Oakland Athletics vs Houston Astros: Series Preview

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Aug 26, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Oakland Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson (20) is safe at first base during the first inning as Houston Astros first baseman Jon Singleton (28) fields a throw at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Oakland Athletics: (79-60, 44-25 at home, 2nd AL West)

Houston Astros: (61-79, 26-40 on the road, 4th AL West)

Season Series: Oakland leads 10-6 (outscoring Houston 98-65). The teams last met on August 25-27th and the Athletics took 2 out of 3 in the series.

The Quest to 80 (Wins and Losses)

The Athletics went 12-17 in August, which was their first losing month this season. They started off 1-2 in September but are looking to rebound in this upcoming series. This season, the Athletics are 44-25 at home, and the Astros are 26-40 on the road. The Athletics are chasing their 80th win, and are attempting to regain ground on the Angels to stay a threat to become AL West Champions for the 3rd consecutive year. Meanwhile, Astros are doing anything possible to avoid their 80th loss this season.

The surprisingly decent Astros had their second winning month this season, going 15-14 in both May and August. This may not seem impressive, but last year the Astros didn’t have a single winning month. The Astros finished their season 51-111 in 2013, which was a slight regression from 55-107 in 2012. Houston is doing its part to separate itself from the comical nickname of “the LAST-ros.”

Schedule and Pitching Match-Ups

Friday, September 5, 7:05 PM PST: Jeff Samardzija, RHP vs Brett Oberholtzer, LHP

Saturday, September 6, 1:05 PM PST: Scott Kazmir, LHP vs Scott Feldman, RHP

Sunday, September 7, 1:05 PM PST: Jason Hammel, RHP vs Dallas Keuchel, LHP

The Athletics will send one southpaw and two right handed pitchers to the mound. The Astros will send the opposite: two southpaws and one right handed pitcher.

The Astros have gone 43-56 vs RHP and 18-23 vs LHP

The Athletics have gone 22-18 vs LHP and 57-42 vs RHP

The Astros have a major weakness that the A’s must take advantage of: relief pitching. Houston’s bullpen ERA is 4.91 and is the second worst in the Majors. If Oakland’s starters can out-pitch Houston’s bats (most notably Jose Altuve and former Athletic Chris Carter), the pressure will be entirely on Oakland’s bats to heat back up.

It’s hard to deny (in fact, it’s blatantly obvious) that the A’s offense has been stifled lately.  Many have pondered if it’s “Time To Abandon The Platoon In Favor Of Stability.” Pitching may win in October, but the A’s have to first hit their way to earn a spot in the Postseason. It is easy to square the blame on the loss of Yoenis Cespedes, but the offense has been declining ever since a red hot April. The Athletics scored 148 runs in April, and hit a season low of 103 runs in August. Despite the recent slide,the A’s still lead the league in walks and run differential. The A’s need to utilize the speed of Fuld/Burns to steal bases to be in scoring position, capitalize on the intimidating power of Dunn, and have Donaldson hit a timely RBI.

Friday, September 5, 7:05 PM PST

RHP Jeff Samardzija (3.57 ERA, 4-4) vs LHP Brett Oberholtzer (4.39 ERA, 4-10)

Samardzija has gone 4-4 since joining the Athletics. His ERA is 3.57 over 75.2 innings and 11 starts. While the Athletics recently struggled against the Angels, “the Shark” put out an impressive effort during his last start. Samardzija’s last start was on August 30th in Anaheim. Oberholtzer last took the mound on August 29th in Houston vs the Rangers. Despite both starts resulting in losses, Samardzija actually had a good start. He pitched 8.0 innings, allowing only 1 earned run and 4 hits. Oberholtzer’s start, however, was far worse. He went only 4.1 innings, giving up 9 hits and 7 earned runs.

Oberholtzer has started 20 games. His record is 4-10 with an ERA of 4.39 this season. Oberholtzer is 0-2 in his last 3 starts, pitching 16.1 innings with a 7.71 ERA. Samardzija’s last 3 starts resulted in a 1-2 record over 19.2 innings, with a 4.58 ERA.

Saturday, September 6, 1:05 PM PST

LHP Scott Kazmir (3.39 ERA, 14-7) vs RHP Scott Feldman (4.09 ERA, 8-10)

Kazmir takes the mound for his 28th start of the season, looking to improve his 14-7 record and 3.39 ERA. Until recently, Kazmir had been extremely dominant. His last 3 starts, however, resulted in 1-2 record over only 10.1 innings, causing his ERA over that span to balloon to a staggering 12.19. His last start was in Anaheim against the Angels, and it was was easily his worst this season. He lasted only 1.1 innings, allowing 2 hits and 6 earned runs.

As discussed in the article The Struggles of Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir: Could Pomeranz Save the Day?:

"“Kazmir threw 206.2 innings in 2007, but was out of baseball for the entirety of the 2012 season and only threw 1.2 innings in 2011…In 6 starts since August 3, Kazmir is 2-4 and has allowed a pitiful 26 earned runs in just 30 innings pitched (7.80 ERA).”"

Hopefully Kazmir’s struggles were exclusive to his starts against the Angels, and he can dominate against the Astros.

Feldman’s pitching luck appears to the opposite of Kazmir’s situation. He has gone 8-10 this season, over 25 starts. His season high ERA was 4.60 after his start against Oakland on July 24. Since then, his ERA continues to decrease and is now 4.09. It hasn’t been this low since July 7th.  He’s even pitched two complete games. Feldman has gone 22.2 innings over his last 3 starts, with a 1.99 ERA and a 2-1 record. The good news is that he has  been historically terrible in Oakland. His ERA is 8.60at the Coliseum and has gone 1-6 over his career.

Sunday, September 7, 1:05 PM PST

RHP Jason Hammel (2-5, 4.98 ERA) vs LHP Dallas Keuchel (10-9, 3.03 ERA)

It is no secret that Hammel had been a huge disappointment since Oakland acquired him from the Cubs. Hammel’s turn in the starting rotation was skipped for the series vs the Mets. It was no secret that he had heavily struggled with Oakland, and the skip was easy since the A’s already had two days off that week and were preparing for their home series against the Angels. The skip also allowed Oakland’s aces to pitch later that week in Anaheim.

Hammel went 1-5 over his first 7 starts with Oakland. Hammel pitched 32 innings with Oakland in his first 7 starts, only averaging about 4.2 innings per start. Since being skipped, we have seen an entirely different Hammel. Perhaps his arm was just tired and needed rest, but the turn around could have also been due to the realistic fear of losing his position in the starting rotation (especially since Drew Pomeranz was called up to the squad to pitch just a day after Hammel’s first start after being skipped). Hammel went a full 8 innings in his last start, and 7 innings the start prior. This is a man pitching not only for his spot in the rotation, but for a job next year. He will become a free agent in 2015.

Hammel will have a lot to prove on Sunday. He has a 7.15 ERA against Houston this season, mostly due to the disastrous start on July 30th. However, the latest iteration of Hammel (dubbed “Hammel 2.0” by yours truly) gave up only 2 earned runs and 6 hits overs his 15 most recent innings pitched. If this Hammel takes the mound on Sunday, I expect the A’s to win, or at least keep the game interesting.

Sunday will be a chance at redemption for Hammel, as he will once again match up against Keuchel. Hammel essentially had a meltdown on the mound in Houston on July 30th, a moment he would like to soon forget. Keuchel will never forget that date, however, because he pitched a complete game and earned himself his latest win. Since then, he has made 6 starts and is still chasing his 11th win. Keuchel has a 3.03 ERA, a 10-9 record, and has started 26 games this season.

Are you confident or concerned going into this series?

Give me your predictions:

AROUND THE AL WEST

Friday, September 5

Angels @ Twins – 8:10 PM EDT , Target Field

Mariners @ Rangers – 8:05 PM EDT, Globe Life Park in Arlington

Houston Astros @ Athletics – 10:05 PM EDT, O.co Coliseum

Saturday, September 6

Astros @ Athletics – 4:05 PM EDT , O.co Coliseum

Angels @ Twins – 7:10 PM EDT , Target Field

Mariners @ Rangers  8:05 PM EDT , Globe Life Park in Arlington

Sunday, September 7

Angels @ Twins – 2:10 PM EDT , Target Field

Mariners @ Rangers  3:05 PM EDT , Globe Life Park in Arlington

Astros @ Athletics  4:05 PM EDT , O.co Coliseum

The Remainder of September and the Season

Games Remaining: 23

Record: 79-60

Standing: 2nd place in AL West

 

8-10: Chicago White Sox (Road)

12-14: Seattle Mariners (Road)

16-18: Texas Rangers (Home)

19-21: Philadelphia Phillies (Home)

22-24: Los Angels Angels of Anaheim (Last home series)

25-28: Texas Rangers (Away and last regular season series)

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