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Oakland A's at Houston Astros preview: Houston is hot

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The Oakland Athletics (25-29) visit the Houston Astros (25-30) for three games at Minute Maid Park.

MLB: Houston Astros at Los Angeles Angels
Houston Astros starting pitcher Doug Fister.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

A tough April left the Astros 7-17 and without consecutive victories. The Astros finished May on a five-game winning streak. As Grant Brisbee writes in his annual "What if April didn't happen?" column, Houston had a great month, like Seattle and Texas:

The Houston Astros are 17-12 and a half-game out of first place in the AL West. This is a weird idea for an article, but my editor insisted for some reason. Okay, we'll try to make it work.

...

Where's the hook? Why is this news? Sometimes I don't get this job.

There are reasons for the rest of the league to be scared, too. Carlos Correa has slumped for most of the month. Dallas Keuchel has been mostly forgettable, and so has Lance McCullers. All of those players could catch fire.

When they do, they'll support a pitching staff that leads the American League in FIP and the world in WAR. The Doug Fister gamble looks like the offseason's greatest steal. Jose Altuve and George Springer are good enough to carry a lineup, but that's ignoring the contributions of Jason Castro and Luis Valbuena, who might be All-Stars.

The Astros were in the postseason last year. Why should it be news that they're good again? I'll file this story, but I don't have to be happy about it.

The A's took two out of three at the Coliseum in the first go around at the Coliseum. A series win for the A's in Houston keeps them ahead of the Houston Astros and will let Oakland gain at least one game on either Seattle or Texas, who play each other this weekend.

Pitching possibles and broadcast schedule

We know the starters for Friday and Saturday, but we don't know if Rich Hill will start on Sunday. If he doesn't start Sunday, we don't know who will be called up to take his place, though we're pretty sure it's not Sonny Gray (according to Jane Lee, MLB.com) or Zach Neal, who pitched for Nashville on Thursday. Eric Surkamp would require somebody going on the disabled list to override the 10-day minimum rule on optional assignments.

Friday: Jesse Hahn vs. Doug Fister

Doug Fister earned the win in Houston's 2-1 win over the A's on May 1, striking out five and walking one in 6 2/3 innings while allowing one run and seven hits. In five starts since then, Fister has a 3.26 ERA with 20 strikeouts and 10 walks, averaging over six innings per start.

Jesse Hahn's start against the Astros on April 30 was his impressive 2016 major league debut where he allowed three hits over 6 2/3 innings in a 2-0 win in just 81 pitches.

Saturday: Kendall Graveman vs. Collin McHugh

A big part of Collin McHugh's 4.82 ERA is his 2016 debut, where he recorded just one out and allowed five earned runs to the Yankees. In 10 starts since then, he has a serviceable 4.11 ERA, but a very good 56-to-12 strikeout to walk ratio. In six May starts, he averaged over six innings per start with a 3.83 ERA.

Sunday: TBA vs. Lance McCullers

Lance McCullers started the year on the disabled list, and he's shown some wildness in four May starts, walking 16 batters in 20 2/3 innings. He's averaging just over five innings per start.

Bullpens

Closer and old friend Luke Gregerson is 13-for-17 (76%) in save opportunities for the Astros, but Will Harris has stepped up as a major contributor for Houston the last couple of seasons.

We saw notable acquisition Ken Giles struggle at the Coliseum, leaving his April ERA at 9.00 in 11 appearances. Since then, Giles has a 3.65 ERA in 15 games, striking out 16 and walking five and allowing no home runs.

The Astros have a deep bullpen, but it's not invulnerable, and it has been used a lot in the last week with two games that have gone to extra innings. The A's have the advantage of the Thursday off day.

Bullpen information from Roster Resource (Astros & A's). All bullpen statistics are relief innings only from FanGraphs (Astros & A's).