In what will assuredly be some of the most important games of the season, the A’s are travelling to Houston to play three games. The A’s are currently 6.5 games back of the Astros in the standings after splitting a hard-fought series against the Twins over the weekend, and the A’s are one game behind Cleveland and one game ahead of Tampa Bay in the competition for the second Wild Card spot. The Astros have just been beating up on the Texas Rangers, and are entering the series winners of five games in a row, four of them against the sputtering Rangers.
At 64-37, the Astros are tied for the most wins in the American League with the Yankees, but the A’s and Astros aren’t as far apart as some may think. Houston has played just one more game on the year than the A’s, and yet the A’s have outscored the Astros 526-525. On the pitching side, the Astros have a slight edge with 418 runs allowed compared to 429. Peaking at expected win-loss records, the A’s are just one game behind the Astros, at 61-40 to 60-41. The key difference between the two teams is that the A’s have had much more frequent late inning heartbreaks than the Astros. The other big difference in wins and losses comes from the A’s 1-7 record against Houston this year. That will certainly have to change if the A’s want to have any realistic hope of challenging the Astros for the division title.
Of course, playing better against Houston is easier said than done, especially when playing in Houston and going up against their top three starting pitchers. The A’s will be seeing, in order, Gerrit Cole, Wade Miley, and Justin Verlander this series, far and away the three best starting pitchers in Houston’s rotation this year. Each of those three pitchers would easily be the ace on 90% of baseball teams, and Houston is blessed with the three in one rotation. Verlander has been a master in keeping hitters off base this year, with a WHIP of 0.84 to go along with his 2.99 ERA. Cole has the best strikeout rate in all of baseball with 194 K’s in just about 130 innings pitched, good for a K/9 rate of 13.47.
The depth beyond those three is surprisingly shallow, however, which is unexpected for one of the recent Houston teams. The other starting pitchers in the rotation have been struggling to stay healthy or keep their ERAs below 5.00. In the bullpen, beyond three generally rock solid guys in the back of the bullpen, especially Ryan Pressly, the middle relief has been pretty hit and miss this year, and can’t really be trusted to hold leads in close games.
While Houston’s specialty is their pitching staff, the offense isn’t half bad either, and it has been on fire since the All Star Break. Over the last week, four different starters, Michael Brantley, George Springer, Yuli Gurriel, and Alex Bregman, all have an OPS over 1.000 and have been nearly impossible to get out. Yordan Alvarez has been sensational since his callup, and in a month’s worth of games has hit ten home runs and has a .333/.406/.675 slash line. The offense is also only slated to improve as guys like Carlos Correa and Aledmys Diaz get fully healthy.
It is time to see what Oakland is made of. This entire series may serve to show whether or not the A’s should try to take the division or settle for the top Wild Card spot. As previously stated, no pressure.
George Springer - CF
Alex Bregman - 3B
Michael Brantley - LF
Yordan Alvarez - DH
Yuli Gurriel - 1B
Josh Reddick - RF
Robinson Chirinos - C
Tony Kemp - 2B
Myles Straw - SS
Homer Bailey vs Gerrit Cole
Mike Fiers vs Wade Miley
Chris Bassitt vs Justin Verlander
Game #102: Monday, July 22nd at 5:10
Game #103: Tuesday, July 23rd at 5:10
Game #104: Wednesday, July 24th at 11:10
All games will be broadcast on NBCSCA. Game #103 will be on MLB Network for those out of market.