Chad Qualls (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)
Houston Astros pitcher Chad Qualls just can’t figure out the Oakland Athletics. Overall this season, the Astros closer has been very good for a team desperately in need of bullpen help. However, as last night proved once again, Qualls struggles every time he takes the mound against Oakland.
The right-hander has given up 11 earned runs in four innings against the A’s this year while only giving up 18 runs against every other team in MLB combined. Also, three of Qualls’ four blown saves this season are vs. Oakland (he has six total appearances against them.) Last night, Qualls pitched 0.2 innings and surrendered three earned runs, four hits, and one home run in 17 pitches.
"“I don’t think I’ve ever really had an opponent that’s been as rough as the A’s,” Qualls said after the game. “I feel like I’ve been throwing the ball well this year, but every time the A’s come to town they have my number. You look back on it and I thought I threw the ball pretty well and the scoreboard just doesn’t dictate that at all.”"
The Athletics have scored 55 runs in 10 games at Houston this year and 25 of those runs have come in the 9th inning. Last night, Houston took a 2-1 lead into the final frame before Eric Sogard‘s RBI single, and Sam Fuld‘s tiebreaking, two-run home run off Qualls with two-outs put Oakland up, 5-3. The A’s eventually won the game, 5-4.
Astros starter Brad Peacock was actually pretty good last night after I made the case for Asher Wojciechowski to replace him in the rotation. Peacock pitched 5.1 innings and gave up one run, four hits and five walks. Also, Kevin Chapman and Jose Veras were able to combine to pitch 2.2 shutout innings last night and looked solid before Qualls came in and blew it.
Chris Carter and Jose Altuve (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)
Of course, the Astros also got contributions from the usual suspects: Chris Carter and Jose Altuve. Carter hit his 33rd home run of the season, to bring Houston within one run in the ninth inning, so the slugger has now homered in three straight games and has hit 20 home runs since July 1st. Meanwhile, Altuve collected his 181st hit of the season, which also leads MLB, and the All-Star second baseman swiped two bases to put him at an AL-high 49 steals.
To be fair, it’s not just Qualls who has problems against Oakland late in games. The A’s got their major league-leading 12th win this season when trailing after seven innings and seventh comeback win this year when losing entering the ninth (which also leads the MLB.) However, their last two comeback wins have both come at Minute Maid Park, nearly a month apart, and both were against Qualls. (He gave up 6 runs to them on July 29th in another blown save.)
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The Astros (56-78) will play the A’s (78-54) one last time in a three-game series starting September 5th. Right now, Oakland leads the season series, 10-6, and all-time series, 30-11. Although the Astros are just 13-23 in one-run games, Qualls should and will remain the team’s closer. The 36-year-old has done a nice job overall this season (he’s 1-4 with a 3.55 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 15 saves, 39 strikeouts, five walks, five home runs, and is 15/19 in save opportunities while pitching 45.2 total innings) and was almost traded to the Detroit Tigers yesterday before the Astros decided to pull him back off waivers and keep him. (Scott Feldman is still here, too.)
Qualls’ only real issue this whole year has been the Oakland A’s lineup (11 ERs, 3 blown saves). However, with the rest of the Astros bullpen having a league-worst 4.91 ERA, I think that matchup problem is just something Bo Porter is going to have to live with. Luckily for the Astros (and Qualls), there are only three more games against Oakland this season.