Astros: Previewing the three-game series in Oakland

Houston Astros, Jose Altuve (Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images)
Houston Astros, Jose Altuve (Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images) /

The Houston Astros embark on an important series against the Oakland A’s.

After their little disappointment in the desert, the Houston Astros are heading north to the bay area to take on the division rival Oakland Athletics. They’ve fallen to 6-6 on the season after losing two straight to the D’backs while the A’s are riding a six-game winning streak and sitting atop the division at 9-4.

The biggest difference between these two teams is clearly the pitching. Oakland has allowed only 43 runs in 13 games, which is second-fewest in the league behind Toronto, which has only played 10 games. By contrast, the Astros have allowed 62 runs in 12 games.

Houston has had more success offensively, scoring 71 runs to the A’s 58. But the Astros have been enduring a bevy of injuries to their pitching staff and at this point don’t even have a reliable closer. The bullpen will need to step up if they’re to have a chance in this series.

The first game will begin tonight at 8:10 p.m. CT, with the games on Saturday and Sunday both beginning at 3:10. All three games will be broadcast on ATT SportsNet SW. This could be must-see television, as the Astros will need to come away with a series win if they want to keep from falling too far behind.

Pitching Matchups

Friday’s opener will see Zack Greinke face off against right-hander Chris Bassitt. After a tough first start, Greinke took a perfect game into the sixth inning in his last time out, so the main thing with him will be how deep he can pitch in this game. Bassitt is off to a strong start, allowing only one run in 9.2 innings through his first two starts.

Left-hander Framber Valdez will toe the rubber for the Astros on Saturday against righty Frankie Montas. Valdez has a 2.53 ERA on the season after allowing just one unearned run in 6.1 innings in relief in his last outing. Montas has made three starts this season and is 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA after putting up a 2.63 ERA in 16 starts in 2019.

More from Climbing Tal's Hill

Sunday’s finale features two rookies in right-hander Cristian Javier and left-hander Jesus Luzardo. Javier turned in six impressive innings against the Diamondbacks, allowing only one run. Luzardo has made one start and two relief appearances, compiling a 2.31 ERA with solid peripherals.

Players to Watch

For the Astros, definitely keep an eye on Jose Altuve. Much has been made of the former MVP’s slow start to the season, but he looked like himself in a three-hit performance on Thursday. We’ll see if that proves to be the start of a nice hot streak which at this point seems almost inevitable.

For Oakland, it’s former Astros farmhand Ramon Laureano. Houston traded him to the A’s for pitcher Brandon Bailey back in November 2017, and he’s been their best hitter so far this season. More well-known starts like Matt Chapman, Matt Olson and Khris Davis are off to slower starts, so Laureano is the guy to circle in the lineup.

Astros Expectations

Would it be pessimistic to hope they don’t get swept? Obviously taking two out of three in this series would be a fantastic result, but perhaps the most likely outcome is that the A’s take two. They’re playing good baseball right now and have a much better pitching staff, though the Astros offense could step up to win a couple of games.

In the end, this series will be a good barometer for this club. If Houston can hang tough with what currently looks to be the best team in the division, then perhaps they have a realistic shot to stay in the race. But that’s easier said than done when so many of your pitchers are on the shelf.