Sometimes in life, things go exactly as you expect they will. You go to the DMV and there's a three-hour line, just as the stereotype dictates. You wait for the cable guy from 8am to noon, and he shows up at 4pm, just as the joke always goes. Or, you play the Houston Astros and you completely embarrass them in a 3-game sweep. Just as you would expect.
Today, the A's took care of business against an Astros team which is proving to be every bit as pathetic as the incessant offseason jokes predicted they would be. For the second time in three games, Oakland knocked out Houston's starter in the 1st inning after scoring six runs, and the A's held on for a 7-5 victory over the DisAstros. Shane Peterson got his first Major League hit, walk, run, and RBI, and Bartolo Colon extended his season-long streak to 19 innings without walking a batter. Repeat: Bartolo Colon has not walked a batter yet in 2013.
To its credit, Houston actually put up a bit of a fight toward the end of this game, but it wasn't enough to overcome the early hole that they dug for themselves. In the 1st inning, Bud Norris did his best impression of Eric Bedard by allowing the following sequence:
- Jaso: double
- Young: RBI single
- Smith: infield single
- Lowrie: walk
- Donaldson: foul-out
- Reddick: 2-RBI double
- Norris: walk
- Sogard: RBI single
- Peterson: RBI walk (w/ bases loaded)
- Jaso: RBI groundout
- Xavier Cedeno relieves Bud Norris
Two weeks ago, Norris started on Opening Night for the Astros. This isn't their fringy 5th starter; he's their #1 guy. The game wasn't televised because MLB still exists in the 20th century and can't figure out how to fit all 50 players into that tiny little box, so I didn't actually see most of this action, but I did see Reddick's double on MLB's website and it was legit. He hit a sharp liner to the base of the wall, and if he'd gotten any lift on it at all it would have been an easy homer. Don't worry, the dude can still hit.
Oakland added one more run in the 4th on a rally which began with Shane Peterson's first Major League hit. He hit a line drive up the middle for a clean single, and eventually got the ball as a souvenir. The A's went on to load the bases, and Peterson scored his first run in the Majors on an RBI groundout by Jed Lowrie. Welcome to the Bigs, kid!
While Oakland fattened themselves up on some Houston pitching, Bartolo Colon devoured the Astros' hitters with his normal efficiency. He actually got into a bit of hot water in the 1st, though. Jose Altuve reached on an infield single to lead off, and from the comments on the Game Thread it sounds like Colon was a bit slow to cover 1st base. Shocking! Jason Castro and Chris Carter followed with singles, knocking in Altuve for the tiniest run of the game, before Carter was picked off of 1st by Colon to end the rally. Yep, Astros.
After that 1st inning hiccup, Colon settled down to retire 15 of the next 17 batters he faced. There was no disaster inning this time, no 3-run homer to make you go, "Well, Colon was solid, but he still gave up some runs." Just 93 pitches (69 for strikes), a few strikeouts, no walks, and only three hits which left the infield. I'm going to make a statement here, and it's going to sound a little over the top, but here goes: Bartolo Colon is Oakland's best starter right now. He's not the most talented, and he won't have the best stats at the end of the season, but he's pitching better than anyone else right now. He is on his game like no one else in the rotation currently is, except for maybe Tommy Milone. His control is impeccable, he's inducing weak contact, and he's gobbling up innings like sweet, delicious M&M's. Bartolo Colon. So hot right now.
After 6 innings, the score was 7-1 and Oakland appeared to be cruising to victory. They would not score another run for the rest of the game, and it was time to turn to the bullpen to close this one out. The dependable Chris Resop entered in the 7th and
got a 1-2-3 inning gave up a bunch of runs wait what? Carlos Pena blasted a 1-out solo homer to right, and J.D. Martinez and Brandon Barnes quickly found themselves on 2nd and 3rd thanks to a double, a walk, and a host of other baserunning shenanigans. Resop retired Matt Dominguez, but allowed back-to-back RBI singles to Marwin Gonzalez and Jose Altuve before giving way to Ryan Cook. Justin Maxwell struck out to end the threat, but Houston had still brought the game close enough to make it a save situation for Oakland.
After Cook breezed through an easy 8th inning, Grant Balfour came in for the 9th. Balfour immediately served up a homer to pinch-hitter Rick Ankiel, and then allowed a single to Dominguez. Marwin Gonzalez strode to the plate representing the tying run, but he hit a grounder to Peterson at 1st. Peterson showed off his strong arm by getting the force out at 2nd, but the A's were unable to turn the double play. That meant that Jose Altuve was coming up with the chance to tie it.
It's easy to tease Altuve for being such a small guy, and I do so frequently. However, he really is a solid hitter, and has already had 3 multi-hit games against the A's this year (as well as a 3-hit game against LAA and a 4-hit game against Seattle). He is not the Astro you want at the plate with the game on the line (unless you're an Astros fan, in which case, I'm sorry). However, he fell a bit short in his final at-bat today, grounding into a tailor-made 4-6-3 double play to seal the victory for Oakland. Phew.
It's fun to sweep a bad team, but it's important not to get too cocky about it. Yes, the Astros can win games, and have even done so against other teams this year, but the A's will face much tougher competition throughout this season. It's great to take care of business against the doormat team, and that's an important thing for a supposedly contending club to do. Things will get more difficult, though.
Here are a few takeaways from today's game:
Seth Smith continued to hit the absolute crap out of the ball. He went 3-for-5, and his .447 average would lead the Majors if he qualified (43 plate appearances, 7 short of currently qualifying). More importantly, he is hitting left-handers much better than expected; according to John Hickey, Smith has 8 hits against lefties after recording only 11 off of them all of last year. He also hit his only homer off of a lefty, and hasn't struck out against one yet (mostly because he just hasn't gotten out at all; he's 8-for-12 overall against southpaws). I have no idea if he's made some sort of adjustment, or if he's just that hot in a small sample size, but at this point he should be starting every day until he cools off and requires a platoon partner.
Derek Norris also had another solid day at the plate, as he drew walks in his first two plate appearances. He would later leave the game early after taking a ball off of his catcher's mask, but X-rays were negative and he should be ready to play on Friday. Norris now has 7 walks to 6 strikeouts on the season, and his OBP is .514. Melissa Lockard pointed out that Norris is "getting back to the patient approach he had in the Nats system," and a productive Norris would be a huge boost for Oakland's lineup.
Ryan Cook is back on track. After allowing three walks and a run in his first outing of the season, Cook has tossed 8 scoreless innings in seven subsequent appearances and struck out 10 batters with only one walk. If we aren't already calling him Cookie Monster, then this is probably the time to start. As for Resop, I propose that his name should become Chris Poser when he pitches poorly; if he's on, then Resop is on the mound, but if he's off then he's been replaced by a lookalike Poser. Yeah? (Respond in the comments.)
Oakland's record is now 12-4, which ties them for the MLB-lead in wins with Atlanta. The Braves finally snapped their 10-game winning streak today (at the hands of the 8-6 Royals), but they still have baseball's best record at 12-2. The next best record belongs to...the Colorado Rockies, at 10-4? Oh April baseball, you cray. Let that be a reminder to you that, while you should be super-excited about the A's early success, the Rockies currently have a .714 winning percentage. (Note: Boston is the next-best AL team, at 9-4). In the AL West, Oakland has a 2-game lead over Texas, whose game against the Cubs was rained out today. The Angels and Twins were also rained out, because some idiot built a non-dome stadium in Minnesota. Rain in April in Minnesota, and an Oakland sweep of the Astros?
My word, sometimes things just go exactly as you think they will.
If Bud Selig graciously allowed you to watch this game, then please share any other observations in the comments. Oakland gets Thursday off, and then opens a 3-game series in Tampa Bay on Friday. Game time is 4:10pm, and baseballgirl will have the goods for you.