10:07 PM EST – Line: Astros -200, Over/Under: 9
Division Rivals heading in very different directions clash tonight by the Bay, as the fading Oakland Athletics host the surging Houston Astros in the second chapter in a four-game series from the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California. Since the All-Star Break, you’d be hard-pressed to find a team hotter than the Astros (78-43, 1st in AL West), who have gone 21-10 since the Midsummer Classic, further building their very comfortable lead within the Division, which is now at 9.5 Games and climbing. With the Pitching Staff proving to be as consistent as ever, particularly after the stunning acquisition of Zack Greinke (12-4, 3.08 ERA, 25 GS, 158.0 IP, 131 H, 55 R, 16 HR, 25 BB, 143 K, 0.987 WHIP) at the Trade Deadline, Houston’s current run of form can be chalked up to the sudden explosion of their Offense. Before the All-Star Break, the Lineup was batting .269 and slugging .472, but after it have batted a scintillating .293 and slugged .535. Granted, a major reason for the upswing in power can be attributed to the fact that they’re finally healthy, for a number of key figures in the Batting Order had missed a plethora of games due to injury. Jose Altuve (.307 BA, 85 G, 105 H, 63 R, 19 2B, 22 HR, 54 RBI, 31 BB, 54 K), Carlos Correa (.286 BA, 67 G, 73 H, 36 R, 16 2B, 17 HR, 53 RBI, 31 BB, 68 K), and George Springer (.297 BA, 87 G, 104 H, 72 R, 17 2B, 26 HR, 67 RBI, 46 BB, 80 K) all missed action thanks to various maladies, but all of them are back to full strength, which of course has meant very good things for the reigning AL West Champions. On the season, A.J Hinch’s charges have done good job for themselves, ranking tops in the American League in Batting Average (.275), On-Base Percentage (.351), and OPS (.839), along with Walks (464) and Strikeouts (863). Now that they’re healthy, expect those figures to continue to climb. Taking the mound tonight for the Astros will be none other than Justin Verlander (15-4, 2.82 ERA, 25 GS, 162.2 IP, 104 H, 53 R, 29 HR, 34 BB, 207 K, 0.848 WHIP), who will be looking to rebound from a rare loss. The veteran Righthander recently saw a five-game winning streak come to an end in a bizarre 7-8 defeat at the lowly Baltimore Orioles. The former Cy Young allowed Four Earned Runs on Nine Hits alongside Eleven Strikeouts and One Walk in just Five Innings of work. It was his fifth consecutive game with ten or more Strikeouts. Of course, this has pretty much been Verlander’s story in 2019; despite leading the American League in a slew of categories, including ERA (2.82), WHIP (0.848), Hits Allowed per Nine Innings (5.8), and Strikeout/Walk Ratio (6.38), he’s one Home Run away from tying the most that he’s served up in a single season (30). Perhaps it’s simply proof that this guy is in fact human after all, but in this season of Homers, let’s not overlook just how special he’s been. Few teams have felt his wrath quite like tonight’s opponent, the Athletics, whom in Two Starts has permitted just Two Runs (1 Earned) on Six Hits over the course of Fourteen Innings, totaling Nineteen Strikeouts in comparison to Four Walks.
Meanwhile, business is quickly picking up for the Athletics (68-52, 2nd in AL West), who need to find a way to recapture the scorching form that they carried throughout the months of June and August. After winning their first five games following the Midsummer Classic, Oakland has largely treaded water, going 13-11 over the past twenty-four contests. And this has been a problem for Bob Melvin’s charges, who have picked a rather inopportune time for their momentum to dissipate. Without any real chance of catching their opponent tonight, the Astros, in the race for the Division Crown, the only avenue left for the A’s to return to the Playoffs is by obtaining one the league’s Wild card’s and after spending well over the last month occupying one of them, have thus fallen out altogether, trailing the Tampa Bay Rays by two games in the Standings. In this game, momentum means everything, and right now, they simply don’t have it, and as a result, they’ve been overtaken by teams that do, which is the problem. The biggest issue for them of late is that their Offense has taken a dip during this stretch, batting just .232 and slugging .402. However, there are signs that they could be coming back around, for over the last five games they’ve batted a reinvigorated .266 and slugged .457. Matt Chapman (.255 BA, 117 G, 112 H, 76 R, 28 2B, 27 HR, 67 RBU, 53 BB, 103 K), who earned his first All-Star Selection last month, has been on fire of late, batting .318 with Seven Hits, a Double, Three Home Runs, and Three Runs Batted In over that period of time, in which the club has gone 3-2. Taking the mound tonight for the Athletics will be Tanner Roark (7-8, 4.06 ERA, 23 GS, 122.0 IP, 129 H, 59 R, 16 HR, 40 BB, 121 K, 1.385 WHIP), who will be making his third Start with team since being acquired via trade from the Cincinnati Reds. Roark, alongside fellow veteran Starter, Homer Bailey (10-8, 5.22 ERA, 24 GS, 122.1 IP, 124 H, 72 R, 16 HR, 47 BB, 108 K, 1.398 WHIP), were each brought in to bolster a Starting Rotation that has been decimated by injuries and suspension, particularly with Frankie Montas (9-2, 2.70 ERA, 15 GS, 90.0 IP, 80 H, 34 R, 7 HR, 21 BB, 97 K, 1.122 WHIP) continuing to serve an 80-Game Suspension due to testing positive for Performance Enhancing Drugs. With the young Righthander scheduled to return to action towards the end of September, there was serious urgency on Oakland’s part to add reinforcements. And with that said, Melvin hopes that Roark can be more of the promising young arm he was earlier in his career rather than the player who led the league in losses (15) a year ago as a member of the Washington Nationals. Then again, it’s not like he was inspiring much confidence within the Reds, where his ERA was a disappointing 4.24, and his WHIP (1.423) was the highest of his career. Things are looking promising though in Oakland, for it looks like yet another change in scenery has done the Righthander a wealth of good; in Two Starts with the A’s, Roark has gone 1-1 with a much-improve 2.31 ERA and 1.029 WHIP, all the while exorcising far better control, posting a 6.50 Strikeout/Walk Ratio compared to the 2.84 figure from Cincinnati. When we last saw him, the 32-Year Old was otherwise excellent in a narrow 2-3 loss at the Chicago White Sox, permitting Three Runs (Two Earned) on Six Hits over the duration of 6.2 Innings, racking up Seven Strikeouts opposed to Zero Walks.