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Athletics at Astros: Series Preview #8

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MLB: Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The A's three game trip to Los Angeles took a quick detour through hell, as the Angels' pitching staff confounded and frustrated a pressing A's offense for each game of the series, en route to a decisive sweep of Oakland. The sweep pushed the A's losing streak to four games, tying the longest stretch of losing the team has had so far this season, and to add insult to injury Sean Manaea had to leave his start on Wednesday early with an arm injury. The losing skid has caused the A's to tumble down to a 10-12 record on the year and into a tie for third place with the Texas Rangers, while the sweep propelled the Angels to a .500 record and a game above the A's in second place.

The road trip won't be getting any easier, however, as the A's fly from Los Angeles to Houston to face the team that has comfortably led the AL West for weeks for the middle three games of the trip. The Astros are returning to Houston, as well, as the team has just completed its own six game road trip to Tampa Bay and Cleveland, going 3-3 overall. A strong team through and through, the Astros have been particularly good when playing on the road, boasting a 7-4 record that matches their record at home. Every other team in the division has at least twice as many losses on the road as wins, meaning the Astros' road performance is the reason the team is happily in first.

The first time these two teams played each other this year, the Astros won both games, in Oakland, rather handily by 7-2 and 10-6 scores, before a slight drizzle rained out the third game of the series while the Giants, right across the bay, somehow managed to survive playing through the storm.

Probably the biggest factor for Houston's success early in the season is the constant pressure the offense puts on the opposing defense. The Astros are currently first in the American League, and third in all the MLB, in team batting average and on base percentage, at .268 and .340 respectively. To top that off, most of the players who get on base are highly adept on the basepaths and are capable of stealing or taking an extra base on a hit, and it's the reason why the Astros are second in the American League in total bases on the young year. Especially when considering their home ballpark, it wouldn't be shocking to see the team's slugging percentage of .420 rise as summer comes rolling in. While the offense is coming from all over the diamond for the Astros, the outfield of Reddick, Aoki, Springer, and even Marisnick, has been particularly effective at the plate, each outfielder OPSing at .800 or above at the plate while playing good-to-great defense on the field.

The Astros' offensive capabilities were never really in question. While the Astros always knew they had an ace in Dallas Keuchel, the back half of the rotation was full of question marks and guys coming off of career worst years. At least through April, any doubts in the rotation have been challenged, as the Astros have the fifth best team ERA in all of baseball at 3.48 with more than nine strikeouts for every nine innings. Dallas Keuchel has been his old self again, to the tune of a 1.22 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in his first five starts, but also pitching well out of the starting rotation is Lance McCullers, who has generated thirty-six strikeouts in just twenty-nine innings this year. In addition to the starting rotation, the bullpen has been solid as well, with Devenski and Feliz performing admirably to finish out games as uneventfully as possible, though the bigger names in the bullpen like Luke Gregerson and Ken Giles are still struggling.

Here are the matchups for the three game weekend series:

Fri, 04/28 @ 5:10: Cotton (2-2) vs Morton (1-2) on NBCSCA and MLB.tv

Sat, 04/29 @ 4:10: Triggs (3-1) vs Musgrove (1-1) on NBCSCA and MLB.tv

Sun, 04/30 @ 11:10: Hahn (1-1) vs Keuchel (4-0) on NBCSCA and MLB.tv