"We found out," Oakland Athletics outfielder Josh Reddick told MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince back in March, "that Bob is the king of platoons."
Bob Melvin retained his throne in 2013, his second full season as the manager in Oakland. The names were different -- Stephen Vogt instead of George Kottaras, Chris Young instead of Johnny Gomes, Daric Barton instead of Chris Carter, Jed Lowrie instead of Cliff Pennington -- but the concept remained. The Athletics were still a team built around players with clear weaknesses, and it once again was clear they weren't going to win without acknowledging and planning for these weaknesses.
As such, the Athletics practically fielded two different teams against left-handers and right-handers, using the same lineup on consecutive days just five times. At least three lineup slots changed after 135 of the 162 games, and all but two lineup slots saw a change at least 100 times.
To show just how much turnover the A's lineup saw on a day-to-day basis, observe the chart below:
On this chart, a green block represents the same player staying in the noted lineup slot. An empty block represents a change from the previous game. Long stretches are all but limited to the leadoff slot -- Coco Crisp -- and the third slot, filled by Josh Donaldson for much of the year. Brandon Moss also locked down the cleanup spot for some time in the season's latter third.
It's a stark contract to the Tigers, a team reliant on a core of talented, everyday position players, as seen below, with long stretches in the five top lineup slots, representing both the table-setting spots and the run-producing heart of the batting order.
Tuesday night, the Athletics will attempt to eliminate the Tigers in Detroit. Between them and their goal will be Doug Fister, a right-hander. He will be the fourth consecutive righty on the mound against the Athletics in the series, and if it goes to a fifth game, Max Scherzer's return will make it five.
The result? Alberto Callaspo, one of the club's major midseason additions, has seen two at-bats. Derek Norris, the club's catcher for most of the season, got his first at-bat in pinch-hit action in Monday's win. Chris Young, a starter 78 times in the regular season, has not appeared. Of the A's dual squads, one has been almost completely left out of the proceedings, thanks to the Tigers' righty-dominated pitching staff. Drew Smyly and Jose Alvarez are the only lefties to face Oakland this series, and they've thrown just four innings out of 27.
So now, a team that has won all year by spreading the weight of responsibility around has seen it rest on a core of players. The switch-hitting Crisp and Jed Lowrie remain as usual, as well as MVP candidate Josh Donaldson remain. But now instead of complementing, players like Brandon Moss, Seth Smith and Josh Reddick play equally large roles. Stephen Vogt, of all people, has hit nine times in the ALDS, after beginning the season buried at Triple A Sacramento.
That doesn't mean Oakland's right-handed heroes are off the hook. With elimination looming, Fister's leash will likely be a short one. Smyly, who has experience as a starter and has thrown just one inning so far, could be called upon for extended relief to neutralize Moss, Reddick, Smith, et al., just as the Tigers attempted to do with Alvarez in Monday's game. It worked, too; Alvarez held the lefty-heavy A's to one hit and no runs over three innings. But the damage had been done, and so the A's didn't tinker.
In a tie game, however, or if the Tigers grab a lead before the Tigers can get to Smyly, we could see Melvin's right-handed legion come into play. Melvin called for a pinch hitter 163 times in 2013, second in the American League to Joe Maddon's 189. Although A's pinch-hitters produced a meager .144/.265/.295 in these situations, their six home runs and 17 RBI each ranked second to Boston in the American League. Although the spotlight has belonged to the lefties so far, it could be Derek Norris or Chris Young getting the last laugh, deep into Game 4 or Game 5.
As hard as it must be for the righties, so important to this team's regular season success, to watch from the bench, this is what it means to succeed under the king of platoons. Their turn will come -- both the Rays and Red Sox feature at least one left-handed starting pitcher -- but not unless the squad of lefty hitters can pull out another win. All they can do now is hope their success continues on Monday, but after two fantastic years under the king of platoons, there's no reason to stop believing now.