark and burned his bridges after leaving, claiming bias, favoritism and racism.
Jason Kendall: This everyday player, once seen as a gritty hardnosed .300 hitter turned into a Punch and Judy, no power, easy out travesty, who after years of good discipline at the plate, started adding K's to his repertoire. As soon as the A's felt Kurt Suzuki could take over, Kendall and his anemic stats were hoisted onto the Chicago Cubs, who will placate Kendall somewhat with a run at the playoffs.
I could go on and on. There were some amazing games taken in at the Coliseum this year. Today's wasn't half bad either. But too often, we were left frustrated and cold as the team slapped at bad balls and wouldn't come through as the chips were down. As it's now the first hours of what we see as the beginning of the 2008 season, we look forward to new challenges ahead and the adoption of change - for the better.