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Series #40: Athletics vs Astros - Well, Well, Well, What Do We Have Here?

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MLB: Colorado Rockies at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Astros’ Current Record:

74-47, and four wins over their last ten games. The Astros currently have a two game lead in the division over the *checks notes* Oakland Athletics.

Hmm, interesting.

Possible Lineup:

Alex Bregman - 3B

Marwin Gonzalez - LF

Yuli Gurriel - 2B

Carlos Correa - SS

Tyler White - 1B

Josh Reddick - RF

Evan Gattis - DH

Max Stassi - C

Tony Kemp - CF

Probable Starting Pitchers:

Charlie Morton - RHP

Dallas Keuchel - LHP

Justin Verlander - RHP

Recent Bullpen Usage:

With a day off on Thursday, and relatively minimal reliever usage in their short series in Colorado this week, the Astros bullpen should be fully rested for this series.

Hottest Hitter(s):

The Astros offense has been treading water for some time now, but a bright spot for them recently has been first baseman Tyler White, who, in addition to hitting two home runs last night, has hit .333/.400/.756 since the All Star Break, and has provided much needed thump to a lineup that has seen a lot of it hit the disabled list recently. While his power has temporarily vanished, Alex Bregman has walked nearly as many times as he has struck out since the break, twelve against thirteen, and is always a threat to get on base and wreak havoc.

Coldest Hitter(s):

Carlos Correa hasn’t found his stroke yet since returning from the disabled list, and only has two hits since returning to the lineup. His timing and power are sure to return eventually, but he could potentially be a gaping hole in the heart of the Astros lineup for this series if he still isn’t quite right. Yuli Gurriel has been demonstrably awful since the All Star Break, OPS-ing just .493 and hitting just one home run.

Hottest Pitcher(s):

In addition to a bullpen that does little wrong beyond signing Osuna and employing Will Harris, Dallas Keuchel has rediscovered his ace potential in the season’s second half, pitching to a 2.20 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP since the break. Gerrit Cole continues to look nigh on unhittable, and has a forty two to five strikeout to walk ratio in the season’s second half.

Coldest Pitcher(s):

Justin Verlander has long been a bane to A’s fans everywhere, and he still has an otherworldly strikeout to walk ratio of forty five to four, but over his last five starts he more balls have fallen in for hits, and seven of those hits have gone for home runs. Hitters have been doing more damage against him when contact is made, a trend that a powerful lineup like Oakland’s could take advantage of on a Sunday afternoon at Rickey Henderson field.

Key Injuries:

Carlos Correa has just returned from injury, but Jose Altuve and George Springer, along with the red-hot Jake Marisnick, have all be sidelined until the season’s final push, with Springer being the closest back among them. On the pitching side, Lance McCullers’ Jr, who has been ineffective recently, is questionable for his next start.

* * *

The 2012 A’s didn’t get this close until the final week of the season, when, as we all very well know, the A’s swept the Texas Rangers in the season’s final four games to rip the division out of their cold, dead hands. The 2018 A’s, who play with the same intensity but with a little less flair, a little less sass, don’t have the need to follow the same emotional playbook. These A’s are poised to go about their business, overtake the Astros, and slowly and surely expand their lead in the division from then on through the end of the year, as the did with the Angels and then Mariners before now.

Things haven’t gone to plan at all this season. But despite countless injuries to the pitching staff and MLB-ready prospects, there has always been someone else able to step up and fill the gap. The A’s incredible push to the top of the division began with superstar Matt Chapman going down with an injury. Why can’t the A’s continue to unflinchingly march forward to the top of the standings?

The Astros have been comforting themselves with the notion that, while their comfortable division lead is now anything but, that is merely the case because the team is currently banged up. Which it undeniably is. However, the Astros, through the All Star Game, were clearly the healthiest team in all of baseball, and the team’s health, the team’s ability to play in its most optimal form one hundred percent of the time, was the most important factor to their success. The Astros have only needed to use five starting pitchers all season long. The A’s have need thirteen! Now that injuries are inevitably taking their toll on Houston, the team hasn’t been able to bridge the gap to their stars’ return. Teams tend to get more hurt as the year goes on, so this is a problem Houston needs to solve ASAP, or it will be too late.

Game #122: Friday, August 17th, 7:05 - NBCSCA, ATT Sportsnet SW, MLB Network, MLB.tv

Edwin Jackson vs Charlie Morton

Friday night’s matchup will feature the starter for each team who has had the most strong recent performances. Both veteran righties who have retooled themselves and discovered a new level they could reach with their current teams. Edwin Jackson hasn’t surrendered an earned run in three consecutive starts.

Game #123: Saturday, August 18th, 1:05 - NBCSCA, ATT Sportsnet SW, MLB.tv

Trevor Cahill vs Dallas Keuchel

Recently, both teams can’t seem to lose when either starter takes the found for them. Dallas Keuchel is once again pitching the way he was in his Cy Young season after a slow start to the year, and is still the leader of the staff. Trevor Cahill recently has struggled out of the gates before settling in and finding his groove, forcing his pitch count up and the A’s impeccable bullpen to act early. While he has always kept the A’s in the game and is probably the best overall starter on the team, for the sake of the bullpen’s arms Cahill needs to figure out how to find his groove before the game begins.

Game #124: Sunday, August 19th, 1:05 - NBCSCA, ATT Sportsnet SW, MLB.tv

Sean Manaea vs Justin Verlander

In what was one of Manaea’s better starts of the year his last time out, his fastball velocity dipped rather scarily in the late innings, and so A’s fans everywhere are bound to keep one eye on the radar gun on Sunday. Despite his velocity dip, Manaea has all proved that his awful May was just a rough patch and not a sign of regression or drop in focus, and has been the staff anchor the A’s have desperately needed, and the only current starter who was in the organization at the season’s beginning.

Pettily, Justin Verlander is going for a simultaneously meaningful and meaningless 200th win, and it would be amusing to push that milestone back another start or two.