For the last several days, the Oakland Athletics' lineup has struggled a bit to drive in runners. After leaving double-digit men on base in three straight games against the Royals (12) and Rangers (15, then 11) from Sunday through Tuesday, they failed to cash in on several big opportunities against Texas in the series finale. That last game was brought to you by the letters L, O & B, because the story of the game was the runners which Oakland left on base.
Tonight's game went a little bit differently. It is brought to you by the letters R, B, & I, because every single hitter in the lineup drove in at least one run and the A's recorded more runs than runners left on base. Whereas many of the victories in the last week have involved late-inning comebacks and lots of solo homers, the A's put this one away early (and then added some solo homers anyway, just for fun).
It's a good thing that the hitters took care of business tonight, because A.J. Griffin was not his sharpest. He allowed the Astros to get on the board early by allowing a solo homer to Jason Castro in the 1st, and went on to allow a homer to Matt Dominguez and another to Castro after his lineup had given him a huge lead to work with. His start wasn't all bad, as he struck out seven and issued only one walk in 5.2 innings, but the few mistakes he made were both glaring and costly. Until the 5th, the three homers were the only hits he allowed, but a mini-rally in the 6th was enough to knock him from the game.
It didn't really matter by that point, though, because Oakland put this game out of reach early. If Griffin was as sharp as a dull knife, then Houston starter Lucas Harrell was a pair of plastic safety scissors. His outing was so brief that I actually had to go look at the box score just now to remind myself who had started for the Astros, because I'd genuinely forgotten.
Harrell breezed through the 1st inning, but he did not make it through the 2nd. The rally went like this:
- Seth Smith bunt single
- Josh Donaldson single
- Brandon Moss walk
- Chris Young double (2 RBI)
- Eric Sogard single (RBI)
- Adam Rosales groundout (RBI)
- Coco Crisp single (RBI)
- John Jaso flyout
- Yoenis Cespedes walk
- Seth Smith single (RBI)
- Josh Donaldson walk
- Lucas Harrell gets swallowed by sinkhole; Edgar Gonzalez relieves
- Brandon Moss pops out because he's bored and doesn't want to be here all night
Yep, that's a six-run rally which started on a bunt single by Seth Smith. The Astros infield was deploying a defensive shift against the lefty, and Smith laid a perfect bunt down the 3rd base line to beat it. The rest of the inning was mostly Harrell falling behind hitters and then finding a little bit too much of the plate. The double by Young, which came on a hanging slider the size of Bartolo Colon, was absolutely smoked off of the left field wall.
The A's added on in the 4th. Coco Crisp drew a leadoff walk despite falling behind 0-2, Jaso doubled him home, and Cespedes singled home Jaso before Smith killed the rally with a double-play. At this point in the game, every Athletics hitter except Donaldson and Moss had driven in runs, so naturally the two sluggers immediately chipped in with back-to-back solo homers. The score was 10-2, and it was a complete group effort by every hitter from one through nine. It doesn't get better than that.
The game was essentially over at this point, but the Astros didn't completely lie down. They scored two more against Griffin before Hideki Okajima came in to quell the rally, and Dominguez added another homer off of Okajima in the next inning. Really, though, Oakland was on cruise control for the rest of the night. The A's eventually added one more run against old friend Travis Blackley to bring the final score to 11-5.
This was a really weird outing by Griffin. He made some excellent pitches, and his curveball was downright filthy at times, but then he would leave a meatball over the plate and it would end up on the wrong side of the wall. This has been a disturbing trend for Oakland's pitchers, as the staff has allowed the 6th-most homers in the Majors (59) while the starters are now tied for the MLB lead with Tampa Bay (44). They're keeping the walks down, but they're going to have to do a better job of keeping the ball in the park if the rotation is going to be a strength. Hopefully, this is just some growing pains for a group of young pitchers.
Jesse Chavez made his first appearance since May 15th, and looked good once again in the mop-up role. He did give up a couple of hard-hit outs, but he also threw a lot of strikes and did a great job of getting in on the hands of a few hitters. He did exactly what he needed to do tonight, pitching to contact and not handing out any free passes to let Houston back into the game. He is a different pitcher this year, and I think that he belongs in the Major Leagues right now.
Four members of the A's had at least 3 hits: Coco, Smith, Young, and Donaldson, who had 4 hits and a walk and raised his OPS from .894 to .943. Young is now 6-for-10 in the series and has raised his batting average above the Mendoza Line (.207), while Smith got yet another hit against a left-handed pitcher and is flirting with a .300 average overall. Did you know that Coco Crisp has drawn 23 walks this year and struck out only 12 times? He's always been good at avoiding strikeouts, but this is just ridiculous. His BB% is currently a career-high, and his K% is currently a career-low, and neither are particularly close to anything he's ever done before in even half a season. He is hitting like he's never hit before.
I've been a loud supporter of Adam Rosales lately (and always, but particularly lately), but he was really the only player on the team who had a bad game. He was the only Athletic to fail to record a hit, and none of his at-bats were all that great. Plus, he made an error in the 9th when his flip to 2nd on a routine force-out pulled Eric Sogard off the bag. He's had his ups and his downs this year, but that's to be expected since he's a backup being forced into everyday starting duties. Jed Lowrie should be back in the lineup tomorrow, so hopefully one member of Sogales will find himself on the bench (probably Sogard, with a lefty on the mound).
Today's victory pushed the A's to 7-1 in their last eight games, and retained their perfect record this season against Houston (now 8-0). The A's are winning the games that they are supposed to win against the Astros, and they've got themselves on a nice little roll heading in to next week's series against the Giants.
The series finale in Houston is tomorrow morning. Hopefully, that game will be brought to you by the letters S, W, E (two of 'em!), and P.
Bartolo Colon faces something called a Dallas Keuchel tomorrow at 11:10am. Keuchel is a lefty, so expect to see the right-handed halves of Oakland's various platoons. Keuchel is also an Astro, so expect to see a lot of runs scored. Nico will have your thread.