The Oakland A’s lost another game to the Astros on Wednesday, showing little life in a 4-1 defeat. Houston wrapped up the three-game sweep, outscoring the green and gold 24-5 overall.
The game started out quietly, with a scoreless tie through five innings. Daniel Mengden and Gerrit Cole were locked into a pitcher’s duel and breezed through the first half of the afternoon, but it was Cole who finally blinked in the 6th.
With one out in the frame, Matt Joyce lined a single the other way, which was only the A’s third hit of the day. Jed Lowrie followed with a liner that barely clipped the right-field line for a fair ball, finding its way into the corner for a double to score Joyce. Of course it was Lowrie who came through, as he’s been the one Oakland hitter who has stayed consistently sharp during this team-wide slump (27 runs in last 11 games). The RBI put him back in sole possession of the American League lead with 32, breaking a tie he’d held with none other than teammate Khris Davis.
The A’s had their chance to break out in that 6th inning, but Lowrie’s ribbie was all they could muster. Cole pitched around Khrush for a walk, and then he struck out Matt Olson and Matt Chapman on seven pitches to end the rally. Oakland never again put two runners aboard at the same time, and didn’t even reach scoring position again for the rest of the day. The only other runner who had made it as far as second base had been Stephen Piscotty in the 5th, on a double that was ultimately stranded.
The A’s have enjoyed some offensive success at times this year, but too often it has come at the hands of veterans like Lowrie and Joyce (and recently Jonathan Lucroy) who likely won’t be here long-term. In order to turn the next corner and take a meaningful step forward in their current rebuild, they’ll need young stars like Olson and Chapman to come through more often in these types of situations.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, Mengden looked excellent right up until he didn’t. It took him only 83 pitches to make it through 6⅔ scoreless frames, with just four baserunners along the way (mostly hits by Jose Altuve, which is fair enough).
Mengden was cruising, and borderline dominating, but he couldn’t quite wrap up that 7th inning. With two outs and two strikes, former A’s prospect Max Stassi got ahold of one and drilled it way out to right-center for a solo dinger. Four pitches later, he served up another to Derek Fisher, and just like that the slim lead had become a one-run deficit. Both homers came on fastballs that caught far too much of the plate, with Fisher’s being a particular hanger.
Despite the disappointing finish, it was still a quality start for Mengden: 6⅔ ip, 2 runs, 4 Ks, 0 BB. Even better, this performance came just two starts after he’d been torched by this same Houston lineup, so the good news is a young pitcher got back on the horse after a disastrous outing and responded with marked improvement. Never count out a bulldog.
Side note: Great catch by Piscotty! See video below. In fact, all around strong defense by Oakland all day.
The bullpen allowed some insurance for the Astros, though it didn’t end up mattering. Yusmeiro Petit gave up three straight hits to lead off the 8th, culminating in a two-run double by Yuli Gurriel. He and Danny Coulombe settled down from there and finished out the game, but the damage had been done and the 4-1 score held up.
A’s fans did get one fun moment late in the afternoon. Dustin Fowler, the top outfield prospect acquired last summer for Sonny Gray, received his first career plate appearance in the 7th. Fowler had been called up before the game, and although he didn’t start he did get a chance to pinch-hit. He’d been waiting 10 months for this at-bat since his brief and ill-fated MLB debut, and then when he got the call he ... waited another two minutes when Houston changed pitchers. Finally, his moment came against reliever Will Harris, and on his second pitch he lined out softly to Altuve. Fowler’s stretch as the modern-day Moonlight Graham is officially over, and based on the available sample size he has only ever been retired by a literal league MVP.
Otherwise, this was a quiet day for Oakland, and a snoozer of a series overall. We knew this would be a tough stretch of opponents in the month of May, but hopefully the A’s can make a bit more noise on their upcoming 10-game road trip in some bandbox AL East ballparks. The next game is Friday, in New York against the MLB-best Yankees, against old buddy Sonny Gray — and with Fowler likely in the lineup to face the star pitcher he was traded for.
In the meantime, we’ll sign off on a more positive note. Today is the eighth anniversary of Dallas Braden’s perfect game, and before the game he received the ceremonial first pitch from his grandmother. Cheers to both of them, to the A’s, and to all of Athletics Nation!