Series Recap: Astros Keep Rolling in Oakland vs A’s
The Houston Astros took care of business yet again this past weekend, defeating the Oakland Athletics on the road in 2 out of the 3 games in their series.
The Astros have not lost a series in a full calendar month, and they weren’t going to let the last-place A’s break that streak. They took the series opener in convincing fashion on Friday with an 8-3 victory and rebounded from a disappointing (and bizarre) 3-2 loss in the middle game with a clean 6-1 win in the finale on Sunday afternoon. This team keeps on delivering, and they now sit at 56-29, still 12 games up on the 2nd-place Seattle Mariners in the AL West, despite the fact that Seattle is now above .500 and 9-1 in their last 10.
Houston was good but not outstanding at the plate this series, with a total of 16 runs across the 3 games and a .264 collective batting average. They managed 3 home runs and 14 extra-base hits and excluding a frustrating game 2 of the series on Saturday, they went 10 for 24 with runners in scoring position. All things considered, those numbers are pretty good since they had to face Paul Blackburn and Cole Irvin, which essentially is the very best of the A’s rotation on back-to-back days.
In game 2, their lack of production was not due to an abundance of strikeouts; they were able to put the ball in play just fine, but plenty of the contact they managed was non-threatening at best, which led to a 1-7 performance with runners in scoring position and 6 runners left on base. They faced five different Oakland relievers and failed to come through in the late innings, with just 3 men reaching base from the 6th inning onward.
Their play in games 1 and 3 certainly made up for this, though. Alex Bregman and Martin Maldonado each homered in the opener, and Kyle Tucker went yard in the rubber match. The production on Sunday was especially well-rounded, with every member of the starting lineup recording a hit except for Jeremy Pena and Yuli Gurriel. In all, Bregman drove in three runs in the series while Tucker and Maldonado had a pair of RBIs each. Perhaps the biggest storyline of the team’s offense this series was Korey Lee’s first big day at the plate at the Major League level; he went 3-4 with 2 singles, a double, and the first 3 RBIs of his career in the finale.
Pitching and Defense
Houston’s run prevention is ultimately what won them this series. The group allowed just 7 runs the entire series, and as per usual, they got deep starts from each of their starting pitchers. Even when it happens against a bottom-feeder like the A’s, the following is something that Astros fans should never take for granted: Jose Urquidy went 8 innings in game 1, Framber Valdez did the same in game 2, and Jake Odorizzi went 7 in game 3. When all of the starters can pitch far into each game of the series, it provides such a sense of security to the coaching staff and the bullpen. As well, very few teams can claim that they expect the same from their rotation on a regular basis. The Astros’ starting pitchers are doing something special every at every turn, and this weekend, they worked to a 1.96 ERA.
The team was once again showing no hesitancy to stretch out Urquidy’s workload, as he threw 98 pitches on Friday. He only struck out 2 batters and walked 1 but did a brilliant job of keeping the ball on the ground, and rode that pitch-to-contact approach to victory. Framber Valdez was not his sharpest on Saturday: he went 8 innings but struck out 3 and allowed plenty of hard contact. Still, he went deep into the game and only let 7 men reach base, yet it wasn’t enough. He was saddled with the loss in the 4th inning, in which the A’s scored all 3 of their runs in lucky and strange fashion. Nevertheless, baseball doesn’t always go the way the Astros plan it, and they got over the loss fairly quick, as Jake Odorizzi looked flawless in a huge bounce-back outing the next day. He struck out 7 over 7 scoreless frames, a great relief for Astros fans after he got knocked around hard against Kansas City in his return from injury.
The bullpen barely had to work at all, so it’s hardly worth mentioning since their starters were kind enough to give most of them a weekend off. Seth Martinez pitched a scoreless 9th in the series opener, and none of them pitched Saturday as Valdez’s 8-inning appearance technically qualified as a complete game since the A’s won. Phil Maton got tagged for a 2-out solo home run in relief of Odorizzi on Sunday, but Bryan Abreu struck out 2 in the 9th to seal the series win.
On the defensive front, Martin Maldonado was charged with an error on a passed ball that helped the A’s score the eventual winning run on Saturday, so only 2 of the 3 runs they scored were charged to Framber Valdez. Meanwhile, Jake Odorizzi successfully picked off the speedy Skye Bolt at first base in Sunday’s game.
The Astros, now 21-9 over their last 30 games (best in baseball) will continue their road trip, heading up to Anaheim to face the Angels (10-20 over their last 30, 2nd-worst in baseball). The Halos will be fresh off a sweep at the hands of the suddenly white-hot Orioles. The Astros swept them at home just last week, and they’re still at opposite ends of the spectrum at the moment. They’ll look to continue to widen that gap on the road this time, starting on Tuesday following a day off on Monday. As per the Houston Chronicle’s Danielle Lerner, the Astros are slated to start Luis Garcia, Cristian Javier, and *all-star* Framber Valdez in order in this series. From there, the team will close out the unofficial first half with a three-game set against the A’s at home.