A’s Drop Series to Astros, Hammel Struggles Again

A matchup between the mighty A’s and the lowly Astros would seem to be a gross mismatch on paper but, as the age-old cliche dictates, that’s why they play the games on the field. The first place A’s dropped two out of three to the Astros this week, putting them in danger of losing ground to the second place Los Angeles Angels in the American League West. Also of concern was that starter Jason Hammel, brought in to help solidify the rotation, was rocked again in his fourth straight shaky start.

The A’s went into Houston sporting the best record in the major leagues, at 65-39, having just won two out of three from the Rangers in Arlington. The Astros, on the other hand, entered the series at 42-63, and are slowly going about reshaping their franchise via youth movement after being known as the laughingstock of baseball for the past three seasons (they averaged 108 losses from 2011 to 2013).

The Astros roughed up Oakland starter Jesse Chavez on Monday to win the series opener, 7-3. Chavez, who has struggled mightily in the month of July (5.20 ERA), gave up three home runs, including a long one to former Athletic Chris Carter. The A’s entered the sixth inning tied with Houston 3-3, but the Astros hit three of their four home runs in the game in the bottom of the inning to put it away. Stephen Vogt hit his fifth homer for the A’s, who failed to mount a comeback against the Houston bullpen.

The A’s got back in the win column on Tuesday night by drubbing Astros closer Chad Qualls in a six-run ninth inning to pull out a thrilling 7-4, come-from-behind win. Houston starter Scott Feldman held the Oakland bats dormant through seven innings, and Jeff Samardzija had his first shaky start in an Oakland uniform, leading the A’s to trail 4-1 going into the top of the ninth.

Faced with the unappetizing reality of dropping a second straight game to the perennially bottom-feeding Astros, though, the A’s made with the dramatics. Against closer Qualls, the A’s strung together three straight hits by Derek Norris, Josh Reddick and pinch hitter Alberto Callaspo to close the deficit to 4-3. After John Jaso forced Callaspo at second, Jed Lowrie walked and Yoenis Cespedes slammed a two-out single to right to tie the score. Brandon Moss then batted against lefty Tony Sipp and grounded a single through the Astros’ exaggerated shift to put the A’s up 5-4. Josh Donaldson followed with a two-run double to cement the victory for Oakland. Sean Doolittle closed out the game for his sixteenth save. Reddick homered in the fifth to give the A’s their only run off of Feldman.

The A’s dropped the series rubber match on Wednesday, 8-1, as starter Jason Hammel was clobbered, getting tagged with his fourth loss in as many starts since becoming an Athletic. The Astros touched Hammel for six runs in the first inning en route to an easy victory, as the A’s could barely muster any offense off of Houston starter Dallas Keuchel. The ground-balling Keuchel, who is having a breakout season in relative obscurity, went the distance for a complete game victory, his tenth win of the season. Hammel was battered out of the fifth inning and his ERA now stands at a grisly 9.53 with the A’s. His struggles have to be disconcerting to the A’s, who brought Hammel in to stabilize their starting rotation for a pennant drive.

The A’s will get a day off on Thursday to head home for a ten-game homestand starting on Friday. They’ll begin the stand against the Kansas City Royals, who have had an up-and-down season in an attempt to make the playoffs for the first time in 30 years.