Offense Shines as A’s Split Four-Game Series With Houston

The A’s rolled into the Texas heat this weekend to take on the Houston Astros for a four-game series, and, at first, it looked as though the Oakland bats were going to make mincemeat of their hapless American League West counterparts. The A’s scored 28 runs in the first three games of the series and won the first two contests by a combined score of 22-6. Josh Donaldson wielded the hottest bat, launching three home runs in the first two games at Minute Maid Park.

However, the A’s must have departed Houston with a distinct sense of disappointment at not being able to outright win the series from the perpetually-struggling Astros. The Astros are arguably baseball’s most inept team, having lost 100 games or more three seasons in a row and likely well on the way to a fourth consecutive year with a loss total in the triple-digits. After sweeping the AL West bottom-dwellers in Oakland last weekend, the A’s came into the Houston series licking their chops at the opportunity to fatten their win total in the four-game series. After routing the Astros in the first two game, the A’s got out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first inning of Saturday’s game, but everything went downhill for the green and gold from that point on and the A’s could only manage a series split.

The A’s started out like gangbusters in Thursday’s game, bolting out to a 6-1 lead after three innings. Donaldson hit two home runs and knocked in four, and Alberto Callaspo added a two-run homer of his own as the A’s eventually won the contest easily, 10-1. Scott Kazmir, who is quickly asserting himself as one of the team’s most reliable starters, went six strong innings, striking out seven batters and allowing just one run. Kazmir now has a 3-0 record in five April starts to go with a 1.62 ERA and an excellent 31:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 33 innings. He appears well on the way to proving that the modest two-year deal he signed in the offseason will be a steal.

The Oakland bats came alive once again in Friday’s contest, an eventual 12-5 win by the A’s. The A’s held a 5-1 lead in the fourth inning, but Jesse Chavez, so reliable thus far this year as an emergency replacement for Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, couldn’t hold it. The Astros tied it in the bottom of the fourth, and the teams remained tied into the ninth inning, thanks largely to some very strong work from the A’s bullpen. The A’s then put the game away with a seven-run outburst in the top of the ninth inning, capped off by a two-run home run by Donaldson.

On Saturday night it appeared to be business as usual, as the A’s jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Unfortunately, starter Dan Straily’s problems with the long ball continued, as he gave up home runs to Dexter Fowler and former Athletic Chris Carter to quickly surrender the lead. The A’s tied the game at three apiece in the seventh inning, but Sean Doolittle had a nightmare outing in the eighth, giving up four runs without getting an out, and the A’s couldn’t recover, eventually losing 7-6 despite a furious ninth inning rally.

In Sunday’s game, the Oakland bats finally went cold. Hoping to get out of Houston with a win and a series victory, the A’s were instead shut down by the relatively unknown Colin McHugh, last seen posting a 10.04 ERA with two teams during the 2013 season. McHugh, filling in for injured Astros starter Scott Feldman, gave up just two hits in eight-and-two-thirds innings. The A’s, meanwhile, fell victim to the Astros’ diminutive offense punch of Jose Altuve and Jonathan Villar, who combined for four hits and four RBIs, including a double, triple, and a home run.

The A’s can at least take solace that, despite being shut down on Sunday, their offense was firing on all cylinders in the series’ first three games. In those three games, the A’s cracked 39 hits and sixteen walks to help them score 28 total runs. The A’s currently rank fourth in the American League in total runs scored, and they’re third in on-base percentage, continuing to field one of the more subtly effective offensive attacks in baseball. They’ll look to utilize that sneaky-good attack as they go into Arlington tonight to begin a must-watch three-game series against the Texas Rangers. Going into tonight’s game, both teams sit atop the AL West with identical 15-10 records.