Houston Astros vs. Oakland Athletics, April 13-15, 2015
No team shaped the Astros offseason more than the Athletics. Houston gave up 30 ninth inning runs to the A's last season. A mind-boggling number that prompted the Astros to improve their bullpen this offseason in the hope to compete with the Athletics.
The only problem with setting the A's as the bar is that Billy Beane has worked his magic this offseason and completely revamped the roster. Gone is Josh Donaldson, in is Brett Lawrie. Gone are Lester and Samardzija, in are the A's normal cast of young starter. Gone is the A's insane catching depth, in is the lone man left standing Stephen Vogt. The roster may not look the same but it's still "green collar baseball" as the A's would call it.
The question then becomes which direction do the A's go from here? Has Beane tinkered with the roster too much or found the right pieces to make another run at the playoffs?
Athletics Key Additions and Departures
Sure some would say that the Dodgers and Padres moves this offseason were the grandest of them all. But the Athletics traded a player that has posted a 14.1 WAR* over this last two seasons, more than anyone player traded this offseason. Third baseman Josh Donaldson is now wearing a Blue Jays uniform after rumors swirled that he and Beane had a confrontation about playing time. The more likely reasons for him getting traded was his coast was about to go way up.
Other major pieces are gone as well, Derek Norris, John Jaso, Jed Lowrie, and Brandon Moss. Oakland departed with three of their five starters last season as well, Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, and Jason Hammel. Not to forget a nice bullpen piece in Luke Gregerson. Two of the A's losses were Astros gains in Lowrie and Gregerson .
The A's had to replace their starting first baseman, third baseman, catcher, shortstop, and designated hitter from their 2014 ALWC game against the Royals. They did so nicely with super utility player Ben Zobrist, infielder Brett Lawrie, Marcus Semien, first baseman Ike Davis, and designated hitter Billy Butler. They also found some gems to fill in pitching spots in Jesse Hahn and Tyler Clippard. Hahn is a breakout candidate and nice return for Derek Norris. Clippard is a solid closer candidate after being buried in Washington for some time.
If you were to look at team ERA at the moment, you should find the Astros sitting in third place with 2.17 ERA. Of the first six games, the only poor performance in the rotation and bullpen thus far has been from Asher Wojciechowski. Who could blame young Wojo, he was making his first career start in the major league?
Game 1: RHP Scott Feldman (0-1, 1.35 ERA, 0.75 WHIP) vs. LHP Scott Kazmir (1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.43 WHIP)
Game 2: RHP Asher Wojciechowski (0-1, 9.00 ERA, 2.50 WHIP) vs. RHP Kendall Graveman (0-1, 18.90 ERA, 2.40 WHIP)
Game 3: RHP Collin McHugh (1-0, 1.50 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) vs. LHP Drew Pomeranz (1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.29 WHIP)
Scott Feldman takes the ball to star the third series, he once again proved that Spring Training stats are useless after one start. Feldman allowed just one run through 6.2 against the Indians in the second game of the season. The Astros elder statesman on the staff had 6.87 ERA in 18.1 innings this spring. The A's will counter with another Scott from Texas, Scott Kazmir. The former Sugar Land Skeeter has found home with the Athletics and has thrived - posting his lowest ERA in five season in 2014 (3.55). In his last five starts against his hometown team, Kazmir has a 2-0 record and 1.83 ERA.
Asher Wojciechowski looks to rebound after a rough first major league start, giving up four runs over four innings in the series finale with the Indians. Wojo was brilliant this spring, allowing three earned runs over 21 innings. If he struggles again I would suspect his spot to be taken by Brad Peacock, who will have two starts under his belt in Triple A Fresno. Kendall Graveman starts game two for the A's. He was included in the trade with the Blue Jays for Donaldson. Graveman allowed seven earned runs over 3.1 inning against Texas on April 9. The former Mississippi State Bulldog was the ace of the 2013 College World Series runner up, and bring level of maturity to his starts.
Collin McHugh will make his second start of the season on Wednesday at picking up where he left on in 2014. He held the Rangers to one run over six innings in a win on Friday. Last season, McHugh went 8.2 innings against the Oakland in second start as an Astro on April 27. He allowed just one run on two hits. Drew Pomeranz won a final spot in the A's rotation over Jesse Chavez. The lefty was sent down to Triple-A last season after injuring himself by punching a chair with his throwing hand. The decision paid off quickly for the Athletics, as Pomeranz pitched seven scoreless innings against Seattle last Friday. He struck out six and walked none.
The Astros 3-4-5 hitters are still struggling, batting .070 (4-for-57) this season. But, the Astros 7-8-9 hitters are batting .311 (19-61). The Astros offense has been led by Jake Marisnick who is batting .400 (6-15) through six games this season with two extra-base hits. the Astros are still waiting for Jose Altuve and Evan Gattis to wake up this season. Altuve is batting .192 with zero extra-base hits. Gattis is hitless as an Astro with 12 strikeouts in 20 at-bats thus far.
New Athletic Billy Butler has started the season strong, batting .407 (11-27) with two doubles thus far in 2015. The bat has always been a question for Sam Fuld, who is hitting .375 in 24 at-bats in 2015. He has two doubles and two triples thus far. Rookie Mark Canha has earned playing time this young season, he has a hit in all five of his starts. Canha is 9-for-25 with three extra-base hits.
With Feldman and McHugh starting two game for the Astros, I will take Houston in two out of three. Chris Carter and Evan Gattis will break out and send a few bombs flying toward the Crawfish Boxes.
*courtesy of FanGraphs