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Oakland A’s 2020 ALDS: Frankie Montas will start Game 4

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The Astros starter will be announced Thursday morning

Seattle Mariners v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s will play another day, after winning Game 3 of the 2020 ALDS to avoid elimination. The Houston Astros’ series lead has been cut to 2-1, with the next game coming Thursday.

The A’s will look to continue their series comeback in Game 4, with Frankie Montas taking the mound for the start, reports insider Martin Gallegos. It’s the first start of the playoffs for Montas, though he did appear once out of the bullpen in the Wild Card Round.

Meanwhile, the Astros will wait until Thursday morning to announce their starter. They still haven’t used Zack Greinke, who visited a doctor this week due to arm soreness, but the right-handed ace hasn’t been ruled out and “remains an option” for Game 4, reports insider Brian McTaggart.

Update (Thu. morning): Greinke will start for the Astros.

Montas vs. ???

The A’s postseason journey has been led by some relatively unlikely heroes already, including super-sub Chad Pinder and sudden ace-like starter Chris Bassitt. They’ve also seen a resurgence from a former top producer who has been mired in a long-term struggle, with Khris Davis springing to life to lead the team in homers.

They’ll hope for something similar out of Montas. The right-hander looked like a budding star last summer before being suspended for PEDs, and he continued that success in his first four starts of 2020. However, after missing a game due to back tightness, he was never the same, allowing 29 earned runs in 24 innings over his next six appearances. He did recover in his final start, striking out 13 batters over six quality innings against the Mariners, but his overall numbers are still shaky.

Montas, 2020: 5.60 ERA, 53 ip, 60 Ks, 23 BB, 10 HR, 4.74 FIP, .315 xwOBA

Even during his rough patch he continued to strike out batters, and Statcast gave him a rating around league-average in terms of xwOBA.

The right-hander faced the Astros three times, including once before his slump. In that game he fired seven scoreless two-hit innings, needing only 86 pitches to do so, though that lineup didn’t feature George Springer.

He faced them again at the end of August and was knocked out in the 4th, allowing five runs including a homer by Springer. But he got another chance his next time out, and this time he out-dueled Greinke in a short doubleheader game. He kept Houston to two runs in five innings, and the only hitter who gave him serious trouble was Michael Brantley (homer and two doubles).

Montas, vs. HOU: 4.11 ERA, 15⅓ ip, 14 Ks, 3 BB, 2 HR, .291 xwOBA

The 27-year-old made his postseason debut last week, against the Chicago White Sox in the Wild Card Series. However, he did so out of the bullpen, helping out in Game 3 after starter Mike Fiers was pulled early. Montas pitched the 4th and 5th innings, letting through just one run on some impressive small-ball by the Sox (single, steal, single). The performance helped lend the pen some length on a day when the relievers needed to absorb more than seven innings to earn a crucial victory.

Montas, postseason: 2 ip, 1 run, 2 Ks, 0 BB, 2 hits, .153 xwOBA

After looking sharp in his regular season finale and effective in his playoff debut, Montas now has the chance to fully announce a bounce-back on a major stage. As question marks go, he’s a particularly talented one who absolutely has the ability to carry the A’s through Game 4 if he’s at his best. Remember, three months ago we thought he was going to be the ace of the rotation.

One key will be limiting homers. That might seem obvious with the way the ball has been flying out of Dodger Stadium all week, with 18 dingers by the two clubs through three games, but it especially applies to Montas. All 10 of the long balls he allowed this year came during his six-start slump, with none in the five good games that bookended it. He also kept his homer rate reasonably low during his 2019 breakout campaign. When he’s on, he’s scattering a few singles and efficiently chewing through scoreless innings. But mix in a few dingers and there could be trouble, as basically every pitcher in this series has discovered.

***

Check back in the morning for an update on who the Astros choose to start for them! Other than Greinke, they have Cristian Javier, who threw an inning of relief in Game 1 on Monday but otherwise hasn’t pitched since Sept. 30 (last Wednesday) in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series. There’s also Luis Garcia, who made a start against the A’s in September and tossed five scoreless frames with just one hit allowed. Click here to see the full rosters for both teams.

UPDATE (Thu. morning)

The Astros made their decision Thursday morning, and Zack Greinke will start Game 4.

Greinke’s visit to the doctor revealed no structural damage, reports John Shea of the S.F. Chronicle. Houston will also plan to use Javier out of the bullpen, notes Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle.

The A’s faced Greinke three times this season, and Oakland won two of them. The only loss came in a seven-inning doubleheader game, when he was merely decent for five innings but there was no chance to come back against the bullpen. One of the A’s victories indeed came against the pen, after Greinke himself was sharp, but the other in early September included four runs scored off the ace.

Greinke, vs. OAK: 3.71 ERA, 17 ip, 17 Ks, 2 BB, 3 HR, 18 hits, .327 xwOBA

Those three homers were hit by Ramon Laureano, Matt Chapman, and Khris Davis, though of course Chapman is injured right now and out for the rest of 2020.

In two of his starts against Oakland, Greinke went up against Montas. Each pitcher won one of the matchups, both of which were abbreviated doubleheader games.

Overall, the right-hander began the year strong but then faded down the stretch. In his final four starts he posted a 6.53 ERA, but note that the damage was mostly an uptick in hits. He only walked two batters, allowed a bad-but-not-disastrous four homers, and posted a surprisingly strong .289 xwOBA during that stretch. His overall season stats:

Greinke, 2020: 4.03 ERA, 67 ip, 67 Ks, 9 BB, 6 HR, 2.80 FIP, .286 xwOBA

He also started Game 1 of the Wild Card Series against the Twins. On the bright side, he only allowed one run and his team won. On the downside, he only went four innings and issued three walks, and Statcast wasn’t impressed.

Greinke, G1 WCS: 4 ip, 1 run, 1 K, 3 BB, 2 hits, .375 xwOBA

If he continues to show that kind of uncharacteristic wildness, then the extremely patient A’s could take advantage — perhaps by putting some free runners on base before their homers, so they aren’t limited to solo shots like they were for most of Game 3. After all, the ball is flying out of Dodger Stadium this week, leading to record numbers of dingers.

As for Javier, he started against the A’s twice this year and lost both times.

Javier, vs. OAK: 7.88 ERA, 8 ip, 8 Ks, 5 BB, 4 HR, .347 xwOBA

The right-hander also threw a scoreless inning of mop-up relief in Game 1 on Monday. The four homers he allowed in the regular season were hit by Chapman, Matt Olson, Robbie Grossman, and Sean Murphy. In addition, Tommy La Stella hit one off him as a member of the Angels, before coming to Oakland.

Overall, though, Javier had a nice rookie year. His 3.48 ERA was far better than his 4.94 FIP, but his brilliant .256 xwOBA is encouraging for his future at age 23.