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2020 ALDS Series Preview: Houston Astros @ Oakland Athletics

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The Astros (6 seed) enter the playoff bubble with an AL West themed best-of-five series against the A’s (2 seed)

MLB: Houston Astros at Oakland Athletics Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

A’s Quick Notes

The Narrative

After years of failure to get past the first round of the playoffs, the A’s finally broke through against the White Sox to reach the ALDS. Not only that but they will now face the Astros, who have been their primary road block to winning the division for the past few seasons.

That road block was torn apart in 2020 though as Oakland won the AL West thanks to an Astros team that was overwhelmingly deficient in the season that COVID built. This series will be a chance at catharsis for the A’s, who will have the opportunity to take down a team that has kept them from the division crown the past two years. Oakland will be hungry to prove that they are the team of the future.

This will be the first time that the two teams have met in the postseason. The series will most likely be seen as a sea change moment for the AL West should the A’s prove victorious. However, they will still need to prove it as the Astros still have enough talent to keep their championship window propped open if they can seize the moment.

Of course, people will run with the narrative of bad blood between the teams thanks to the benches clearing brawl that erupted earlier in the season after Ramon Laureano was hit by a pitch. While I’m sure there is animosity simmering below the surface, I don’t think that the teams will give in to that. The moment is too big and both teams have conducted themselves as professionals on the field since that unfortunate incident.

Though the game is being played at Dodgers stadium, Okland will be the home team for the first two games of the series, the Astros the second two, and the A’s in Game 5 if needed. The A’s have been assigned the home team dugout since they had the better record, and will use it all through the series. There will be no off days so games are scheduled from Monday straight through Friday.

The Offense

The calling card of the A’s offense during the regular season was patience and power as the team doesn’t hit for a high average, but took their walks in between mashing extra base hits. The series against the White Sox showed they could still do just that, having hit 3 home runs and a double while also walking 11 times in just three games. However, with 22 strikeouts during that same time frame, the young team may have been a little overeager at the plate.

Though they were shut down by a masterful performance from Lucas Giolito in the first game of the Wild Card series, the team was able to turn in 5- and 6-run performances in the next two. Rookie catcher Sean Murphy has lead the way this postseason, going 3-for-8 with a home run and two walks versus just one strikeout.

Marcus Semien also had a good WC series, but that came after somewhat of a down seasons. Still, he mashed a home run and a double during the three games against the White Sox, helping to propel the A’s into the DS. He’s joined by Khris Davis as a player the A’s hope has figured something out in the postseason. Davis looked more like his power-hitting self with a home run of his own in the second game of the series, but there really wasn’t much more to hang his hat on besides that.

Chad Pinder and Tommy La Stella probably had the best WC series out of the rest of the lineup, with both delivering three hits a piece.

Of the players who underperformed, Jake Lamb is probably the biggest disappointment for the A’s after a breakout season in 2020. After coming over from the Diamondbacks, Lamb was thrust into the third baseman role after Matt Chapman went down with a season-ending injury. He raked during that time, helping to plug the hole left by Chapman’s absence.

Old friend Robbie Grossman is the other player who had a disappointing WC series after an excellent regular season. He didn’t manage a single hit in either game he appeared in, and struck out twice in 7 at bats.

The Bullpen

The A’s bullpen has been one of the biggest strengths for the team this season and was instrumental in getting them to this point. As a group, their pen led the majors with a 2.72 ERA. However, Bob Melvin did lean heavily on it in the last game after starter Mike Fiers was unable to complete two innings. They have since had several days of rest though, so should be ready for the DS.

The team has one of the better closers in the league in the form of Liam Hendricks, though he did struggle in Game 2 of the WC series. During that game he tossed 49 pitches trying to get the final six outs, but eventually had to be pulled with one out remaining in the 9th. Even so, he was able to come back and fire off a scoreless 9th to clinch the sweep for Oakland. He hit 99 mph in that one as well, so it seems his extended outing in Game 1 didn’t effect him too much.

Jake Diekman was the pitcher to come out and get the final out of Game 2 and seems to have earned Melvin’s trust. On top of stellar numbers during the regular season, he also appeared in all 3 games of the WC series, including in some high leverage spots. Other candidates for high leverage spots are Joakim Soria and JB Wendelken, who both enjoyed success during those situations during the regular season.

Yusmeiro Petit is one of the longer tenured arms in the A’s bullpen and could also be called on to cover high leverage situations. Petit had one of the better years of his career in 2020, but stumbled in the clinching game against the White Sox, giving up a couple of runs in 1.1 innings. Still, expect to see him in at pivotal moments during that Astros series.

The Starters

The Astros won’t have an easy time of it in Game 1 of the series as they face off against Chris Bassitt. The right hander finished the regular season with a 2.29 ERA, which was good for third best in the AL. He also went 3-0 with a 0.34 ERA and 25 strikeouts during September. He looked more than effective in Game 2 against the White Sox, tossing 7+ innings and only giving up a single run.

The A’s have announced Sean Manaea as the Game 2 starter, who will get a second shot at postseason baseball after a rough outing in last season’s wild card game. The lefty was excellent down the stretch for Oakland, turning in a 2.65 ERA across his final six starts. That included an outing against Houston where he went 7 innings with just 1 earned run.

The A’s have yet to announce who their starters will be after that in the series, which I’m sure will change depending on how many games the A’s have won or lost at that point. Frankie Montas, Mike Fiers, Jesus Luzardo, and Mike Minor are all options to start. In a short series such as this though, it’s not out of the questions for one or more of those guys to make an appearance out of the pen.

None of those 4 pitchers had an excellent 2020 season though, so it’s unclear which is the most likely to start at some point. The only one with an ERA below 4.50 is Luzardo, who clocked in at 4.12 across 59 innings and, while somewhat pedestrian this year, seems to be the best starting option. Montas has already appeared in relief for the A’s this postseason, giving up a run and a couple of hits in 2 innings of work.

I’m sure a big narrative of this series will be whether or not Mike Fiers makes an appearance. He did make a start in the Wild Card series during Game 3, but did not look particularly sharp. He was pulled in the second inning after giving up 5 hits. I don’t think that Melvin will try to hide him from the Astros, but I don’t see him as a high leverage option for the A’s due to performance.

For Your Viewing and Listening Pleasure

Game 1: Monday, October 5th @ 3:07 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - ESPN Radio, La Ranchera 101.7 FM/850 AM / Athletics - Bloomberg 960 AM, A’s Cast, ESPN Radio
Watch: TBS, TBS-INT

Game 2: Tuesday, October 6th @ 3:37 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - ESPN Radio, La Ranchera 101.7 FM/850 AM / Athletics - Bloomberg 960 AM, A’s Cast, ESPN Radio
Watch: TBS, TBS-INT

Game 3: Wednesday, October 7th @ 2:35 CDT
Listen: Athletics - Bloomberg 960 AM, A’s Cast, ESPN Radio / Astros - ESPN Radio, La Ranchera 101.7 FM/850 AM
Watch: TBS, TBS-INT

Game 4: Thursday, September 9th @ 2:35 pm CDT*
Listen: Athletics - Bloomberg 960 AM, A’s Cast, ESPN Radio / Astros - ESPN Radio, La Ranchera 101.7 FM/850 AM
Watch: TBS, TBS-INT

Game 5: Friday, October 9th @ 2:35 pm CDT*
Listen: Astros - ESPN Radio, La Ranchera 101.7 FM/850 AM / Athletics - Bloomberg 960 AM, A’s Cast, ESPN Radio
Watch: TBS, TBS-INT

* if necessary

Poll

Who wins this series?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Astros Sweep 3-0
    (7 votes)
  • 20%
    Astros Win 3-1
    (21 votes)
  • 47%
    Astros Win 3-2
    (49 votes)
  • 3%
    A’s Win 3-2
    (4 votes)
  • 11%
    A’s Win 3-1
    (12 votes)
  • 9%
    A’s Sweep 3-0
    (10 votes)
103 votes total Vote Now