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A’s must figure out AL West rivals to keep postseason hopes afloat

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It’s all Mariners and Astros the rest of the season

Seattle Mariners v. Houston Astros Photo by Michael Starghill/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Oakland A’s are teetering on the edge of the 2021 postseason race, but they aren’t quite out of it yet. With 13 games to go, they’re only two behind the Toronto Blue Jays for the Second Wild Card, and only two in the loss column behind the Boston Red Sox for the First Wild Card.

However, those final 13 games all come against a pair of opponents who have given the A’s tons of trouble all summer. Seven of them are with the Seattle Mariners, who are 8-4 against Oakland, and six are with the Houston Astros, who are 9-4. Only the Blue Jays (5-2) had anywhere near that much success against the green-and-gold.

  • vs. HOU: Lost 5-of-7 in April, lost 2-of-3 in May, lost 2-of-3 in July
  • vs. SEA: Split 6 games in May/June, lost 3-of-4 in July, lost 2 in August

Houston’s dominant record comes with a hefty +35 run differential, but Seattle has been outscored by the A’s by five runs. Two of the losses to the Mariners came on blown saves by the bullpen, and another was a blown tie in the 9th inning, and seven of the eight losses were by only one or two runs. But losing close games has been a problem for Oakland all year, and outperforming run differential has been a hallmark for Seattle, so none of it can be easily written off.

The remaining schedule:

  • 4 games vs. SEA
  • 3 games vs. HOU
  • 3 games @ SEA
  • 3 games @ HOU

The A’s postseason odds are already down to the 10% range, and their only hope of climbing back into playoff position is to keep piling up wins. They’ll have to do it by bouncing back against the teams they’ve least been able to beat so far.

What’s more, these are a pair of AL West division rivals, and either vanquishing them or being spoiled by them would carry some extra meaning. In particular, the Asterisks are still playing the role of villain around MLB, plus they ended the A’s 2020 playoff run last fall in the ALDS. Celebrating an upset postseason clinching on their field would be as sweet as being officially eliminated by them would be bitter.

The stakes are high, but the payoff could be too. The Mariners are still clinging to the Wild Card race themselves, so defeating them this week would also mean knocking a fellow contender the rest of the way out. In the division race, the Astros lead Oakland by six games, so while that’s most likely out of reach, six head-to-head matchups mean it’s not sealed yet.

The bottom line is the A’s need to keep winning. They’re on a five-game streak now, all against sub-.500 competition, but they’ll have to stay hot against their own personal Final Bosses of the 2021 regular season.

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On tap this week are starting pitchers including Marco Gonzalez, All-Star Yusei Kikuchi, and former Cy Young Zack Greinke, along with Tyler Anderson (3.67 ERA in 9 starts since trade deadline), Chris Flexen (3.66 ERA), Framber Valdez (3.26 ERA), and Jose Urquidy (3.38 ERA).

Hot bats this month include Seattle’s Jarred Kelenic (6 homers, 171 wRC+) and Mitch Haniger (5 HR, 126 wRC+), and most of Houston’s usual stars (Tucker, Altuve, Bregman, Correa, Alvarez).

For the A’s, Sean Manaea gets a start against the Mariners tonight. He’s dominated them twice, including a shutout in June and then 13 strikeouts in July. Frankie Montas will pitch the opener against the Astros, whom he’s beaten in two of three tries this year, totaling four runs in nearly 18 innings. All-Star Chris Bassitt might return from injury this week, and the struggling bullpen just added a new arm off waivers.

Oakland’s lineup is 4th in MLB in scoring in September, with almost everybody swinging well right now. Mark Canha and Matt Olson are two particularly hot bats, and both have also crushed Houston this year while Olson has shredded Seattle (5 homers, 3 off Gonzales, 1 off Kikuchi).