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Oakland A’s Game #34: A’s lose 6-3 for doubleheader sweep by Astros

7-inning games aren’t baseball

Oakland Athletics v Houston Astros - Game Two Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

For the first time in nearly two weeks, and only the second time in August, the Oakland A’s lost back-to-back games. This time it took less than six hours to do so.

The A’s lost 6-3 Saturday evening to complete a doubleheader sweep at the hands of the Houston Astros, dropping Oakland out of the American League lead (22-12, one game back of Tampa Bay Rays) and cutting their advantage in the AL West division to just 2.5 games.

*** Game Thread #1 | Game Thread #2 ***

The last time the A’s lost two in a row was Aug. 17-18 against the Arizona Diamondbacks, and before that it was Aug. 10-11 against the Los Angeles Angels. Once in July, they lost three straight to the Colorado Rockies and Seattle Mariners. That’s it as far as consecutive defeats, through 34 games so far.

And maybe this one didn’t even need to happen. The A’s managed an impressive three runs in five innings against Astros ace Zack Greinke, but with doubleheader games lasting only seven innings apiece this summer, they were denied their signature (and completely legitimate) strategy of coming back against the bullpen late.

The nightcap started just like the opener did, with Houston’s Kyle Tucker knocking in three runs in the 1st inning — this time with a bases-clearing triple off Frankie Montas, instead of a homer. George Springer homered in the 2nd to make it 5-1, and at that point, with an opposing ace on the mound and no real chance to get meaningfully into the pen, a seven-inning MLB game is just about done.

Oakland actually held a lead for a moment, to start the contest. With Marcus Semien sitting out due to soreness in his left side, Ramon Laureano batted atop the order instead and launched a leadoff homer, the second of his career.

In the 4th, Matt Chapman followed with his own solo smash, earning his third RBI of the day after knocking in the only two A’s runs in the opener.

That was 115.9 mph off the bat, making it the hardest-hit ball by any A’s hitter this season by more than a full mph. (Challenge for the comments: Without looking it up, can you guess who has the next two hardest-hit balls by the A’s? A 114.6 mph groundout and a 112.1 mph homer, both by the same guy.)

But wait, that’s not all! Chapman’s drive was also the hardest-hit homer by any A’s player in all of Statcast history, dating back to 2015. And since he was playing shortstop in place of Semien, it was also the hardest-hit homer by any MLB shortstop in the Statcast era.

Oakland kept chipping away in the 5th. They got runners to second and third with one out, finding themselves in a familiar spot where they didn’t even need a hit to score a run, just some contact. Fortunately, up stepped Tommy La Stella, who was acquired the previous night to add exactly this dimension to a lineup that leads the majors in striking out in these clutch moments.

La Stella came through exactly as intended, just by making contact. It wasn’t even a hit, just a routine groundout to the right side of the infield, but that was enough for an RBI. This is what the A’s have been unable to achieve often enough this summer, and the new guy showed them how it’s done in his first chance with runners in scoring position. The next batter, Chapman, popped out to strand the other runner. (Not to rag on Chapman, though, who came through in this kind of RISP opportunity twice in the opening game to plate the runner from third.)

Even after letting Houston get one back in the 6th with some small-ball, the A’s were still well on the way to coming back in this game. But then it ended after seven innings, instead of continuing into a full, real MLB game. Weak.

Of course, better pitching by the A’s would have kept this closer. Montas got rocked for the third straight time since missing a turn to back tightness, and he’s served up 18 runs in 9⅔ innings since then.

Montas: 3⅓ ip, 5 runs, 5 Ks, 2 BB, 1 HR, 6 hits, 76 pitches (45 strikes)

The right-hander did miss some bats (9 swinging strikes), but there was just too much hard contact (6-of-11 batted balls). Hopefully this is merely a blip and not a sign that there’s still anything wrong physically, and at least his velocity was normal.

The A’s will get one more chance to salvage a game in Houston, and once again they won’t have to wait long. First pitch is scheduled for 11:10 a.m. Sunday, with a battle of high-octane lefties — Jesús Luzardo vs. Framber Valdez.