They have a 27-game winner, the most feared reliever in baseball, a former Rookie of the Year, and the National League batting champion.

This lineup that looks like the nucleus of a pennant contender is actually a list of players the Oakland Athletics did not need in their clinching victory that sent them on a third consecutive trip to the World Series.Bob Welch, the leading candidate to win the AL's Cy Young Award, did not pitch, neither did Dennis Eckersley, who had 48 saves this year. Walt Weiss was injured and did not even dress for Oakland's 3-1 victory over Boston Wednesday that completed a four-game sweep.

Only Willie McGee, the NL batting champ who came to the A's in an August trade, got to play, and all he did was pinch-run.

"If it takes 10 years, people are going to sit back and say, `Wow, what a team that was," said Oakland infielder Mike Gallego.

It should not take that long.

The A's can field a lineup consisting of eight former All Stars with 33 selections between them - Mark McGwire at first, Willie Randolph at second, Carney Lansford at third, Rickey Henderson, Jose Canseco and McGee in the outfield, Terry Steinbach catching with Harold Baines as the designated hitter.

Add to that a pitching staff with nine All Star selections.

Only at shortstop, where Weiss, who just happens to be the 1988 American League Rookie of the Year, are the A's unable to place a former All Star.

And this is a team that keeps getting better. Weren't the A's considered the best team in baseball two years ago, before adding Rickey Henderson? Wasn't it the same this spring, before Oakland acquired Randolph, Baines and McGee?

"You look at what the Oakland did down the stretch, picking up Willie McGee and Harold Baines," said Boston's Mike Greenwell. "They picked up Willie Randolph earlier. Those three guys kicked our butts. I gotta tip my cap to their front office for getting them. They rolled the dice and came up sevens."

Sweeping the Red Sox capped Oakland's three-year domination of the American League. The A's have won 306 regular-season games the past three years, won their division by 13, seven and nine games respectively over the last three years. They then rolled into three straight World Series by winning 12 of 13 playoff games.

There have been two four-game series sweeps since the playoffs were expanded to a best-of-seven format in 1985. The A's have both, this year's and a 1988 sweep of the Red Sox.

"With the capabilities of this ballclub, it's like everybody expects to win," said Oakland reliever Rick Honeycutt, who saved the clinching game by getting the final three outs. "After you win the World Series, teams are gunning for you. Every day is a challenge. This team has to turn it up a notch. It can't just go through it."

Even though it may look that way.

The A's have power - Canseco and McGwire combined for 76 home runs and 209 RBIs. Rickey Henderson's 28 homers don't pale too badly.

The A's have speed - Henderson led the way with 65 stolen bases as Oakland outstole its opponents 141-73 this year.

The A's have pitching - Oakland has had the league's best ERA three years running, a trick not turned since Baltimore won the title five times from 1969-73.

The A's have a bullpen - Eckersley's 48 saves only tops a corps that compiled a league-leading 2.35 ERA while converted 64 of 71 saves, a 90 percent success rate.

"This team is a little different (from Oakland's 1989 World Series champion team) with the acquisitions of Harold Baines and Willie McGee," Gallego said. "McGee brings an element of speed to our club similar to Rickey (Henderson). We have other guys on this club that can run but those guys can flat out fly.

"With Baines you have a professional hitter and a clutch hitter that you love to see at the plate when the game is on the line."

The hitting and the pitching receive plenty of attention throughout the year, but Oakland manager Tony La Russa always tries to get some attention paid to the A's defense.

"This is a team that understands the importance of playing solid defense," said Randolph. "It takes great pride in it, and that means a lot, but the key is understanding the importance of it. I think this is the best group I've seen in that respect.

"We don't just bash people, we can beat them other ways, with pitching and defense."

The A's have won more games than any other team each of the last three years. Only the 1936-39 New York Yankees have led the majors in victories four years in a row.

A second straight World Series ring would allow the A's to consider themselves among the best teams of their generation.

"We have a chance to be one put in the category of a special team," Lansford said.

It's a category they already place themselves.

"All of us inside this locker room know how special this team is and how special the teams have been," Gallego said.