It turns out that the Houston Astros are a Major League team after all. They looked like kind of a joke in their first couple of series against Oakland, but they essentially played the A's to a dead heat this week. Fortunately, Oakland was able to hang on for the series win today thanks to some unlikely power sources.
The game started on a positive note when John Jaso launched a routine fly ball to left field which landed in the ridiculously shallow Crawford Boxes for a solo homer. Jaso ended up reaching base three times in the game, and has now reached six times in the last two games. With Oakland's lineup scuffling a bit to start the second half, this would be a great time for Jaso to get hot at the top of the order.
Meanwhile, A.J. Griffin cruised through the first three innings. This is fairly normal for him, as he has allowed a .444 and .417 OPS in the 1st and 2nd innings this season, respectively. However, two other fairly normal things for Griffin are running into trouble in the 4th inning (.939 OPS), and allowing lots of homers. Both came true today, as Jose Altuve led off the 4th with a solo short to left. The pitch he hit was practically at his shoulders (so, belt-high), so this one was a case of Griffin leaving one up.
The game remained tied until the 6th, which is Griffin's second-worst inning this season (.899 OPS). Jason Castro doubled to right, and Carlos Corporan followed by swatting a two-run homer. This time, it's hard to fault Griffin - the pitch that Corporan hit was down below his knees, and I can't believe that he reached down and got it.
The A's entered the 7th inning staring at a 3-1 deficit. Bud Norris retired Josh Reddick to open the frame, but his pitch count was getting high and he was starting to run out of gas. He walked the ice-cold Seth Smith (0-for-his-last-22), and then left a pitch over the plate to Eric Sogard. Keebs slapped it into the left-field corner, and while Chris Carter was wandering around trying to figure out what to do with the ball, Smith raced all the way home from first. That ended Norris's 119-pitch outing, and Travis Blackley was summoned from the bullpen.
Blackley's outing went really well for exactly one pitch. He threw a called strike to Coco Crisp! Well done, Trav. Things went downhill after that, though, as Coco hammered the second pitch to left for a go-ahead, two-run homer. The A's are required by MLB law to hit a late-inning, go-ahead homer in every game against the Astros, and this was their quota for the day.
Houston only managed to mount one threat against Oakland's bullpen, when Altuve singled and stole second on what was apparently a very controversial call (non-televised game, thanks Commish!). Otherwise, Jerry Blevins, Jesse Chavez, and Ryan Cook did a great job of shutting the door without any unnecessary drama.
Today's game was one more example of Oakland's deep lineup coming through. The middle of the order was mostly helpless, so the #1, 2, and 9 hitters did the heavy lifting instead. It seems like someone different steps up every day to be the hero, which is a great way to avoid long losing streaks.
Griffin's outing was mostly positive, as he finished with eight strikeouts and no walks, but he needs to figure out a way to limit the longball. He has now served up 23 dingers in 133.2 innings, and his 1.55 HR/9 rate ranks in the top six in the Majors - that number simply must come down. Thanks to those homers, he often seems to fall apart in the middle innings (4th-6th), but he has shown that he is capable of going deep into games when he keeps the ball in the park.
The A's were bound to lose to the Astros eventually, and that finally happened last night. However, it didn't just happen because of statistical inevitability - the Astros have some talent now. Oakland has seven more games against Houston this year, and I still expect them to record victories in most of those games, but those victories no longer feel like forgone conclusions like they did in April and May. Props to the Astros on a great series.
The A's return home tomorrow for a four-game set against the slegnA. Dan Straily faces C.J. Wilson in the opener at 7:05pm. Cuppingmaster will have your thread.