This last series against the Astros sucked. There is no artful way of wording it. The pitchers didn’t pitch well, the hitters didn’t hit well, and when a member of the lineup seemed to be finding a groove, the baseball gods deemed it unacceptable, and injury would quickly find that player. The Oakland A’s have had their fair share of heartbreak, but this series went above and beyond in a way that a regular-season series hasn’t in recent memory, and low and behold, there are some numbers to back it up.
Let’s start with the things that can’t be searched in Baseball-Reference, one being the A’s history with their opponent: the Houston Astros. In the fallout of the Astros cheating scandal in 2020, the A’s sat in an interesting position. They employed former Astro and whistleblower Mike Fiers and were the most well-equipped team in the AL West to stop the maligned Astros from another division title.
Reviewing a rough start to the Oakland A’s season
While they achieved that goal relatively painlessly (the Astros failed to reach .500), this set the stage for another critical battle when the two teams met in the ALDS. The A’s got trounced by the sub .500 Astros, and the A’s could add another tally into the “Depressing Early Playoff Exit” Column.
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2021 brought new hope, however! The talented core of hitters is back for another year! Jesus Luzardo is returning more seasoned and ready to ascend to new levels of pitching! The Astros rotation is thin! All-Star outfielder George Springer left in free agency! And most importantly, a reduced number of fans will be allowed in the stadium, allowing people to shower the Astros with the boos and taunts they have been holding in for over a year!
While the fans came prepared, it seems the Oakland A’s pitchers did not. Perhaps fueled by the fans’ spite, the Astros’ talented lineup never looked more dangerous as they absolutely feasted on whatever pitcher Bob Melvin called to the mound. The A’s allowed eight home runs throughout the series, with Luzardo, Sean Manaea, and newcomer Adam Kolarek each allowing multiple longballs.
Then, of course, there were the injuries. The A’s came in already banged up, with closer Trevor Rosenthal and Mike Fiers both starting the season on the IL. Then, the A’s hitters began dropping like flies. The A’s promising young backstop Sean Murphy went down with a hand contusion at the end of Opening Day. Laureano hurt his wrist sliding into first base on a close play (THIS IS WHY YOU DON’T SLIDE AT FIRST). Chad Pinder, who was making a convincing case to be the everyday right fielder with incredible defensive plays and powerful swings, was taken out of the last game of the series after sacrificing his body to make a great catch at the right field wall.
None of the players are currently on the IL, but seeing numerous players fall to injury can be devastating to a team and its fans’ morale. It can make one question if the green and gold are cursed. Hopefully, these players have speedy recoveries for their sakes and the A’s playoff hopes.
Now let’s get into the numbers. The A’s pitching staff gave up nine runs in each game except the first, where the staff was feeling extra locked in and only gave up 8. Since the A’s moved to Oakland, they have never played in a four-game series where they allowed at least eight runs in each game. They’ve done this in shorter series, but never a four-game series. At one point, the Athletics had a streak of giving up this many runs that went six games across the ’95 and ’96 seasons, but with the powerful lineup of the reigning champion Los Angeles Dodgers coming to Oakland, this streak might not be over yet.
The pitching wasn’t the only thing hindering the A’s success; everything wasn’t working for the A’s. Oakland’s run differential during this series was -26, which is pretty hard to get in only four games. Even in the closest game of the series, the A’s still lost by four runs. The A’s have only had one other four-game series where they lost by at least 4 in each game, and it happened all the way back in 1978 against the Kansas City Royals. Remember, this number is based on the closest game in the series.
These numbers represent how outmatched the A’s were in this series, but there is something about this series that data can’t capture. Perhaps it’s the fact that Astros have become the new villain that the A’s can’t seem to get past, a la, the early 2010’s Tigers or the early 2000’s Yankees constantly thwarted contending A’s teams in the playoffs. It also might be the impending feeling of doom that A’s fans feel when their talented stars inch closer and closer to free agency.
It could be as simple as we see the Oakland A’s as the good guys and the Astros are the bad guys who cheat, and it feels like they shouldn’t win because that’s how it’s supposed to happen. There are many reasons to feel sad about this series, but the only thing to do is move on to the next series, hoping for something a little more cheerful.