The product of success, the type of success the Athletics have produced over the last two months, is meaningful late-season games.
Prior to this week, Oakland hadn’t hosted as big a series as its last since 2014. Now, one day after taking two of three from the Mariners, the stakes have jumped even further. Over the next three days, the A’s will host the reigning champion Astros, who they trail by two game in the American League West race.
Manager Bob Melvin said this time of year should hold the excitement:
“Based on where we came from, to be able to be in this position and play the world champs in the fashion that we are right now, is an exciting time.”
Melvin and his club have a chance to set up far more excitement in the East Bay. And has been the case through the first half of August, the A’s chances of finishing Sunday’s series finale just one game back or, with a sweep, one game ahead of Houston will be dependent upon the performances of their starters.
The last three times through the rotation, A’s starters have combined to allow 17 earned runs over 83-1/3 innings (1.84 ERA). Said Melvin:
“They kinda push each other, and it can be a contagious thing with starters. Once we got this group together, they’ve pitched several times around now as a group where it’s always been mix-and-match over the course of the season, based on injuries. … They’ve been absolutely terrific.”
Solidifying a rotation that has seen 12 different starters this season started with the addition of Edwin Jackson, who has also led the way during this dominant run. In his last three starts, Jackson has surrendered one unearned run in 19-1/3 innings of work. Melvin will hand him the ball to get this massive set started Friday.
The skipper took a moment before the game to reflect on Jackson’s circuitous route to his current post at the front of the A’s staff, including his almost being released after three minor league starts. Melvin called this perhaps the best run Jackson has ever been on — in his 16 big league seasons — going on to say that his influence is felt well beyond what he has done on the mound.
“He’s been fantastic for us. I can’t say enough about what he’s meant to this team. … He’s been well-received by the group; he fits in really well; he’s a leader here on this team.”
Trevor Cahill takes the mound Sunday. Cahill has had his struggles against the Astros potent offense, having allowed seven runs (six earned) in 9-2/3 innings spanning two starts. But neither of those starts have come in the past three weeks, when Cahill has gone 2-0 with a 3.24 ERA (six earned runs, 16-2/3 innings), they also have not come in Oakland where he is 3-0 with a 0.99 ERA.
Sean Manaea, who has grown into Oakland ace in this his third big league season, will be tasked with finishing the set Sunday.
The A’s rotation is set up nicely to compete with what has been the best pitching staff in the game — tops in both starter (3.06) and reliever (3.05) ERA.
Offensively, the A’s will lean on the top three hitters in their order, Nick Martini, Matt Chapman and Jed Lowrie, who have combined to go 13-for-30 (.433) through the first three games of this huge homestand.
With the work Oakland’s pitching staff has supplied this month, a league-leading 2.37 ERA, four runs should be the marker for the offense — a mark it has reached 13 times in 24 games since the start of the second half.
Scoring four three times and getting the same solid pitching they have seen for the better part of a month will put the A’s in position to make up more ground on the 2017 champs. But, with 41 games left on the schedule, Melvin understands that this weekend is far from make-or-break, particularly with three more head-to-head matchups in Houston. For now, the veteran skipper wants his team to compete but also take in the position they are in:
“We’re in a good position right now where we’re playing meaningful games at this point in time of the year. It should be fun for our guys, I want them to embrace it.”