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2021 Series Preview: Houston Astros @ Oakland Athletics

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The Astros open the season on the West Coast, starting with four games against the defending division champs, the A’s

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

A’s Quick Notes

The Narrative

The Astros will open the season against what appears to be their main competition in the AL West. After years of challenging but not quite overcoming the Astros, Oakland was finally able to get to the top of the mountain and claim the AL West crown in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. But the ALDS was a different story, and the Astros were able to eat the A’s lunch and send them home in 4 games, proving who was still on top. Still, Oakland is a hungry, young team ready to prove they still own the West.

The offseason was sort of a weird one for the A’s, who saw the departure of longtime shortstop Marcus Semien, who is now playing for the Blue Jays alongside George Springer. They are replacing him with Elvis Andrus, who the A’s picked up from the Rangers in exchange for Khris Davis. They also signed Mitch Moreland for some help at DH, and brought Jed Lowrie back after he was paid to sit on the IL by the Mets. The signing of veteran baseball players continued in the bullpen as well, where they picked up Sergio Romo and Trevor Rosenthal after losing Liam Hendricks to free agency.

The one area they did not make any real effort to improve was the starting rotation. Oakland’s biggest move in that area was re-signing Mike Fiers, who starts the season on the IL. While their rotation is nothing to sneeze at, a lack of solid improvement could cause problems for Oakland down the road.

Overall the A’s look to have taken a small step back in comparison to previous seasons, or at least trending towards treading water. They patched holes, but didn’t really improve greatly anywhere. While they definitely still have the tools to defend their division crown, it doesn’t look to be an easy job for them in 2021.

The Offense

The A’s offense last year was anemic and relied more on late game comebacks nailed down by the bullpen then it did on overpowering opponents. They were missing their star third baseman Matt Chapman then, who had a hip injury in 2020, so that may have contributed to the disappointing offensive year.

While Spring numbers don’t really matter, the team did have a prolific March this year. Chad Pinder and Matt Olson looked the most prepared for the season, leading the team in most offensive categories this Spring.

Matt Chapman, who the A’s are hoping will really be able to contribute this year, had a decent but not great Spring. While his batting average was abysmal, he managed to get on base quite regularly by taking a bunch of walks, and popped a few homers. Meanwhile, Ramon Laureano had a decent end to his spring, but spent about a week on the bench after injuring himself. Still, expect him to be an offensive leader for this team going forward.

Those were probably the hottest players for the A’s during Spring Training that the Astros can expect to see over the next four days. Again, this isn’t much to base how the season will go since it’s just Spring Training, but worth a look anyways.

The Bullpen

The A’s pen took a bit of a blow after losing Liam Hendricks to free agency during the offseason. One of the league’s premier closers, Oakland has plugged that particular hole by signing Sergio Romo and Trevor Rosenthal.

Romo had a down year in 2020, but has generally been solid over the course of his career and regularly features as a backend piece in a bullpen. Meanwhile, Rosenthal is trying to prove that his good 2020 season is who he really is now instead of someone aging out of their career like it appeared two seasons ago.

Expect to see Jake Diekman, Yusmeiro Petit, and Adam Kolarek (who was picked up in the offseason) joining Romo and Rosenthal in late-game, high-leverage situations. Yusmeiro Petit in particular is a longtime veteran of the A’s bullpen, and has generally been a weapon for them across his entire career.

Rosenthal seems like the most likely candidate to be the next closer, so expect to see him throwing in the 9th if the A’s get a save opportunity this weekend.

The Starters

Chris Bassitt will be the first one out of the gate as he draws the first Opening Day assignment of his career. Bassitt had one of the best years of his career in 2020 when he went 5-2 with a 2.29 ERA across the 60-game season. He has emerged as the ace of the A’s staff and looks to be ready to hold onto that title as the 2021 season begins. He also looked sharp this Spring with a 1.74 ERA across 3 starts.

Jesus Luzardo is slated for the second game of the series after a 2020 rookie year that showed flashes of brilliance but eventually ended with a 4.12 ERA across 12 starts. Luzardo is someone with a high ceiling, but will need to work on mastering his command before he can match the hype.

The A’s have yet to announce starters for the third or fourth game, waiting to see how Frankie Montas feels after pitching in simulated game. Montas and Sean Manaea are expected to be the 3rd and 4th starters this year though, so I’ll cover them here.

Frankie Montas was the A’s Opening Day starter last season and a lot was expected of him, but he was not able to deliver. After a disappointing year where he posted a 5.60 ERA in 11 starts, Montas was still slated to pitch near the top of Oakland’s rotation. Unfortunately, a tear in the cuticle of one of the fingers on his pitching hand has put a question mark on his first start. Should he pass muster, expect to see him on Saturday.

Sean Manaea is projected to be the 4th starter for Oakland this year and is another prospect who never quite grew to fill the role expected of him. His velocity has dropped since his 2016 debut, but that’s more due to working on precision in his pitching. According to interviews he’s done, expect him to work some heat back into his offerings this season. Manaea has had an erratic Spring this year, so it’s not clear if the extra speed on the ball is helping or hindering him.

For Your Viewing and Listening Pleasure

Game 1: Thursday, April 1st @ 9:07 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, KTRH 740 AM/99.1 FM HD-2 / Athletics - Bloomberg 960 AM, A’s Cast, KIQI 1010
Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Athletics - NBCSCA / ESPN

Game 2: Friday, April 2nd @ 8:40 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, KTRH 740 AM/99.1 FM HD-2 / Athletics - Bloomberg 960 AM, A’s Cast, KIQI 1010
Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Athletics - NBCSCA

Game 3: Saturday, April 3rd @ 3:07 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2 / Athletics - Bloomberg 960 AM, A’s Cast, KIQI 1010
Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Athletics - NBCSCA

Game 4: Sunday, April 4th @ 3:07 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2 / Athletics - Bloomberg 960 AM, A’s Cast, KIQI 1010
Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Athletics - NBCSCA / MLB Network (out-of-market only)

Poll

Who wins this series?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Astros Sweep 4-0
    (17 votes)
  • 39%
    Astros Win 3-1
    (76 votes)
  • 37%
    Series Split 2-2
    (72 votes)
  • 11%
    A’s Win 3-1
    (22 votes)
  • 3%
    A’s Sweep 4-0
    (7 votes)
194 votes total Vote Now