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Game #69: Astros complete sweep of A’s behind Verlander

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Khrush’s homer puts him half way to the big 4-0, Chapman sent for hand MRI

Houston Astros v Oakland Athletics
Matt Chapman loses a ball off the bat of Brian McCann in the sun during the sixth inning.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The A’s — in a somewhat surprising twist — managed to get five hits, two of which were long balls, off of their nemesis from postseasons past, Houston Astros’ ace Justin Verlander. They scored three runs this time and, let’s face it, it’s better than waiting until the bottom of the seventh in Game 5 of the 2013 ALDS for Yoenis Cespedes to finally get a hit off of the 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner. So despite the outcome being similar to almost every game in which the A’s have ever faced off with Verlander (or with any AL West team in 2018), there were a couple of positive moments. Still, after nine-innings had been played, the Astros walked away with a 7-3 win, their eighth consecutive victory and a sweep of the A’s.

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The Good:

As noted the A’s got all five of their hits off of Justin Verlander which, more often than not — at least in previous contests against the veteran right-hander — they have not been able to do. Stephen Piscotty singled, Mark Canha doubled, Matt Olson hit his 14th home run of the seasons and Khris Davis krushed his 20th homer of the season, along with a pop-up double into shallow right field that deflected off of first baseman Yuri Gurriel and was fielded by Josh Reddick. While five hits isn’t what is normally considered “great” or even all that “good,” when it comes to the A’s and Verlander, five hits is pretty good.

Here’s another thing for you to smile about after today’s loss and it’s a Khris Davis milestone of sorts. The A’s slugger is now officially at halfway mark on the road to his third straight 40-homer season. During the second inning, Davis took Verlander deep to right for his 20th home run in 2018. It was his third home run in as many at-bats and it put him ahead of the pace needed to further cement his spot in Athletics’ franchise history. Davis had the opportunity to make Oakland A’s history during his next trip to the plate. Verlander got him to strikeout swinging, however, if he had homered in that fourth consecutive at-bat he would have tied the record set by Mike Epstein in 1971. But — hey! — nobody’s perfect. Given that it’s highly unlikely that the A’s have a chance at even a second wild card spot, I don’t know about you — but personally? My biggest hope for the season is just to be able to see Krush surpass 40 home runs again in 2018 — and perhaps earn himself some well-deserved recognition. While Davis is getting a bit more notice for his power on the national scene, he still isn’t seen by everyone as the elite power hitter that he truly is.

The Meh ...

Of course, as with any loss, there were also quite a few less than positive occurrences in the game. Starter Frankie Montas faced his first real test, going up against the reigning World Champions this afternoon. Coming into today’s start Montas had only faced a slumping (at the time) Arizona Diamondbacks team and the AL Central cellar dweller Kansas City Royals, not once but twice. He’d yet to see a lineup like that of the Astros. He managed to make it through 5.1 innings allowing seven runs (five earned) on 11 hits while giving up four walks and striking out just one batter. Going from pitching to the Royals’ lineup to pitching to the Astros’ lineup is a pretty dramatic difference in the quality of batters faced.

It makes it a bit more difficult to decipher what this start actually means for Montas. Has Montas improved from his struggles in previous years? Or had he just been lucky so far in 2018? Had he simply pitched well thus far due to facing inferior opponents? Or was this loss an inevitable regression to past failures? If you choose to look more on the bright side, perhaps it was simply a matter of facing almost completely opposite teams in terms of talent, added to having to face Verlander, plus the obvious lack of offense in general for teams playing at the Coliseum this year. It does appear to be true that Montas has had better control and command over the ball this season, but the sample size of statistics we have to look at is still extremely tiny. It seems we may just have to wait and see what Montas can do in his next start or two, perhaps even three (assuming he is allowed another three starts), before we can come to any conclusions regarding the actual quality of his pitching. So technically, I’m calling this the “meh” portion of the A’s play today because it wasn’t exactly “bad” but it didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know and there wasn’t anything especially “good” about it either.

The Ugly:

The two most shocking moments in the game came courtesy of the A’s defensive star, third baseman, Matt Chapman who was charged with not one but two errors. It had to have been partially the fault of the bright sun (and Chapman’s own discomfort with wearing sunglasses) but — yeah, that was just weird.

He later told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser that he was embarrassed to have been hit in the face with a pop up (which is pretty bad, especially when you are considered one of the best defensive players in MLB) off the bat of Brian McCann. Unfortunately, that wasn’t where the “ugly” ended for Chapman and the A’s this afternoon. After Chapman had made the two errors and was then replaced by Chad Pinder in the top of the seventh inning, apparently I wasn’t the only one worried about how he’d been hit in the hand by a pitch earlier in the series.

However, it turned out to have nothing to do with that HBP from Tuesday — this time his other hand was bothering him, the one that was a problem during spring training.

Chapman was diagnosed with a right hand contusion and is being sent for an MRI. According to Slusser, he’d gotten a cortisone shot for right hand soreness during spring training and it had recently begun to bother him again.

“It’s just been progressively worse over the past couple of days,” Chapman said. “I was just trying to push through it and couldn’t do it any more.”

Hopefully by tomorrow the A’s and A’s fans everywhere will get the news that his hand is not seriously injured. With all the injuries to the starting rotation this season — I’m hoping the baseball gods might give the team a break on this one. For now, we wait.

To wrap up the “ugliest” parts of today’s game, the A’s 7-3 loss to the Astros marks the first time that the team’s record has fallen under the .500 mark since May 16. That doesn’t mean that the team’s record will stay that way — they host the also, injury-plagued, Los Angeles Angels starting tomorrow night at the Coliseum. If they can sweep or at least take two of three from the Angels this weekend - they will be back at or over the .500 mark. Things could actually be worse, so don’t forget to bring your dead rally monkeys with you to the yard this weekend and cheer for the A’s to break out the brooms on Sunday!