The Houston Astros are on a roll again with a five-game win streak, and are 7-3 in their last ten games. They have a +23 run differential. They are 12 games over .500 and are still in first place in the American League West, leading by 5.5 games over second place and 12.5 games over last place.
As a team, the Astros have a powerful offense (when it’s on), and they lead all of MLB with 57 home runs and they lead the AL in stolen bases. The pitching is good too, with a team 3.46 ERA (fourth best in the AL), which is solidified by the light-out bullpen that carries a 2.15 ERA (second in the AL). This is a pretty darn good Houston ball club.
Considering what I’ve just written this may sound weird, but the Houston Astros should not overlook the last place Oakland Athletics in the three game series that starts tonight. Oakland may be in last place, but they are not as bad as their 13-26 record indicates.
First off, the A’s have a good offense. Oakland is batting .259/.319/.400 as a team, and is third in the AL with runs scored with 178 (Astros have scored 169 runs). The Athletics are also third in the AL in hits and triples, and fourth in batting average.
They are lead by three excellent batters. Catcher Stephen Vogt is batting .327/.426/.645 with 35 hits, 9 home runs, and 30 runs batted in; he’s tied for second among AL hitters with a 2.3 WAR. Right fielder Josh Reddick is another strong offensive player who is batting .328/.407/.563 with 39 hits, 14 extra base hits, 6 home runs, and 28 RBI; he’s tied for seventh in the AL with a 1.9 WAR. And there’s also SS Marcus Semien who is batting .314/.356/.510 with 48 hits, 16 XBH, 6 HRs, and 6 stolen bases.
Then there the Oakland A’s starting pitching, which has team ERA of 3.56 (third in AL) with a .232 batting average against (tied for second in AL).
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In tonight’s game, the Astros will send out Lance McCullers Jr for his MLB debut to face off against Drew Pomeranz. Last time Houston faced Pomeranz, they tagged him for 5 runs (3 earned) in five innings. And Pomeranz has a miserable road record of 0-3 with a 6.86 ERA this year. However, he is coming off a win against the Boston Red Sox in which he allowed an earned run on three hits over seven innings, which could boost his confidence. With a rookie starting against a good offense, who knows how this will turn out.
In the second matchup, it will be Roberto Hernandez versus the A’s ace, Sonny Gray. Neither pitcher has faced the opposing team. Over Gray’s last five starts, the young right-hander has allowed only five earned runs, and he has struck out 41 batters. In that span, teams have hit .158/.241/.183 against Gray. The last time he gave up more than two earned runs was one month ago, on April 17 against Kansas City. This looks to be a tough go for Houston hitters. The Astros will need a strong outing from Hernandez who has been solid so far this season.
And in the third matchup, it will be Dallas Keuchel against Jesse Hahn. This is definitely a favorable matchup for the Astros with “The Bearded Ace” on the bump; Keuchel pitched nine shutout innings against Oakland on April 24 and got a no-decision since the Astros won in the 11th inning. Houston has yet to face Hahn, who usually doesn’t pitch beyond the sixth inning, and in his past four games, he’s allowed 19 runs (15 earned) on 27 hits for a 6.23 ERA.
One glaring weakness that Oakland has is in their bullpen, which has been without closer Sean Doolittle all season. Doolittle is due to return in late May from a rotator cuff injury. In his absence, the A’s relievers are dead last in the AL (and next to last overall) with a 5.08 ERA as a team. They also have a 2-12 record and only 4 saves in 12 opportunities on the season.
The A’s other Achilles heel is the defense. FanGraphs has the A’s defense listed at a league worst -20.5 defensive WAR (Astros are at 15th overall with a -0.4). The Athletics commit a league-worst error per game, and sport a league-worst fielding percentage at .973. Saying it’s ugly may be kind.
This could be an interesting series. Houston is 4-2 this year against the A’s, and the Astros look like they are back on track after this past week. They also have a knack for coming to life late in games which could work to their favor against a shaky pen and a bad defense. However, Oakland knows how to hit and they have some good starting pitching.
It still sounds weird to say, but the Astros should not overlook the A’s in this series.