The AL West isn’t mathematically decided yet, but the Oakland A’s have shown who the class of the division is.
The A’s breezed past the Houston Astros on Thursday, allowing just two hits in a 3-1 victory that took barely over two hours to complete. Sean Manaea didn’t allow a baserunner until the 6th inning, and Matt Olson took care of the offense with a two-run homer
Oakland took four of the five games this week against Houston, and won the now-completed season series seven games to three. The green and gold holds a 6.5-game lead over Houston in the division, with 18 contests left on the A’s regular season schedule and no more head-to-head matchups between them. The Astros are now below the .500 mark, and only two games ahead of the third-place Seattle Mariners.
The star on Thursday was Manaea, who retired the first 15 batters he faced. Houston finally broke through in the 6th, with two hits and an RBI groundout, but in the 7th they went down 1-2-3 once again. It took the lefty only 61 pitches to cruise through seven innings.
Jake Diekman and Liam Hendriks then set down six of the seven batters they faced to finish it out, with just one walk by Diekman. Add it up, and the Astros reached base in only two frames and got into scoring position once.
The A’s had similar trouble at the plate in the first half of the game, taking until the 5th inning to get a hit against Astros starter Jose Urquidy. In the 6th they stirred to life and found the plate, on a walk by Ramon Laureano and then a homer by Matt Olson.
They manufactured some insurance in the 7th. Mark Canha walked and stole a base, and Chad Pinder singled him in with a 104.1 mph smash. That was enough scoring on this day, with the Astros completely shut down on offense.
Entering Monday, the A’s held a 3.5-game lead in the division, and now it’s nearly doubled, with just a couple more weeks left to go. They’ll look to continue locking up the crown this weekend, with four games in Texas against the Rangers including a doubleheader Saturday.
It’s one thing to shut down the Astros for seven innings, but Sean Manaea did so with incredible efficiency as well.
His pitch count by inning:
- 1st: 6
- 2nd: 5
- 3rd: 10
- 4th: 11
- 5th: 12
- 6th: 8
- 7th: 9
Houston was swinging early and often, and Manaea was happy to oblige by pounding the zone and trusting his defense. Oddly, the eight-pitch 6th is the frame in which they got both their hits and scored their run — the double, single, and run-scoring GIDP were all on first-pitch swings.
Perhaps on a warmer day George Springer would have led this game off with a homer (his rocket to center fell at 390 feet), and there were a couple more smashes that found gloves. All three key batted balls in the 6th were hit hard too. But this game wasn’t just a case of BABIP luck for Manaea, who at least earned a quality start. He also helped himself by issuing no walks, as usual — he’s only allowed six of them in his nine starts.
Manaea: 7 ip, 1 run, 4 Ks, 0 BB, 0 HR, 2 hits, 61 pitches (41 strikes)
In his previous outing, Manaea flashed a long-awaited bump in velocity, but that didn’t continue on Thursday. He hit 93 mph a couple times, and mostly stayed on the right side of 90 instead of sitting in the high-80s like we’ve seen in the recent past, but his average went back down from 92.1 to the 90.6 that we’re used to. Still, he set a season-high in innings, and completed at least five frames for the fifth straight start. We’re now seeing a version of Manaea that can contribute to a contending team.
Just enough offense
The first three innings of this game took around half an hour total to complete. Just 18 batters up, and 18 down, perfection by the pitchers the first time through each lineup.
The A’s began to make noise in the 4th by drawing a couple of walks, and then in the 5th Mark Canha notched the first hit of the game. It wasn’t until the 6th, after the Astros had already found the scoreboard themselves against Manaea, that Oakland finally broke through. Ramon Laurenao walked, and then Matt Olson unloaded.
It was a towering drive, hit at the highest launch angle of any homer in Olson’s career. It was also enough to give the A’s a lead they never relinquished — though they did add one piece of insurance just in case, thanks to Canha and Pinder in the 7th.
Oakland only collected five hits themselves, but if you make one of them a homer and sprinkle in six walks then you can do a bit of damage.
Making it look good
For the second time this season, the A’s thoroughly squashed the Astros at the Coliseum. In August it was a three-game sweep including a fight that most people blame on Houston’s coach, and this week they took four out of five to blow open their division lead.
And at the end of the day, Ramon Laureano, the former Astros farmhand, the guy they’ve pegged with four pitches this year, was there to finish it off in style once again. He caught all three outs of a three-pitch 9th inning on Monday, then hit the walk-off on Wednesday, and this time he ended it with a brilliant diving catch.
Laureano finishes the series in style pic.twitter.com/osUfidaqqS— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) September 10, 2020
Don’t mess with Ramon.
On to Arlington
Now the A’s travel to Texas, for four games in three days against the Rangers. Saturday is a doubleheader. Series opens Friday at 5:05 p.m.