When the A’s took two out of three from the Seattle Mariners earlier in the week, they more than just extended their lead for the second American League wild card. The A’s positioned themselves into a shot at doing something they haven’t done in four years.
The Houston Astros come into Oakland Friday night for the start of a three-game series. Those same Astros who at the beginning of the season were projected to blow the A’s and the rest of the AL West out of the water and cruise to their second straight division title. But we’re midway through August, and that’s not the case.
The A’s are very much a legit threat to the reigning world champions, and this weekend they control their own destiny with a chance to take the division lead this late in a season for the first time since 2014, which is also the last year they made the playoffs.
Yeah, it’s only August. But the vibe heading into this series feels a lot like the final series of the 2012 season, when the A’s swept the Texas Rangers edge them out for first place on the final day of the season. It’s a vibe that’s different from any other series this season, including the Mariners series that just passed.
“Maybe there’s a little more to it because it’s a weekend series and we’ll have a little more people in the crowd against the team that’s first place and the world champions,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “But I think based on where we came from and where we are now, every game is a big game because we have to keep winning.”
Of course it won’t be easy. Currently two games behind Houston, the A’s would have to sweep in order to jump ahead to first place. That means they’d have to beat Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel the first two games, with A’s killer Justin Verlander lurking in the shadows for the finale against Sean Manaea.
But the Astros are a bit hampered right now.
Reigning AL MVP Jose Altuve has been sidelined since July 29 with right knee soreness. Without their heart and soul in the lineup, the Astros crushed the Colorado Rockies 12-1 Wednesday but have gone 7-8 in Altuve’s absence. There is still no timetable on a return, but Astros manager AJ Hinch told reporters Wednesday that a return next week against the Mariners is a possibility. Once he rejoins the club, along with the recently returning Carlos Correa and George Springer, who is expected to return against the A’s this weekend, Houston might be a ticking time bomb ready to explode back to its winning ways.
That’s why this series is so crucial for the A’s. With Altuve, who is batting .345 against the Oakland in 13 games this year, out of the lineup, the A’s need to take advantage as much as they can.
After this Houston series, the A’s play the Texas Rangers for three at home and Minnesota on the road for four, two teams under .500. The Astros head to the road for six games against the Mariners and Los Angeles Angels, both over .500. It’s an easier path for the A’s on a road that leads to their final showdown of the season with the Astros at Minute Maid Park after these next two series.
The A’s did well in Houston last month taking 3 of 4, but you don’t want to go into that series at Houston falling any more behind with the Astros starting to click again with the healthy return of all their core players. So at the very least, taking two out of three this weekend would be ideal, which the A’s have done on an almost regular basis lately as they’ve gone 12-1-1 in their last 14 series.
You could look at it as a just a bonus should the A’s catch the Astros given that they shouldn’t be in this position in the first place based on early season predictions, or you could get greedy and go for it all. These A’s don’t seem like the happy-go-lucky type. They want the AL West.
Whether it’s the division or the wild card, the good news following their series win over the Mariners — the A’s now have a 74.6 percent chance of reaching the playoffs, according to FanGraphs.