Oakland Athletics: 5 Lessons from Series Sweep of Houston Astros

Nathaniel Jue@nathanieljueSenior Writer IIApril 9, 2013

Oakland Athletics: 5 Lessons from Series Sweep of Houston Astros

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    The second series of the Oakland Athletics' season came and went this past weekend. The A’s introduced themselves to the Houston Astros—the new members of the American League West—or rather, got reacquainted with one another.

    This trio of games was a reunion for several members of these two organizations. The A’s and Astros were involved in a five-player deal this past offseason, with Oakland sending three players, Chris Carter, Brad Peacock and Max Stassi to Houston in exchange for Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez. Additionally, Houston obtained Travis Blackley from the A’s in a trade on April 4.

    All in all, the series featured five former A’s (Blackley, Carter, Peacock, Carlos Pena and Brett Wallace) and two former Astros (Lowrie and Nate Frieman) on their new respective major league rosters.

    This familiarity between the two squads assuaged some of the newness of Houston joining the American League, and it provided an early opportunity in the season to evaluate which organization got the better of these player acquisitions. But after Oakland’s three-game sweep in which they drubbed the host Houstonians by a combined 23-9, it’s pretty clear that the A’s will be taking advantage of their new division mates often and potentially rather ruthlessly. And that the Astros are going to be as terrible as nearly everyone predicted them to be.
    Aside from the obvious discrepancy in the one-sided scoring, here are five things we learned from the Athletics-Astros series last weekend.

Jed Lowrie Is an MVP Candidate

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    Wow. Who would’ve thunk it? Nobody. No way. No how.

    But Billy Beane & Co. have (so far) done it again.
    They somehow plucked an average-talent multipurpose infielder as a Plan B utility man, and he has launched himself into a rock star, finding his way into the (way too early) conversation of league MVP.
    Still, the numbers cannot be undervalued in Jed Lowrie's first week with the A’s: a ridiculous .500/.567/1.000 slash line, with three home runs, seven runs scored and six runs batted in. And to think, he wasn’t really intended to be the Athletics’ starting shortstop. But kismet is the darnedest thing, and it’s a good thing for the A’s that he is.                                       
    With Lowrie leading the way, Oakland (as of Monday) leads the league in runs scored (38), RBI, home runs (12), extra-base hits and slugging percentage. This is somewhat surprising given the fact that in recent history, the A’s have been notoriously offensively inept, relying quite heavily on the strength of their pitching staff.
    Additionally, last season’s offensive stars—Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes—have gotten off to incredibly sluggish starts to the 2013 campaign (combined 6-for-49). Thus, Lowrie’s offensive outburst has not only been surprising to see, it’s been completely needed for the team to succeed even against the hapless Astros.
    Lowrie took it to his old ball club last weekend, going 7-for-13 with two dingers and four runs scored. He probably could have gone hitless during the series and the A’s still would’ve swept. But it’s been a delight to see him excel and become one of the offensive forces on the team so quickly.                                                                                                                                  
    It certainly makes A’s fans excited to see him do more.

The Astros Are Terrible

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    This isn’t exactly something we learned from the recent three-game set. However, it’s one lesson that is clearer when you see it face-to-face, being applied in real life. It’s one thing to watch the Astros perform terribly in a near-perfect game against the Texas Rangers. It’s another thing to actually dominate them yourselves, compiling 23 runs to their nine in a three-game trouncing. 

    And yet Houston didn’t really perform that terribly. The Astros batted .223 for the series—which obviously isn’t great. But it’s not that bad. They simply have too many free swingers who can’t make contact enough to impale some real damage. For the three games, Houston batters struck out 31 times. That number could have been worse had A’s starter Bartolo Colon struck out more than the two he did in Saturday’s contest. So even though the Astros were able to put a modest number of runners on base, they just killed too many rallies by striking out.    
    It’s going to be a long season for Houston fans. And it appears one of the few things to look out for in 2013 will be whether the Astros will break the AL record for most team strikeouts by hitters—a record, coincidentally, set last season by the Oakland A’s.
                                                                                                                                                    Here’s to hoping they hit that mark.

Josh Donaldson Hates the Month of April

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    "April is the cruelest month."

    Josh Donaldson must agree wholeheartedly with T.S. Eliot’s line from “The Waste Land.” It might in fact be his bumper sticker. Because, so far, the Athletics third baseman can’t seem to hit at all during the month of April. The month and season are both still young, but Donaldson is proving yet again that he and April just do not get along.                                                                                                              
    In seven starts this season, the 27-year-old’s slash line of .120/.154/.160 reads more like a modest night of bowling scores. Instead, these numbers so far represent a disturbing April trend. In 2012, Donaldson earned the opportunity to be the everyday third baseman and stumbled out of the blocks to the tune of a .069 batting average in April. Though he did eventually awaken himself last year, hitting .290 post-All-Star break, his early-season struggles prompted a temporary demotion to Triple-A to regain his confidence.                                                                                                                                        
    It was hoped that Donaldson could ride the momentum that he generated in the latter half of 2012, particularly given another chance as the starting third baseman. But after one week, all Donaldson has shown is that April showers bring him no powers.                                                                                   
    Will this be the trend for the remainder of the first half of the season? Or can he turn it around before the team potentially turns to veteran Scott Sizemore for some consistency at the plate and in the field?
                                                                                                                                                   Stay tuned. Only 22 more days left this month.

Coco Crisp Is a Long-Ball Machine

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    No kidding. The team (co-)leader in home runs is Coco Crisp. Yes, by hitting a home run in each of the three games against the Astros, the Athletics’ lithe, speedy leadoff man has shown he’s got some muscle to go with his quickness on the base paths.

    With a series like the one he had last weekend, there’s got to be talk of him joining the 30-30 club.   
    Or not. Crisp actually has no stolen bases this year, having gotten thrown out in his lone attempt this season, on Saturday.
                                                                                                                                                      Still, he’s more than made up for his lack of thefts on the bases so far, by smacking three dingers in three games against Houston, including a ridiculous Eric Chavez-like, opposite-field home run to left field in Saturday’s 6-3 victory.
                                                                                                                                                      With that kind of power, who needs stolen bases?
                                                                                                                                                        So far, not Crisp, and not the A’s. Not yet.

Bartolo Colon's Still Got It

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    Well, sort of.

    After serving a 50-game suspension over two seasons, at age 39, Colon’s performance on Saturday(six innings pitched, eight hits allowed, three runs) is somewhat impressive, given the amount of rust that had to have accumulated on his aged body these past few months. The resulted quality start could have been better considering he served up a two-out, three-run home run that accounted for all the scoring he allowed. But what matters is the A’s won, 6-3, and he showed no signs of laboring through his outing, which at his age, and after that long layoff, is a wonderful outcome.

    Colon’s victory shows that the old man has still got enough in the tank to serve as a solid No. 5 starter on a pitching staff that reeks of youth. Though he got battered around a tad, Colon knows how to get hitters to put the ball in play when they really don’t want to, getting himself and the team out of jams. Just enough, hopefully, to contribute to a winning season, should he continue to pitch nicely.
                                                                                                                                                      After one measly start, Colon is proving that he’s capable of doing just enough. Which, for now, is all the A’s could ask for.                                                                                                                               
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