The Oakland Athletics and the Houston Astros will be facing each other in what is going to be a thrilling ALDS. The Astros beat the odds and won the Wild Card Series against the Twins in two games, and are moving on in the playoffs (this time without the trash cans). Oakland butted out the Chicago White Sox in the Wild Card round and they are going to be a tough team for the Astros to beat. Then again, most people predicted the Twins would advance instead of Houston, so anything can happen.
Why you should tune in:
Athletics starting pitcher, Mike Fiers, was notably the player who dropped the bomb that Houston had been stealing signs, causing the huge investigation that proved that the Astros indeed did cheat. Tensions rose earlier in the 2020 season when A’s outfielder, Ramon Laureano, charged the Astros’ dugout after being hit by a pitch for the third time in the series in an incident that caused multiple suspensions. To add to the fire, Houston shortstop, Carlos Correa, said to the media after his team swept the Twins, “I know a lot of people are mad. I know a lot of people don’t want to see us here. But what are they going to say now?”
Snarky comments like this from Correa haven’t helped the Astros become more likable to fans, so most MLB fans (except loyal Houston fans) will probably be rooting for Minnesota in this series. More drama is sure to ensue one way or another, so if you don’t tune in for some great baseball, at least tune in for that.
Key things to remember about the Astros in this series:
Houston’s pitching took a huge hit when it was announced that their ace, Justin Verlander, was going to be out till 2022 due to Tommy John surgery, but not all hope is lost. The Astros still have five quality starters including; Zack Greinke, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Cristian Javier, and Lance McCullers Jr. Houston’s solid starting pitching lineup should be enough to pick up Verlander’s slack. It will be interesting to see who manager, Dusty Baker, decides to start in game one. Including his Postseason outing, Greinke has a 5.40 ERA over his past eight appearances. Valdez was also excellent when he pitched against the Twins, following a dominant regular season where he had a 3.57 ERA and struck out many more batters than he walked. So, Houston definitely shouldn’t be worried when it comes to pitching, if anything Oakland batters should be worried if they have to face the dominant Greinke and/or Valdez.
Starting pitching isn’t an issue for the Astros, but the bullpen will be something to worry about. They are going to have to rely on a lot of rookie pitchers with no postseason experience, and this could go either way. Against the Twins, Ryan Pressly and Josh James took the mound along with five other rookies. James could be a key player in this series, he was dominant in his last five outings in the regular season after struggling for a few games, and seems to have finally found the strike zone. This bullpen is not going to be a sure thing, but we will see.
As a team, the Astros’ offense had the lowest strikeout rate in the majors, but their batting averages had a dramatic decrease this season. The cause of this is pretty obvious, so no need to explain that. Houston led the wOBA in 2019, and in 2020 they dropped to 18th place. Of the nine Astros starters, 2017 AL MVP, Jose Altuve, had the worst OPS on the team in the regular season, hitting .219/.286/.344. Despite his struggles, Altuve has remained in the second spot for the majority of the season. It was present in the series against the Twins that Altuve is still caught up in his season-long struggles. He has been a fantastic postseason performer in past seasons, and if he doesn’t snap out of these struggles, the A’s are most likely going to be victorious in this series.
Key things to remember about the A’s in this series:
“It ain’t over till it’s over,” partly because of the bullpen:
This quote from baseball Icon, Yogi Berra, felt appropriate when talking about how most A’s games played out this season. Oakland won 11 games that they trailed at the beginning at the fifth inning or later, this is about double the big-league average. This also occurred in the Wild Card Series when the A’s came back to overcome a 1-0 deficit against the White Sox. If Houston gets ahead early and expects to win, they should think twice. The main reason for this is because of the strength and depth of the A’s bullpen. Unlike the Astros, Oakland’s bullpen is stellar and can usually keep the game at a standstill until the A’s hitters can take an opposing reliever deep. This is mainly what happened against Chicago, and a big reason why they won.
Solid defense from the A’s is going to be a must in this series because Houston has been able to lead the MLB-low strikeout rate as well as below-average home run rate is that no other teams put more balls into play. Oakland ranks about average for defense, so to have the edge over the Astros they are going to be on their toes. Look what happened in game one of the Wild Card Series, the Twins made a defensive error that cost them the game. If Oakland fails, the Astros could win by playing small ball.
The A’s have been notorious for being patient at the plate, and for them, it’s always a tricky balance on when to be patient and when to be aggressive. Against Houston, this could be a major deciding factor, Oakland needs to be more aggressive at the plate and not take as many pitches. Oakland ranked 26th in wOBA against pitches in the zone (.295). We know that Oakland hitters will take and take and take… eventually though, they will need to do damage when they get pitches to hit.
This is going to be an interesting series, possibly drama-filled, so be sure to tune in. According to ESPN, the Athletics have a 60.2 percent chance of winning the series but anything can happen. Tune into ALDS game one on Monday, October 5th, you won’t want to miss it.
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