I don’t think I’m being condescending by stating that the Houston Astros are the one team in the AL West that has absolutely no chance of competing for the division title. Honestly if they finished within 30 games of whichever team ultimately wins the division, I’d be pretty shocked. That’s what happens when you go into a deep rebuilding phase, and your team resembles a PCL team more than a MLB team. It’s a harsh reality, but a reality nonetheless.
So as we take this moment to breathe from the daily grind that is the MLB schedule, as the Oakland Athletics prepare to take on the Tampa Bay Rays Friday night, it’s important to note just how important it really is that the Athletics have swept the Astros twice, and are 6-0 against them with 13 games remaining. Prevailing opinion before the season was that whichever AL West team performed the best against the Astros would have a leg up on taking the division. Many opinions from local radio personalities stated that the A’s would have to go 16-3 versus the Astros to be able to hold off the Los Angeles Angels and the Texas Rangers for the division title. I would agree with that notion, utter dominance of the Astros is essential.
The A’s have four more series with the Astros over the course of the season, they’ll head to Houston in May, and again in late July, then the Astros will visit Oakland in August, and the two teams will play a 4 game series in Oakland in September. So each month except June, the Athletics will get another crack at the Astros. It may be for just a few games, but if the Athletics are suffering from a losing streak at that time, a visit to or from the Houston Astros might be the perfect antidote to what afflicts them. Of course every other team in the division will have the same amount of opportunities to win games against the Astros as well.
The key to all of this is the fact that the Astros have now made the rounds in the AL West, but the Athletics are the only team they have not beaten yet. They beat Texas on Opening Night, they took 2 out of 3 against the Seattle Mariners, and beat the Angels in one game and probably should have taken 2 of 3 if it weren’t for a late surge by LA. The Athletics didn’t just beat the Astros though, for the most part they have dominated them over the 6 game series. Oakland has outscored the Astros by a 45-19 margin.
The approach at the plate that the Athletics take is perfect when they oppose a team like the Astros. Their patience forces the Astros pitchers to give them pitches to hit, which at least so far the Athletics have been hitting very hard. They get the pitch count up, and the starter out of the game, which brings the weak Astros bullpen into the picture. There’s not much a team can do when they can’t prevent the opposition from putting the bat on the ball when they want to, and with authority. That’s what has happened when the Athletics step to the plate versus the Astros pitchers through the first 6 games, and that’s what will have to continue to happen if the Athletics wish to repeat as AL West Champions.