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Series #22: Athletics vs Astros - 2nd Place Houston in Unfamiliar Spot

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MLB: Houston Astros at Texas Rangers Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Astros’ Current Record:

42-25, 2nd place in the AL West. The team has won five straight games, but still fell out of first behind a surging Mariners’ ballclub. They are particularly strong on the road, possessing a 23-11 record away from Houston, and has also played best against western opponents, going 22-10 thus far this year.

Possible Lineup:

CF - George Springer

3B - Alex Bregman

2B - Jose Altuve

SS - Carlos Correa

1B - Yuli Gurriel

DH - Evan Gattis

RF - Josh Reddick

LF - Marwin Gonzalez

C - Brian McCann

Probable Starting Pitchers:

Lance McCullers Jr - RHP

Gerrit Cole - RHP

Justin Verlander - RHP

Recent Bullpen Usage:

The Astros have been leaning harder on their bullpen lately, but with an off day on Monday, everyone in the pen should be available for this series.

Hottest Hitter(s):

Unsurprisingly, Jose Altuve has collected the most hits on the Astros over the last month of ballgames, collecting forty one hits in twenty six games. To go along with his .416 OBP, Altuve also has eight stolen bases. Evan Gattis has been having a resurgent month, and has led the team in home runs and has slugged .600 in his last twenty three games.

Coldest Hitter(s):

Recently sidelined after getting hit by a nasty pitch, but set to return to game action on Tuesday, the usually dependable Carlos Correa has been having a down year. In his last twenty one games, Correa has a .672 OPS and has three times as many strikeouts as walks. No other healthy regular has performed as poorly as Correa during this stretch.

Hottest Pitcher(s):

It was clear that the Astros’ starting pitching wouldn’t be able to maintain their collective sub-3.00 ERA for the entire season, but Justin Verlander still hasn’t slowed down. The longtime A’s postseason nightmare has a 1.87 ERA over his last five starts, with a WHIP of just 0.83. In the bullpen, Hector Rondon and Tony Sipp have only given up one run between them in their last twenty two combined appearances.

Coldest Pitcher(s):

Dallas Keuchel continues to be the obvious underperformer in the starting rotation, the former Cy Young’s ERA approaching six over the span of his last six starts. Closer Ken Giles is struggling to keep runs off the board as well, but fortunately for him and the team, he hasn’t blown any saves or picked up any losses because of it.

Key Injuries:

There have only been the typical bumps and bruises for the Astros that every team experiences over the course of the season, like the aforementioned Correa injury. Houston has otherwise remained remarkably healthy this year.

* * *

They weren’t overwhelming, but the A’s won three of four games from the Royals to kick off their homestand. However, the real test comes during the next six games. The A’s inability to beat division rivals has been a significant part of the narrative of this season, and while the team would have been hard-pressed to compete for a playoff spot regardless, but a 10-21 record versus the west sticks out like a mighty sore thumb while the team is sitting 2.5 games behind the Angels and eight behind the Mariners in the standings. Perhaps things start to change in this series.

It won’t be easy, or likely, for that matter, as the A’s are taking on the Astros just as the team is riding a five game winning streak and is hungry to retake the division lead. The A’s bats have yet to wake up after a quiet month-plus of baseball, though the Astros’ pitching staff has taken a step back to being merely excellent, rather than legendary, which allows Oakland a bit more of a fighting chance against the defending AL champs.

Game #67: Tuesday, June 12th, 7:05 - NBCSCA, ATT Sportsnet SW, MLB.tv

Daniel Mengden vs Lance McCullers Jr

Mengden finally had a dud of a start, giving up six runs against a rather meek Texas lineup in his last effort. The run total from that start nearly matched the seven that he gave up in the entire month of May, and so against the team that drafted him, Mengden will seek to put his poor start behind him and continue the stretch of dominance he established. McCullers has been strong in two starts against the A’s this year, allowing just two runs in total.

Game #68: Wednesday, June 13th, 7:05 - NBCSCA, ATT Sportsnet SW, MLB.tv

Paul Blackburn vs Gerrit Cole

Blackburn was pleasantly surprising when he cut his rehab short to make his season debut for the A’s, needing fewer than seventy five pitches to toss six innings of one run ball. While lacking flashy stuff, Blackburn has been consistently excellent when starting for the A’s, and could represent another stabilizing factor in the rotation should he remain healthy for the rest of the season. Cole is having a record-setting year for the Astros, striking out 124 batters on the still-young season.

Game #69: Thursday, June 14th, 12:35 - ATT Sportsnet SW, MLB Network, MLB.tv

Frankie Montas vs Justin Verlander

It appears the A’s have a hot shot, fireballing right handed starter of their own in Montas, as he has allowed just three runs in his three starts on the year. Montas has been nearly as unhittable as Justin Verlander in his short season, and may give the A’s the best chance to get the upper hand versus the Astros’ starter.