The last A’s road trip didn’t go all too well. In six games against Baltimore and Texas, the A’s went 4-2. On the surface, that isn’t all too bad, especially when the team is playing on the road. However, the A’s got to 97 wins last season precisely because they bullied and beat up the teams that had no hopes of reaching the playoffs, winning every single game against the Orioles, the White Sox, the Blue Jays, and more. This year’s A’s has already dropped a game against the hapless Orioles, who beat the A’s in what was one of the worst played ball games in a couple of years, and the game the A’s dropped against the Rangers witnessed the team fumbling away a five run lead in the late innings.
The A’s previous road trip also witnessed the team lose all three games against the Astros. The Astros, unlike the Rangers and Orioles, are a very good baseball team that does and should have World Series hopes this year. The team won over 100 games last season. While it would have been tough to win against Houston in Houston, the A’s really messed up that series as well. In the first game of the series, the A’s offense went silent against better-than-decent starter Collin McHugh, and the team dropped the game 3-2. After a noncompetitive game on Saturday the A’s lost, the A’s had a real chance to be the victors on Sunday. Despite Mike Fiers gifting the Astros six runs in the first two innings, the A’s found themselves winning entering the eighth inning, wherein a mostly reliable bullpen then pissed away the lead.
The Astros are good, but they aren’t leaps and bounds better than the A’s are. The two teams’ offenses are pretty close in overall production, and where the Astros starting pitching has an advantage, the A’s bullpen, partially, makes up for it. These are two teams that are closer in talent than most of the baseball world realizes, and early-season-dominance by the Astros is precisely why the team ran away with the division last year. For the A’s to have a fighting chance this year, the trend needs to change.
The Astros actually haven’t lost since their sweep of the A’s, the team going on to sweep the Yankees at home and then sweep the previously-red-hot Mariners on the road, the team entering this series having won nine games in a row. This winning streak has largely been propelled by the offense, wherein each regular has an OBP above .300, and four different starters have OBP’s above .430. Jose Altuve has hit five home runs in his last five games to pair up with an astronomical 1.578 OPS.
The starting staff and the back end of the bullpen has been nearly untouchable as well. The A’s get the benefit of getting to face off against the latter portion of the Astros’ starting rotation, but even still McHugh notched nine strikeouts in six innings pitched, and the late innings relievers haven’t surrendered a run at all since the two teams last faced off. The A’s general strategy is to keep the game close in the early going and take the lead for good towards the end of the game, but against this Astros team, that strategy just isn’t viable, and the team is going to have to search for runs beyond a soft bullpen underbelly.
This is a short series against the Astros, played at home on Rickey Henderson Field, and played with the knowledge that each reliever on the A’s is more or less fully rested and able to pitch in any situation over the next two games, thanks to a day-off the day before and the day after this series. This allows the A’s to be flexible and creative with their bullpen usage, and should a starting pitcher falter, the bullpen can prevent things from getting out of hand.
At the risk of sounding dramatic, or arrogant, since the A’s are playing at home, and the bullpen is fully loaded, and the offense has been strong to start the season, the A’s really ought to sweep these two games. If the team is going to make the playoffs, they need to make up some wins that were missed out on the last week. The Astros are a pretty danged solid team, and winning each of the next two games will be tough.
But really, the A’s should win everything.
George Springer - CF
Jose Altuve - 2B
Alex Bregman - 3B
Michael Brantley - LF
Carlos Correa - SS
Yuli Gurriel - 1B
Josh Reddick - RF
Tyler White - DH
Robinson Chirinos - C
Marco Estrada vs Collin McHugh
Frankie Montas vs Wade Miley
Game #20: Tuesday, April 16th at 7:07
Game #21: Wednesday, April 17th at 7:07
Both games are available on NBCSCA. Wednesday’s game will also be on MLB Network for non-local fans.