A quick turnaround tonight to Sunday’s day affair so this will be very brief.
The cynics, and there are many of them out there, will take one look at the A’s 27-23 record after 50 games and surmise, “Yeah, but take away their 8-0 against the Houston Astros, and they’ve be a sub-.500 team right now.”
That is true. But not everybody is unbeaten against the Astros like the A’s are. The Angels are 3-3 against them. Seattle is 2-4. The Rangers are 5-1. You can’t count the wins until you win them, and the A’s have taken care of business against a clearly inferior team much better than at least two division foes, and slightly better than the division-leading Rangers.
Look, I wrote at season’s outset that all of the A.L. West teams have a tremendous advantage playing 19 times against the Astros, at least in terms of the striving for postseason wild cards and possible home-field advantage in the playoffs. They are the worst team in the American League, and maybe all of baseball, although if they could ever sort out their starting pitching, they have a lineup that can be dangerous, as they demonstrated Saturday night by hitting four home runs. As Bob Melvin said, you can’t just throw your gloves out on the field and expect to win.
Houston has some talent. Jason Castro, the kid catcher from Castro Valley, could wind up being Houston’s representative on the All-Star team if it’s not second baseman Jose Altuve. Third baseman Matt Dominguez has shown tremendous power in this series. Houston has a good-looking rookie outfielder in Brandon Barnes, and while he hasn’t shown it against the A’s, Chris Carter does have nine home runs — as many as Yoenis Cespedes — and 23 RBIs.
The A’s are winning these games against Houston because they aren’t taking them lightly. Their six-run second inning in Saturday’s 11-5 win was set up when Seth Smith dropped a bunt against a shift and it served to open the floodgates for a six-run inning. In short, they aren’t just trying to win on their talent advantage. They’re employing strategic maneuvers as well to win these games.
It’s also helped that Chris Young has come alive a bit in his hometown. He is a superior outfielder who doesn’t hit for much average and strikes out a lot, but he’s certainly a lot better player than he’s shown at the plate. He started this series hitting .163. He spent some time on the D.L, but said Melvin, who also managed him in Arizona, “There’s a lot in his tank you haven’t seen.”
Having seen Young against the Giants quite a bit while he was with Arizona, I would concur. He’s a valuable guy to have, for a couple of reasons. He’s played for a couple of division winners with the Diamondbacks, so he knows what it takes, and he’s a versatile player with speed and power who should continue to get better now that he’s adjusting to the American League a bit. Maybe this Houston series will be his springboard to a rosier future in green and gold.
While he hasn’t produced offensively like he can — at least until this Houston series — Young has already been a valuable addition simply filling in defensively for Coco Crisp in center when he was injured, and also Josh Reddick the past few weeks. Young is one of the best fielding outfielders in the game, so as good as Crisp and Reddick are, there hasn’t been much drop-off when Melvin has needed Young to plug a hole somewhere.
Another interesting thing to note about the A’s — they’re playing well against their own division 19-8 after Saturday. They’re only 8-15 against everybody else, which is something of a mystery, but their position is just fine thanks to their A.L. West performance. At this point last year after 50 games, they were 22-28 and they still wound up winning 94 games.
Win Sunday and the A’s will have completed a 5-1 trip without Reddick and without Jed Lowrie for three of the games. They’re sitting nicely for the summer, and they’re only a half-game worse than the Giants, which sets up considerable intrigue next week in the home-and-home two-game sets our Bay Area teams play against each other. We can only hope the games are as entertaining as they were last year.
For now, enjoy the final game against the Astros Sunday. The A’s won’t see them again until late July.