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Game #3: A’s blasted by Astros for third straight day

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This time by a 9-1 score

Houston Astros v Oakland Athletics Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It was deja vu all over again for the Oakland A’s on Saturday.

For the third straight day to open the 2021 season, their starting pitcher was knocked out early, their bullpen poured gas on the fire, and their lineup couldn’t get enough going to ever really get the team back in the game. The result was another loss to the Houston Astros, this time by a 9-1 score.

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

Halfway through this contest, it already felt like it was over. The Astros tore apart A’s starter Cole Irvin in his debut for his new club, with hard contact in over half their batted balls against him.

The lefty was able to gut through a couple early rallies with minimal damage, but he was pulled in the 5th inning with two runners on base. Reliever Lou Trivino served up a homer to plate his inheritance, and Houston jumped to a 5-1 lead that turned out to be as insurmountable as it appeared.

Irvin: 4⅓ ip, 4 runs, 2 Ks, 1 BB, 7 hits, 82 pitches

Trivino settled down to retire seven straight batters after that, and Burch Smith tossed a scoreless frame to keep the game within reach, but new lefty Reymin Guduan got completely overmatched again in the 9th inning in another disastrous mop-up assignment. The southpaw allowed four hits, issued a walk, and uncorked three wild pitches, resulting in four more runs to make the bottom of the frame a mere formality.

It’s been a rough opening series for Guduan, who’s had no answers for the Astros in his first two appearances.

Guduan, 2 games: 2 ip, 7 runs, 0 Ks, 3 BB, 6 hits, 4 wild pitches

The A’s are throwing everything they’ve got on their pitching staff at the Astros, and Houston is knocking it all over the fence, or at least into the gaps. This time it was Jose Altuve with the crucial dinger, off Trivino.

No offense

The lineup got off to an encouraging start, making Astros starter Lance McCullers throw 33 pitches in the 1st inning alone.

The A’s led off with a couple walks to set the table, and Mitch Moreland came through with the clutch single to cash in an RBI. That’s exactly what Moreland is here to do.

Unfortunately, that was the only hit Oakland got with runners in scoring position for the rest of the day (1-for-8), and one of only three hits total by the green and gold. McCullers ended the 1st-inning rally with a pair of strikeouts, then stopped a similar rally in the 3rd with another pair of strikeouts, then eliminated a baserunner in the 5th with a double play. The A’s got a runner on against the bullpen in the 7th, but another double play erased that.

Oakland made one final push in the 8th. They loaded the bases with one out, and next up would have been Moreland. But Houston brought in a lefty reliever, the A’s pinch-hit Jed Lowrie to get the platoon advantage, and Lowrie struck out. Then Chad Pinder flied out.

Pulling Moreland for a good righty hitter is fully in line with the normal game plan, and in that sense it was an obvious call. But to be honest, I’m in full hot-hand mode now, scrambling for anything that looks like it’s working, and Moreland is the shiny new toy who already had the team’s only RBI of the day. He was pretty much the only thing working, and I would have liked to see him get a chance even against a lefty. But this same decision works out sometimes too, and Lowrie is no slouch himself, so I’m not suggesting it was any kind of mistake, just a gut call.

Frustrating

We may as well have been watching a replay of Thursday or Friday, or of one of last October’s ALDS games. The Astros simply have the A’s number right now.

It’s one thing to write off early struggles and point out that a talented roster will eventually put it together and get locked in. But these losses count in the standings, and they’re coming against Oakland’s biggest division rival. The A’s can come back from an 0-3 start, but at the same time Houston is banking wins and sprinting toward earning the head-to-head tiebreaker. Seven of the first 10 games are coming against the Astros this season, so there isn’t time to ease into action.

On top of that, a couple details were extra frustrating. Trivino looked as sharp as ever this spring, and he was perfect in his first outing Thursday, and he retired eight of his nine batters today. But that ninth batter hit a homer, with two inherited runners on, to blow open what was then a close game.

I’ve gushed about Pinder lately as a breakout candidate, and that hasn’t changed, but he struck out in his first three at-bats today. Then he got a prime opportunity in the 8th with the bases loaded, and he came through with a deep 98.5 mph drive that had a 46% likelihood of landing for a hit. But instead it stayed up too long and found the center fielder’s glove, stranding the runners.

Slugger Matt Olson destroyed three batted balls, with exit velocities of 115.3 mph, 109.5 mph, and 109.4 mph, which would each have ranked among the 25 hardest-hit balls by the entire A’s team last season. But the launch angles weren’t high enough, so instead of three moonshot homers they were just two line drive singles and a GIDP.

It might be difficult to see right now, since the A’s are being so thoroughly humbled by the Astros in every department, but there are at least a few positive things happening under the surface.

Tomorrow is another day, with one more chance to halt the Astros and finish the opening series on a positive note. Sunday brings Sean Manaea and his new uptick in velocity.