Well, that was weird.
The Houston Astros rolled into Oakland last Friday winners of seven games in a row. Oakland was a welcome destination for the ‘Stros – they had played 15 games against the Athletics this season, and had won 12.
The A’s felt it was time to balance the books. Over four weekend games including a Saturday double-header, Oakland dismantled the Astros, outscoring Houston by a tally of 41-15 while sweeping the series. The last-place A’s scarcely moved the needle in the AL West standings – they’re still 23 games behind Houston, and the second-place Angels remain 13 games back. But the series represented a weird crack in the Astros’ façade. Actually, it’s on the Astros share with every other team – in any given series, anything can happen. Just look at the MLB-best Los Angeles Dodgers, suddenly losers of 15 of their last 16 games.
Meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians, winners of five of six contests with Houston this year, have reeled off an astonishing 19 consecutive victories to assume the mantle of best team in the American League. Houston is already bracing itself for a potential playoff showdown with the defending pennant champs.
One key piece that could swing that showdown in Houston’s favor? Newly-imported pitcher Justin Verlander, who will try to end Houston’s skid tonight. Verlander makes his second Astros start at 9:07 Central against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim.
Starting pitcher Collin McHugh exited his Friday start after just three innings when a fingernail on his pitching hand cut into his skin. Blisters and other finger injuries are an inherent risk for pitchers who rely heavily on their curveballs, and McHugh has dealt with similar injuries in the past. He’ll skip a start against the Angels in the hopes of fully healing for the stretch run.
McHugh isn’t the only member of the pitching staff that’s been hurting. The Astros bullpen sprung a leak over the weekend, allowing a staggering 29 runs in 12 2/3 innings in Oakland. They haven’t made it easy on themselves, coughing up 30 base hits and issuing a staggering 17 walks in that span. The bullpen has been inconsistent all year – Houston will likely look to add another high-end arm or two in the offseason.
A Look Ahead
Major League Baseball unveiled its 2018 schedules today. The Astros will kick off next summer’s campaign on March 29, when they face the rival Texas Rangers in Arlington. The first game at Minute Maid is set for April 2 against the Baltimore Orioles.