The Oakland A’s pitching staff still hasn’t figured out how to retire the Houston Astros’ lineup.
For the second straight day, the Astros overwhelmed Oakland’s starter and then continued piling on against the bullpen, while the A’s offense couldn’t do enough to keep up. This time it led to an 8-4 final score, and a series victory for Houston at the Coliseum.
The frustration of the last two games can be summed up with the following split. The A’s have allowed 204 runs this season in 45 games, and it breaks down like this:
- vs. Astros: 67 runs in 10 games, or 6.7 per game
- vs. others: 137 runs in 35 games, or 3.9 per game
In seven meetings at the Coliseum, the Astros have scored at least eight runs in all but one of them. The A’s have only allowed that many runs on seven other occasions to all other MLB teams combined, in 35 tries. And that includes series against the clubs that rank third (LAD), fifth (BOS), sixth (TOR), seventh (TBR), 11th (MIN), and 12th (ARZ) in runs-per-game, so they’ve been tested against plenty of tough opponents.
Houston ranks first in the majors in that department. And they’d still be Top 5, at five runs per game, even if you removed all their contests against the A’s.
That is the context with which to consider today’s action. Oakland is going to need to pass this test eventually, whether conceptually because they need to be able to suppress great lineups in October, or specifically because the Astros are their division rival and have now pulled ahead of the green-and-gold into first place in the AL West.
Houston is a problem right now. We’ve seen the A’s pitching compete with other great lineups this year, so at least part of this issue is simply that the Astros are just really good. Today it was Cole Irvin, getting knocked around by the only team that’s found success against him so far.
- Irvin: 5 ip, 5 runs, 1 K, 2 BB, 1 HR, 8 hits, 86 pitches, 89.4 mph
The main culprit was the No. 9 hitter in Houston’s order, as catcher Martin Maldonado doubled in their first run of the game in the 3rd inning, and then hit a two-run homer in the 4th to build the early lead.
- Irvin, vs. HOU: 14⅔ ip, 13 ER, 6 Ks, 4 BB, 3 HR, 20 hits, 2 HBP
- Irvin, vs. others: 38 ip, 8 ER, 34 Ks, 6 BB, 3 HR, 31 hits, 1 HBP, .296 xwOBA
The southpaw has been excellent against everyone else, with a quality start or close to it in each non-Astros appearance this year. He’s been quality against the Rays twice, and the Blue Jays, and the Twins, but Houston is getting him for at least four runs every time. His xwOBA against the Astros was an enormous .414 entering the day, and likely didn’t get much better if not worse.
The offense also fell into a couple familiar habits. They hit a few homers but never with anybody on base, and when they got runners on base they couldn’t cash in, finishing 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
One bright spot was Tony Kemp, who did some damage against his former Astros team. He drilled his first homer since being acquired by the A’s entering 2020, almost the literal definition of a wallscraper as it only barely squeaked over the fence. Still counts!
Kemp also doubled, and he now has a robust .386 OBP, and an above-average batting line overall despite subpar Statcast marks.
Oakland also got a leadoff homer from Mark Canha, for the second time this year.
There was one final dinger from Seth Brown, and in a perfect illustration of the day, the sequence went like this: single, GIDP, homer. It’s almost more likely to have that collection of contact result in multiple runs than just a solo blast.
That was a bummer game, so let’s enjoy something the A’s do well every day: Defensive highlights. Obviously one of them is Matt Chapman.
And of course another is Ramon Laureano.
Laureano almost pulled off an incredible double play pic.twitter.com/lBLu5Hfx1g— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) May 20, 2021
Even the fans got in on the action!
There was also a throwing error by Elvis Andrus leading to an unearned run.
Just keep swimming
The A’s are having a good year. They are currently contending, and they’ve beaten some other contenders. But there’s still work to do over the next four months.