There is not much left of the 2018 regular season. The Astros have gotten hot, just like last year. Although there was no dramatic deadline deal, “Team Septemer” is 10-1 this month and on pace for 100+ wins. An odd thing has happened though; the A’s never lose. With an off-day, and 16 games left. Let’s map this out:
Series left: Diamondacks (3), Mariners (3), Angels (3), Blue Jays (3), Orioles (4).
Home games (9); Road Games (7)
Off-days: 2, including today
Here’s how it looks for Oakland: after beating Baltimore tonight (see that reverse jinx), they play the Angels (6), Mariners (3), Rays (3) and Twins (3). Ten of their 16 are on the road.
Rotation shifts to watch: The Astros obviously feel that JV and Cole are their horses, but they wouldn’t mind getting them some rest. My hunch is that they’re through with Framber; this is a front office that despises pitcher walks. With two off days, there’s a chance to shuffle things around. Flipping Keuchel and Morton means that Keuchel can pitch the last game against Seattle, where I assume they like the match up with their lefties. They are scheduled, per ESPN, to throw Valdez on Monday. Cole could in theory take that start on regular rest. But I would prefer they throw James on either Monday or Tuesday.
Lineups to Watch: We all know Hinch loves to mix and match. We all should know he loves Marwin. Will Hinch give us a tell in the last 16 games? Kemp should have nothing left to prove, but will he get big starts, especially if the A’s close the gap? Will Jake continue to get starts against lefties? Will Gattis be given chances? All of these questions are minor compared to the biggest question: how much time will Hinch give to Correa, who’s slugging .212 since returning. Let that sink in: 14 singles, 2 doubles, 1 HR in 104 ABs. A player who produces like that, and who looks as lost as he does cannot hit in the middle of the lineup and cannot protect Bregman. If 2018 Correa is simply broken, the team needs to think long and hard about not just where he hits, but whether he plays.
Bullpen watch: Too many arms! Devo and Lance are the real wild cards. If they can look healthy and sharp, Hinch will want them. That would squeeze Harris and/or James (I’m assuming Sipp and Smith are safe). Also, will Rondon lose his 8th inning role to Pressley? The closer the division race is, the more insight we’ll have into Hinch.
Callups to watch: Tucker! The Astros clearly didn’t think Tucker was worth the risk, in the sense of throwing into the lineup to see if he merited a postseason spot. And they seem to have moved on from Fisher, who will still probably be up to pinch run. But both of those guys will be up later this week, and both will enter games late, I suspect. They’re not going to put JD Davis in the lineup, or Cionel Perez in the game with anything on the line. Look for the possibility, especially if there’s a clinch, of rewarding a guy like Trent Thornton with a start in the Baltimore series, especially if Framber keeps walking people and Hinch wants James to adjust to the BP.
Final reminder: the A’s will eventually lose. So will the Astros. After that dominant road trip, a 6-3 home stand, and a 5-2 road trip would leave the team a 103-59 record. That’s a realistic/optimistic take on the last 16 games. Teams that win 100 games are rare. We may have four in one league this year.