5 Lessons from Series Sweep of Houston Astros
The Oakland Athletics finished off the Houston Astros in Wednesday’s matinee, completing a three-game sweep with a 7-5 victory. The A’s scored six runs in the first inning and held on the rest of the way. Oakland has now won six straight games against the American League West newbies, including this week’s home sweep, where the A’s outscored the Astros by a combined 22-10 score.
Oakland beat up its weakling divisional rivals again, elevating the A’s to a league-best 12-4 record. The three-game pummeling didn’t prove to be too much of a surprise. After all, Oakland is really good, and Houston is pretty darn bad. To take all three games was not a shock.
Still, by meeting almost everybody’s expectations by sweeping the Astros, the Athletics provided a few take-away lessons. Here are five things we learned from the A’s series against Houston.
The A's Can Score in Bunches
On Monday night, Oakland jumped out to a big lead early by scoring six runs in the first inning, leading to Astros starter Erik Bedard’s quick exit.
Wednesday afternoon, the Athletics repeated the feat, putting up another six-spot in the first, knocking Houston righty Bud Norris out of the game after recording only two outs. Scoring in bunches has been a lot more commonplace for Oakland this season.
With Wednesday’s outburst, the A’s have scored four or more runs in an inning seven times (four runs twice; five runs twice; six runs twice; seven runs once). Those combined 37 runs in seven innings almost equal Tampa Bay’s run total for the entire season (39) and six runs more than the Miami Marlins have scored for the year (31).
Oakland continued its torrid offensive streak against the Astros. Through 16 games, the Athletics still lead the league in runs scored, home runs, runs batted in, doubles, extra-base hits, bases on balls and stolen bases. That’s a pretty unbeatable combination.
And it’s also helped them put up crooked numbers enough times to put away games early, late and, more importantly, often.
Seth Smith Is on Fire
Somewhat lost in the outfield shuffle has been veteran Seth Smith. After the A’s acquired center fielder Chris Young from the Arizona Diamondbacks this past offseason, many thought that Smith would end up losing a good number of at-bats. That has and has not been the case so far this season.
A’s manager Bob Melvin was tasked to determine lineup matchups in much the same fashion as he did in 2012. During the first couple weeks of the season, Smith split time at designated hitter with Young, earning a couple of starts per series.
But when Yoenis Cespedes was placed on the 15-day disabled list, last week, along with minor injuries to Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick that forced them out of the lineup, Smith has earned a more featured role. And he’s certainly taking advantage.
Through Wednesday’s game, Smith is batting .447 with a .512 on-base percentage to go along with six doubles. Though the Athletics certainly miss Cespedes’ healthy presence, they don’t exactly have to wish him a speedy recovery as long as Smith continues the way he’s been going.
Tommy Milone Is on Fire...Sort of
Winning three starts in a row to start the season may not appear to be a scorching streak for a starting pitcher, particularly when he’s also toting a 3.86 ERA, but Tommy Milone has to be considered the Athletics’ most consistent starter. Dating back to last season, Milone has won five consecutive decisions and is the first A’s pitcher on the Opening Day roster to win his first three starts since 1990.
Milone handcuffed the Astros in Monday’s 11-2 throttling, limiting the Astros to two runs in 6.2 innings. Moreover, he didn’t walk a batter, something he accomplished nine times in 31 starts last season.
The 26-year-old lefty has battled through a few rough innings this season, but he has proven to be the model of consistency, keeping his team in the game long enough for the hitters to make some noise.
Carlos Pena Can Still Hit the Long Ball
The one-time Oakland first baseman has had some major ups and downs throughout his 13-year (wow!) career. But one thing’s for certain: The big left-handed hitter can still send pitches into orbit.
During this midweek set against the A’s, Pena did some damage in a losing cause, hitting two home runs, his first homers of the season. In the three games, he went 4-for-10 with three runs batted in, raising his batting average back to .250.
Coming to Houston as the most seasoned veteran on a very young ball club, Pena is expected to do just what he did against the Athletics the past couple of days: knock a few out of the park. This week, he proved that he still can with the best of them.
A's Are Still Resilient
Last season’s improbable playoff run was made all the more remarkable given the overflow of adversity and tragedy they faced on a seemingly weekly basis. Whatever the case—be it injury, freak accident, suspension, underwhelming performance, inexperience—the hallmark of the Oakland Athletics’ 2012 season was the ability to overcome these hardships, both minor and major, temporary and long-term.
That is what helped make the team’s 14 walk-off wins so memorable: Nothing could or would keep them down. They would find a way to win. And they did, to the tune of an American League West division title.
Because 2012 was littered with so much misfortune, Oakland prepared for this season with caution and care, knowing that depth in all areas of the roster would go a long way toward compensating for any mishaps that might occur.
But certainly the A’s could not predict that they’d be struck with this much bad luck for a second consecutive year.
Spring training was highlighted by injuries to infielders Adam Rosales and the newly acquired Japanese free agent Hiro Nakajima. Both landed on the disabled list to start the season. Additionally, closer Grant Balfour had minor surgery to repair torn meniscus in his right knee, though he returned healthy for Opening Day.
The season’s only a half-month old, and already the injury bug has hampered the Athletics’ clubhouse. Josh Reddick (wrist), Coco Crisp (groin), Yoenis Cespedes (wrist) and Brett Anderson (various) are among the casualties so far. Reddick and Crisp each missed a couple of games, while Cespedes’ wrist strain landed him on the DL.
These injuries have required a handful of roster changes already, with rookies Michael Taylor and Shane Peterson making their debuts.
Even with the daily shuffling of the roster and the lineup, the A’s have continued to persevere, jumping out to the league’s best record.
The A’s showed that much like last season, the missing holes in the lineup will be filled by someone who will contribute in any fashion or form. On Monday, rookie Nate Freiman hit his first major league homer, filling in a designated hitter. On Wednesday, Shane Peterson made his major league debut, starting at first base for Brandon Moss, who is on paternity leave.
So far, 2013 is the same script as last year: No matter the problem, the A’s are all for one, and one for all. Only time will tell if that unity brings the same result: postseason.
Follow me on Twitter: @nathanieljue