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Series #9: Athletics at Astros - Look Out for #1

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MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Houston Astros Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Astros’ Current Record: 17-9, first place in the AL West, 0.5 games ahead of the Angels, 3.5 games ahead of the A’s.

Possible Lineup:

CF- George Springer

2B- Jose Altuve

SS- Carlos Correa

RF- Josh Reddick

DH- Yuli Gurriel

3B- Alex Bregman

1B- Marwin Gonzalez

C- Brian McCann

LF- Derek Fisher

Probable Starting Pitchers:

LHP Dallas Keuchel

RHP Lance McCullers, Jr

RHP Gerrit Cole

Recent Bullpen Activity:

Like the A’s, the Astros had the day off on Thursday, and no particular reliever was overworked to begin with, so the Astros will be operating with a fully-rested bullpen for the series. Only closer Ken Giles pitched on both Tuesday and Wednesday this week, but each appearance was for fewer than ten pitches total.

Hottest Hitter(s):

The Astros’ lineup is just as deep as it was last season, but over the season’s first month the offense has only been a little above average. Carlos Correa is continuing to put up numbers that will have him in Cooperstown if he stays healthy throughout his career, and Jose Altuve is still an unstoppable hits machine. Former fan favorite Josh Reddick is having a monster start to the season, batting in the middle of the order and leading the team in home runs with six, with nearly as many walks as strikeouts. Former farmhand Max Stassi has hit to the tune of a .859 OPS when getting his chance to play behind the dish.

Coldest Hitter(s):

Altuve is racking up hits, as per usual, and has a .400 OBP, but his power has yet to show up this season. Of his thirty-four hits only five have been for extra bases, and he has been less of a factor on the basepaths this year. Derek Fisher is batting .178/.224/.356 and has twenty-two strikeouts to three walks while getting the majority of starts in left field, a rough start to his big league career.

Hottest Pitcher(s):

The Astros have both an enviable starting rotation and bullpen, and the two have been firing on all cylinders in tandem in April. Gerrit Cole, acquired in a highway robbery of Pittsburgh in the offseason, has pitched at least seven innings while giving up no more than two runs in each of his first five starts of the year. A’s-nemesis Justin Verlander is continuing the best stretch of his already great and illustrious career, and currently is unbeaten with a 1.36 ERA in the season’s first month. The Astros bullpen has been shut-down as well, with any shakiness that plagued their 2017 postseason seemingly left behind that October.

Coldest Pitcher(s):

Despite strong numbers overall, if not a small step worse than his career averages, Dallas Keuchel only got his first pitcher-win in his last start, after being winless over his first four starts. So, in that sense, he was struggling. Lance McCullers has poor overall numbers for the season, but that is largely due to one horrendous start he had in early April wherein he gave up eight runs, but has otherwise been just as solid as ever.

Key Injuries:

None, because everything just has to go right for the team that already won it all last year.

* * *

After taking two out of three games from the Texas Rangers, the A’s will head into Houston having won eight of their last ten games overall, and close enough to the top of the division to cause unease in fans across the AL West if the team stays hot. Much like the series versus the Red Sox, the Astros are a very difficult opponent to face, and in this series the A’s won’t have the benefit of a home field and crowd behind them. The last time the A’s faced a division rival at the top of the AL West standings, they kicked and threw the ball all over the diamond in frustrating defeats versus the Angels in the season’s first week. If the team plays the solid baseball it has been playing, these games could be closer than many would anticipate.

The Astros won the World Series last season and managed to improve during the offseason. However, so did many of their opponents, and so despite the improved squad, there are a few more roadblocks to the postseason for Houston this year than last, particularly in the AL West. And so far the Astros have handled everything thrown at them, and once more sit in first place. But, their hold of the first place slot is tenuous at best, as every other team in the league is working hard to make sure they don’t sit atop the baseball world for long.

Game #26: Friday, April 27, 5:10 - NBCSCA, ATT Sportsnet SW, MLB.tv

Sean Manaea vs Dallas Keuchel

Sean Manaea is making his first start since his statement no-hitter against the Red Sox. Manaea has been nearly unhittable all season long, though being actually unhittable came as a bit of a surprise. The Astros lineup is a tough one, but it isn’t as highly touted or as well performing as Boston’s was, though balls tend to fly a lot further in Houston than Oakland, and the left field stands may prove to be a problem for Manaea. Opposing Manaea is Dallas Keuchel, who appears to be finding his groove after a mediocre start to the season.

Game #27: Saturday, April 28, 4:10 - NBCSCA, ATT Sportsnet SW, MLB.tv

Daniel Mengden vs Lance McCullers Jr

Mengden may be fully coming into form just in time to oppose the team that drafted him, having allowed just two runs total over his last two starts. McCullers, too, has only allowed just two runs over his last two starts, and so the game will likely come down to which offense can re-discover what made their opposing starter struggle in the season’s first couple of weeks.

Game #28: Sunday, April 29, 11:10 - NBCSCA, ATT Sportsnet SW, MLB.tv

Trevor Cahill vs Gerrit Cole

The two shrewdly-acquired pitchers, albeit in entirely different contexts, will go toe-to-toe on Sunday’s series finale. Cahill has struggled with his command, but has shown good movement and has gotten good results in his first two starts on the year. Gerrit Cole has been consistently dominant on the mound, and looks to be re-emerging as a staff ace after struggling with the home run ball last year.