The Oakland Athletics are currently 4-2 on their Texas Tour, having won their home series against the Astros and their road set in Arlington against the Rangers. They wrap up with three more games in Houston. Because it's still weird to think of, let me remind you that the Astros are still a game ahead of the last-place Rangers in the standings.
These are the expected pitching matchups for the series:
Mon: Jesse Chavez vs. Brett Oberholtzer
Tue: Jeff Samardzija vs. Scott Feldman
Wed: Jason Hammel vs. Dallas Keuchel
Oberholzter dominated the A's in his last start, sort of. He only allowed two runs in seven innings and pitched to a draw against All-Star Scott Kazmir in a game that the Astros eventually won in extras, but he also didn't strike out a single batter. If all 21 of your outs are from batted balls, then things might not go as well next time. Feldman got crushed by the A's his last time out (5⅓ innings, 6 runs, 9 hits, 5 walks), though he's generally been solid this year. Keuchel pitched like an All-Star in the first half, but he's fallen off a bit lately; more on him in the Q&A. Most importantly, the Astros have called up Gregorio Petit, who was once an infielder for the A's. You know what happens when we face guys who used to be role players on old A's teams. Also, George Springer is still on the DL and won't play in this series.
1. Houston has an entire outfield on the DL -- George Springer, Dexter Fowler, and Alex Presley. Who is starting in their places? Are the replacements guys who you are curious to watch, or just pure stopgaps? And how are they doing?
RD: Robbie Grossman and L.J. Hoes were two of the three Opening Day starters in the outfield, but lost their jobs before the All-Star break. They are back out of necessity, with a mix of Marc Krauss and Enrique Hernandez. For the most part the guys are Quadruple-A players. I would keep an eye on Hernandez, he's an ultra-utility player who started the season at Double-A Corpus Christi and hit his way onto the squad.
2. Former Athletics infielder Gregorio Petit is back in the Majors for the first time since 2009, replacing injured shortstop Marwin Gonzalez. How many homers will Petit hit against his former team this week? (Note: Petit has never hit a Major League homer.)
RD: Petit's chances to hit a home run are as high as my chances to watch the Astros without CSN Houston. Which is zero -- and I live within the city limits of Houston.
3. In Dallas Keuchel's (Wed starter) last six starts, he has a 4.91 ERA in 36.2 innings. He's giving up a ton of hits (.906 OPS), and his 3.3 K/BB ratio is down to 2.0. Any cause for concern, or just a bump in the road for a guy having a breakout season?
RD: I worry a little bit about it. I think he is hitting a wall, this his first major season that he has been in the rotation from the start. He pitched more innings in 2013 thus far, but he finished last season in the bullpen.
4. On the flipside, reliever Josh Fields is on a tear. He hasn't allowed a run in his last 10 games (11⅓ innings, 19 K's); extend that to 22 games (25⅔ innings) and he's got an 0.70 ERA (two earned runs, 41 K's, five walks). Given that nothing in his peripherals is screaming "fluke," is this hot streak actually Fields quietly growing into a stud reliever? And if so, what has changed for him?
RD: I don't think much has changed for Fields. The Mariners thought enough of him to draft him in the first round of the 2008 draft as a reliever, as did the Astros in the 2012 Rule 5 draft. Fields' fastball has been electric this season. The only question seems to be his confidence; he struggled with repeated use in the ninth to close out games.
5. Can you please write us a haiku about Jose Altuve, who is batting .429/.429/.595 during his current nine-game hitting streak?
Run Altuve Run
Run fast as you can Jose
You're our only hope
Thank you, Ryan, for participating in the Q&A!
The series starts right now. First pitch is scheduled for 5:10 p.m., Chavez vs. Oberhockey. Jed Lowrie is leading off for the A's, which is interesting but makes sense due to his current hot streak. Alberto Callaspo is in the order as the DH, playing for the first time since his return from the DL on Sunday.