Oakland A's: 5 Things to Look for in Upcoming Series vs. Houston Astros

Nathaniel Jue@nathanieljueSenior Writer IIJuly 22, 2014

Oakland A's: 5 Things to Look for in Upcoming Series vs. Houston Astros

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    After taking two of three against the Baltimore Orioles to open up the second half of the season, the Oakland Athletics host a three-game set against the Houston Astros, starting Tuesday. Houston visits the American League West leaders a mere 20.5 games back—however, the Astros proudly only sport the league’s second-worst record (41-58).

    The A’s deserve some much-needed face time against the bottom-feeders, particularly after three consecutive series against teams (the San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners and Baltimore Orioles) that would be headed to the playoffs, were the season to end today. Oakland has not played a team with a non-winning record since June 29, when the A’s faced the Miami Marlins. In fact, the Athletics have faced the fewest sub-.500 opponents in all of the American League and sport a 25-12 record against teams with losing records. Oakland is thirsting for a few gimmes.

    It would appear that the two-time division champs will be welcoming an easy go of it against the Astros. After all, Oakland thoroughly dominated Houston last season, going 15-4 versus their new division rivals, winning each of the first 10 matchups. Will the Athletics have an easy go of it against the perennially moribund Astros?

    This season, the Astros are seemingly over-performing, already winning two out of seven games they have played against the A’s so far.

    Surely, Houston has proved that it has improved—even just a little bit. The Astros roster is a smidge different than it was earlier this season. By adding a couple upcoming youngsters, the Astros seem to be at least watchable, if only somewhat.

    Here are five things to look for in the Athletics' upcoming series versus Houston.

Will George Springer Hit a Home Run?

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    The last time the Athletics faced Houston, Astros outfielder George Springer was just two weeks into his rookie season. The heralded MLB freshman was still adjusting to the newness of the big leagues when the A’s visited Minute Maid Park in late April. When the A’s left town, Springer’s slash line was .170/.264/.213, and he had yet to hit his first major league home run.

    That was then; this is now.

    In the three months since then, Springer has shown all the promise the Astros had hoped for. And some of the handicaps that accompany the first year in the majors.

    The 24-year-old has hit 20 home runs, after not going deep in his first 19 games this season. He now leads the Astros in homers, ranking second among all rookies—behind the out-of-this-world Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox.

    While his home run total is indeed impressive, it also speaks to an area that remains unhoned—his overall hitting discipline. The ratio of home runs to doubles (20 to eight) is almost unheard of and is part of his go-for-broke mindset. That all-or-nothing approach is complemented by his 114 strikeouts—most in the American League, ahead of even his whiffy teammate Chris Carter.

    Despite his gaudy power numbers, fans might not see him homer off the Athletics this series. The A’s have given up the fourth-fewest long balls this season; but remarkably, 15 of Springer’s homers have come on the road. A classic case of something’s gotta give.

    Regardless, it will be fun to see if he can take A’s pitchers deep. No doubt, he’ll certainly try to.

The Exciting Jose Altuve

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    One of the most amazing things about the Los Angeles Angels’ Mr. Universe, Mike Trout, is that he’s so good and so exciting to watch, that he makes Astros second baseman Jose Altuve seem completely terrible and boring.

    Yes, Trout makes Altuve’s numbers seem shrug-worthy, and Altuve’s efforts as one of the brightest stars under the age of 25 are rather ho-hum.

    And yet Altuve belongs in a world all to himself. He leads the AL in batting (.336) and hits (135). His league-leading 41 stolen bases have come in just 44 attempts, which is sickening. Oh, and he ranks second in doubles (30) behind a man nearly twice his size, the Ruthian Miguel Cabrera.

    If there’s anyone remotely considered in the conversation with Trout for most dynamic player in baseball, it’s Altuve. In this his third full season in the bigs, the 24-year-old has seemed to “figure it out.” His plate discipline has improved dramatically, with a strikeout rate of once every 11.8 at-bats. (Prior to this season, his career mark was once every 7.6 at-bats.)

    Altuve has already been a pest for A’s pitchers in his young career. The right-handed hitter is batting .345 against Oakland in 110 at-bats. This includes a .462 mark against Scott Kazmir (Tuesday’s scheduled pitcher) and also a .091 average against Jeff Samardzija (Thursday’s starter). It appears the fulcrum of the series will be Wednesday’s starter Jesse Chavez, against whom Altuve has a .400 batting average.

    Can the A’s contain Altuve? Should be entertaining to find out.

Jeff Samardzija Win Streak

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Though his numbers haven’t been bad, they conversely have not been astonishing either. Since being acquired by the A’s on the Fourth of July, right-hander Jeff Samardzija has had three starts: a great one, a mediocre one and an underwhelming one. In that order. Hopefully for the Athletics he’s not trending downward.

    In his first appearance, the Shark was killer, allowing just one earned run in seven innings. His second start was a complete-game loss in which he allowed three runs in eight innings. His last start was the first game after of the All-Star break, a matchup against Baltimore in which he surrendered two two-run home runs. He escaped with a no-decision.

    Certainly, Samardzija has shown that he can adapt to the American League. His 0.77 WHIP and seven-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio are testament to his skills carrying over. However, he has allowed three home runs in 22 innings with Oakland. Houston just happens to carry the third-highest home run total in the AL (106).

    Having pitched for several seasons in the National League Central, the former division of Houston, Samardzija has had some experience facing the Astros—the current roster of Astros has only hit .232 against him.

    Not that there’s any more pressure on Samardzija to perform, after being acquired by the top team in all of baseball, but it certainly would be welcomed if he got on a long personal win streak. Oakland hopes that he can contain the Astros and get that streak going.

Return of Josh Reddick

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    As of Tuesday afternoon, it has yet to be decided whether A’s outfielder Josh Reddick will be activated from the disabled list in time for this series. The Swingin’ A’s reported on Monday that Oakland sent utility man Andy Parrino back to Sacramento. But a subsequent transaction has not yet been made.

    What will the A’s roster look like if and when Reddick does return? Third catcher Stephen Vogt, another left-handed hitter, has been a dominant force since his call-up, batting .364 in 37 games, 14 of which have been starts in the outfield, including 13 in right.

    It is unclear how exactly Reddick and Vogt will fit into the lineup simultaneously. But, naturally, manager Bob Melvin will weave his mix-and-match magic when deciding who plays where. A lineup against right-handed pitchers that features Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick in the outfield, with Vogt at DH and Brandon Moss at first base makes the most sense, with John Jaso catching. Obviously, several of those players can replace one another in the field, so the flexibility of the Athletics remains intact once Reddick does rejoin the squad.

    The A’s will be looking forward to seeing Reddick get a hot bat going. In between his first stint on the DL and his second—this most recent trip—Reddick played four games, going 5-for-11 with two runs batted in. During his latest rehab assignment with the Single-A Stockton Ports, Reddick went 9-for-21 with three homers, eight RBI and six runs scored.

    Hopefully for the A’s, and for Reddick, he can stay hot in the majors.

Runs, Runs, Runs

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    Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    If Reddick and the rest of the A’s can get going, it will likely be against the Astros. In seven matchups this season, the Athletics have scored 48 runs. The team is batting .300 against Houston and is posting a fat .898 OPS.

    A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson leads the way with four home runs and 10 RBI versus Houston pitching. For whatever reason, Oakland seems to smack the Astros into orbit.

    But again, most of these games were played early in the season. After a 9-19 month of April, Houston posted a winning May (15-14), assisted by an eye-opening seven-game win streak. Unfortunately, July has proved to be difficult for these young Astros—they currently sport a 5-10 record for the month. Most of that heftiness is due to the whopping 6.00 ERA put up by their pitchers. The three scheduled starters for Houston in this series against Oakland are Brett Oberholtzer (4.97 ERA in July), Brad Peacock (5.56) and Scott Feldman (5.89).

    It could get ugly and ugly often.

    But can and will the Athletics light up the scoreboard?

    Tune in this week to find out.

    Follow me on Twitter: @nathanieljue


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