ALDS Preview: Oakland A’s vs Houston Astros

A's. Astros. Who ya got?

(2) Oakland A’s vs. (6) Houston Astros


In advance of the Division Series starting today, we’re going to break down each series for you. In this article, we cover the second-seeded A’s series against the sixth-seed Astros, broken down by Jai Correa and Alexander Chase, respectively.


Series Schedule


Game 1: Monday, October 5, 4:07 PM ET, TBS – Chris Bassitt vs Lance McCullers Jr.

Game 2: Tuesday, October 6, 4:37 PM ET, TBS – Sean Manaea vs Framber Valdez

Game 3: Wednesday, October 7, 3:35 PM ET, TBS – TBD vs Zack Greinke

*Game 4: Thursday, October 8, 3:35 PM ET, TBS – TBD vs TBD

*Game 5: Friday, October 9, 3:35 PM ET, TBS – TBD vs TBD

*If needed. 




There was not much of a contest between these two teams, as the A’s beat the Astros in seven of the ten matchups. Oakland’s formula to winning the season series was preventing Houston from scoring, allowing a meager 25 runs, and not because of their offense, scoring only 38 runs themselves. Arguably the most important note here is that Sean Manaea, Oakland’s Game 2 starter, had his best start of the season against the Astros, going seven innings and giving up one earned run on September 10th.

Two of Houston’s three wins actually came on the same day, as the Astros won both games of a doubleheader on August 29th. Kyle Tucker, who had a .578 OPS against the A’s on the season, had key hits in both games, hitting a three-run home run off Game 1 starter Chris Bassitt in the first game and a three-run triple off of likely Game 3 starter Frankie Montas in the second game.

Furthermore, the Astros’ first three starters in the ALDS also had their fair share of success against the A’s this year.

Games 1-3 Starters For Houston Against Oakland In 2020


Lastly, none of us can forget the skirmish between A’s center fielder Ramón Laureano and Astros hitting coach Alex Cintrón, which resulted in Laureano being suspended for four games. This should be a feisty series.


Oakland A’s (36-24)


Reviewing the Wild Card Series

The A’s finally broke their playoff series win drought by beating the Chicago White Sox in the Wild Card series. It was a welcome sign to see Marcus Semien and Khris Davis come alive offensively. Semien went 3-for-12 with a double and a home run—a series momentum-changer early in Game 2—while Davis was 2-for-8 with a home run after not starting Game 1.

Jesús Luzardo allowed a couple of home runs in Game 1 and was not nearly as dominant as we’ve been accustomed to seeing. Game 2 starter Chris Bassitt was phenomenal, using an abundance of cutters and sinkers to go seven-plus innings. Mike Fiers was the matchup play to start Game 3 against a right-handed heavy Chicago lineup—luckily Fiers was able to do just enough to give the A’s a chance to come back and move on to the ALDS.

As the A’s focus on the Astros for the next round, there are a couple of things to note from the Wild Card series that will be vitally important going forward.

First, A’s manager Bob Melvin made some questionable decisions in the series. In Game 2, with Oakland up 5-0 in the eighth, Melvin decided to bring on Liam Hendriks to relieve the aforementioned Bassitt. This decision was a direct response to the White Sox having the meat of their order coming up—Yoán Moncada, José Abreu, and Yasmani Grandal. I’d normally be fine with using your best reliever against the opposing team’s best hitters, but in a five-run game? Equipped with the best-performing bullpen in baseball by ERA, the A’s bypassed Yusmeiro Petit (1.66 ERA in 2020), Joakim Soria (2.82 ERA), and Lou Trivino (3.86 ERA), in going with Hendriks. Hendriks had not pitched much prior to that appearance so getting him into that game was understandable. But to risk him throwing too many pitches and potentially not being available for Game 3? It just wasn’t worth it. With Hendriks giving up that two-run shot to Grandal, he had to come back for the ninth in now a 5-2 game, after already throwing 27 pitches. What made it worse was that Hendriks didn’t even finish the game, as the A’s had to burn their second-best reliever Jake Diekman to finish it off.

Additionally, using Fiers for Game 3 was overthinking the situation. Fiers finished the 2020 season with a 4.58 ERA – it doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence, particularly in a potential season-ending game. Melvin chose Fiers over a surging Sean Manaea to pitch a winner-take-all game because it was the ‘matchup play’. Even then, considering Frankie Montas was eventually used for two innings in Game 3, why not start him? You’d get those two innings at the beginning and lead into the resulting bullpen game. The logic was hard to follow and will need to be straightened out if they wish to beat Houston.

Second, we’ve got Sean Murphy. Murphy was absolutely phenomenal with the bat, going 3-for-8 with a home run and two runs batted in out of the ninth spot—it’s worth wondering if he will move up the order to aid the A’s offense. However, the pitch calling is suspect. Going back to Manaea’s start against the Rays in the 2019 AL Wild Card game, where Murphy started behind the plate, 27 of the 46 pitches the lefty threw were fastballs. This against a Rays team that hit .272 against four-seamers last year, good for 11th best. In a game that started with shadows, throwing that many heaters was likely a misstep.

With Luzardo in Game 1, the left-hander threw 20 changeups, 20 four-seamers, 10 two-seamers, and nine curveballs in his 59 pitch outing. Luzardo’s best pitches are his changeup (.266 xwOBA) and curve (.207 xwOBA) while his four-seamer (.350 xwOBA) and two-seamer (.367 xwOBA) lag in comparison. The curve is the pitch I’d like to focus on in particular, as against the White Sox he got four whiffs on six swings with the pitch (67% whiff rate) with a 56% CSW overall. His fastballs, meanwhile, combined for two swings and misses on 30 thrown and were responsible for both home runs he gave up. Simply, Murphy needs to call fewer fastballs.



Moving on to the ALDS, there are a few things to highlight.

Here’s the projected roster set-up for Oakland in the ALDS.

Projected A’s Lineup For ALDS

Against southpaws, you’ll probably see Stephen Piscotty play right field, taking Robbie Grossman’s place in the field while Chad Pinder would replace Jake Lamb at the hot corner.

Projected A’s Starting Rotation For ALDS
Projected A’s Bullpen For ALDS

*Minor’s stats are with Oakland exclusively.

For hitters, we can look at this by evaluating how right-handed and left-handed hitters performed at Chavez Ravine compared to each respective team’s park this year and in seasons past. With this new bubble setting, the A’s and Astros will square-off at Dodger Stadium. This nullifies home-field advantage entirely, but it also presents a new challenge: which team can adapt to the confines of Dodger Stadium faster?

2020 Park Evaluation by xwOBA and Team Rank
2018-20 Park Evaluation by xwOBA and Team Rank

Dodger Stadium seems to favor right-handed hitters over the opposite, so it’ll be interesting to see if Marcus Semien, Khris Davis, and Sean Murphy take advantage of their more favorable hitting conditions.

Another battle to take note of is late in games. In ‘Late and Close’ situations, where the game is tied with (or without) a runner on, including when the tying run is on base, at the plate, or even on deck, as described on Baseball-Reference, the A’s and Astros have both excelled. The A’s had a .329 wOBA, sixth-best in baseball while the Astros had a .309 wOBA, which was good for eighth-best. Where the two teams diverge quite significantly, however, is hitting with two outs and runners in scoring position. Here, the A’s had a .347 wOBA, fourth-best, while the Astros had a .298 wOBA which was tenth-worst.

Given the A’s affinity for success in those scenarios, it seems like the A’s have that ‘clutch gene’ and that’ll serve them well against a fairly weak bullpen.


Houston Astros (29-31)


There’s not a terrible lot to say about the Astros that hasn’t been said already. So here are a few of my favorite Astros moments from the past year:

For some, the story behind the Astros is pretty clear: they’re the villain, they know it, and seeing them fail is the only satisfying conclusion. Carlos Correa’s post-series words to reporters capture the Astros as their opponents want to see them: “I know a lot of people are mad. I know a lot of people don’t want to see us here. But what are they going to say now?” If this is the Astros you know, it’s easy to see them as just angry, a little self-congratulatory, and easy to root against.

But this team is more interesting than a one-dimensional exercise in hubris. In a year where the veterans were hard to rely on, key young contributors stepped up to keep the team afloat. You might think that this is still José Altuve’s team. But judging solely on 2020, this team belongs to Framber Valdez and Kyle Tucker.


Reviewing the Wild Card Round

The Astros fell into the sixth seed thanks to generous (I’d argue broken) rules that favor divisional standings over games won. As a result, they faced off against the Minnesota Twins, who entered the matchup as heavy favorites according to more than a few analysts. I’ve written previously about how parity rather than short three-game series will be the culprit when favorites lose, and the Astros managed to demonstrate that.

The Astros’ rotation showed up in this series, throwing a combined line of 2 earned runs over 16.2 innings pitched. They notably avoided using their bullpen, instead piggybacking Greinke and Valdez in Game 1 and then Urquidy and Javier in Game 2. Their offense wasn’t dominant but managed to string together hits against the Twins’ bullpen to take both games. Correa and Tucker both contributed three hits apiece and Michael Brantley added two RBI and two runs.



The Astros’ offense has been the target of most of the league’s ire, being the architects and main beneficiaries of their cheating system. But they’ve also been underperformers compared to average, prompting some close looks into the team’s past performances as well. I’ll save you having to read yet another long, speculative screed against them. This is a team full of underperformers, but it’s also been full of players who’ve played through injuries in order to get their team into the playoffs. With a few weeks to work their way into health under their belt, the Astros’ starting lineup might be at its non-Yordan Álvarez best just in time.

Astros Projected Lineup

Despite clear platoon splits and struggles, the lineup as arranged above doesn’t change depending on who’s pitching. I’d caution against putting too much stock into the team’s wRC+ splits in the same way we’d look at the White Sox because of their previous injury issues, but the players’ individual numbers do suggest this is a team that should be stronger against righties going forward.

As built, their lineup keeps struggling the second baseman entrenched in the second spot. I took a deeper look into both his issues and the effect it’s had on the team’s scoring chances before their series against the Twins, but the long story short has been a slight waste of George Springer’s monster season while also placing the largest RISP burden on breakout star Kyle Tucker. Since a breakout game at Coors Field on August 19 where he hit two triples and a home run, he’s led the team with a 172 wRC+. He added three more hits and two RBI against the Twins and looks every bit the part of the hitter who hit a combined 68 home runs in AAA in 2018 and 2019.

The team certainly has a few moves it can make if it wants to shake things up. Either Altuve or Josh Reddick could be dropped against righties for Aledmys Díaz, who has been a career reverse-splits hitter. But otherwise, this is a team lacking in depth that it can trust based on 2020 results. It’s worth noting, though, that Abraham Toro and Myles Straw were underperformers relative to their Statcast results, suggesting that they can add more than they’ve shown given the chance.



After losing both Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander to free agency and elbow issues, the Astros’ rotation was on track to be a disaster. The team did have Lance McCullers Jr. returning from Tommy John surgery and their first full season of Zack Greinke to rely on, but the depth looked likely to run out quickly. That depth was further strained with José Urquidy was unable to report to summer camp on time. The rotation they’ll rely on during the ALDS won’t feature either Brandon Bielak or Josh James, both of whom had FIP numbers well above 8 as starters.

Astros Projected Rotation

Thanks to an exceptionally weak group of opposing hitters to close the season, the team’s rotation had a few weeks to get right. It seems like they’ve mostly done that. Since their slate of games coded as “green” on Nick’s ROS tracker started on September 15, McCullers hasn’t allowed an earned run and both Urquidy and Valdez have sub-3.00 ERA numbers. It does look like Greinke somewhat missed the boat — his last regular-season game in which he gave up fewer than three earned runs came on August 18 at the Rockies.

The Astros used their rotation heavily and creatively against the Twins, giving 16.1 of their 18 available innings to them. In Game 1, Dusty Baker gave Greinke the hook after just five innings, only to give the last four innings to Framber Valdez. The move paid off: Valdez pitched three no-hit innings before allowing two baserunners in the ninth. Baker then tried the same move in Game 2, pulling Urquidy in the fifth and then handing Javier the ball in the sixth, only for him to throw three no-hit innings. The team’s starters combined to give up just two runs on six hits, but did walk nine over these two games.

Without the ability to piggyback his starters in a no-rest five-game series, Baker will have to rely on his crew to put in some work. That’s nothing new, of course: Houston was fourth in the MLB in innings pitched by starters. And while that has meant that they’ve been stung by some overbaked starters — of Framber Valdez‘ eight earned runs against the Angels on September 6, four before he was lifted in the eighth inning without recording an out — their starters do have the MLB’s sixth-best FIP in the seventh inning or later. It will be worth watching, though, whether Baker goes to Javier for a multi-inning save early in the series in an effort to close things out in fewer than five games.



If you’re curious as to why Dusty Baker didn’t give more innings to his bullpen, it’s not all that hard to figure out. Brooks Raley and Ryan Pressly both saw brief action against the Twins. But beyond them, there just isn’t much to trust.

Astros Projected Bullpen

Pressly is an interesting case. Among pitchers who threw just 100 pitches in 2020, Pressly was sixth in CSW%. But thanks to a career-worst 42.6% hard hit rate, Pressly struggled by most conventional numbers. His FIP would suggest that he should have been better, as does his 0.365 BABIP this year. Things have been better for him recently after recovering from early-season blister issues, and he’ll almost certainly put in heavy work if the Astros continue their habit of playing close games.

But in that gap between starter and Pressly, the Astros’ bullpen has largely been running on lucky breaks. Multiple young arms have had earned-run success plaster over underlying issues, which might explain the team’s decision to sidestep the issue altogether in the Wild Card round. Blake TaylorEnoli Paredes, and Andre Scrubb all have at least a 1.50 ER/9 gap between their ERA and FIP numbers. It’s not difficult to see why: all three have walk rates above 12.2%. Whether walks or weak contact win out for that group could be key in avoiding a series-deciding late-game collapse.



For two teams in the same division, the Astros and A’s don’t have a long history. Of the 149 total games they’ve played, all but six have happened since the Astros moved from the NL Central to the AL West in 2013. The A’s dominated the Astros while they were at their Benny Hill nadir right after the move, winning 15 of their 19 games in that first year. But between the start of the Astros’ contention window 2015 and its unofficial close in 2019, the Astros never lost the season series again the A’s. It was only this year that the A’s broke that streak, going 7–3 against them and pulling ahead in the lifetime series, 75–74.

But it’s no surprise that a series which has never run quite as hot as many other in-division rivalries could suddenly boil over. The Cintrón-Laureano fight came after one of the seven HBP by Houston’s pitching staff in the season series. The Astros hit just 29 opposing batters on the year. The poor command wasn’t reciprocated: Oakland plunked just one Houston batter in their ten-game series compared to 15 on the year.

For all the Astros’ issues with their starting rotation, their projected rotation is just 2–6 against the Astros this year. But that’s hardly been the issue. In their seven losses, they never score more than two runs. In their three wins, they never scored fewer than four. The Astros’ team ERA against the A’s of 3.87 was actually lower than their season-long mark of 4.20 and would have ranked ninth overall, just behind the Padres. Instead, it was cold bats that doomed the Astros. As a team, they mustered just a 62 wRC+ in their ten games, hitting just.205/.259/.326 with 25 runs scored.




Given Houston’s shaky rotation, sputtering offense, and a near disaster in the bullpen, it’s shocking the Astros made it this far. Oakland has the rotation, timely offense, and lethal bullpen to put this series away early – it’s just a question of whether Sean Murphy’s game-calling (and overall gameplan) and Bob Melvin’s strategy are up to par. A’s in three. 

Jai Correa


Houston isn’t the powerhouse it thinks it is, but it also isn’t the cupcake its enemies see it as. The Astros win McCullers’ start and one of the next two but run out of gas trying to close it out. A’s in five.

Alexander Chase


Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Jai Correa

Jai Correa is an alumnus of UMass Amherst. He is incredibly passionate about the Red Sox, Indian cricket and economics.

2 responses to “ALDS Preview: Oakland A’s vs Houston Astros”

  1. theKraken says:

    You have become accustomed to seeing dominance from Luzardo? I would never say that. Its more like a reality check on a guy that has a long ways to establish a reputation as consistently dominant. Its funny to me that people keep writing that kind of thing about the next kid that shouldn’t be on that pedestal to start with. Its not fair to him.

    I don’t have a lot of insight into this series. It is a good time to reflect on what losing to TOR arms does to a team! I think if HOU had those two, then they would be one of the favorites for the WS but now they are underdogs in every series. I wonder what other teams think they are powerhouses that you think are not. That is just a weird thing to say, but I think it is reflective of the hateful Twitter society that also uses words like enemy to refer to the other team. Its those kind of strange remarks that will have me rooting for HOU all the way. More than anything I would like to see the hateful Twitter crowd have to swallow down every win by HOU. Every win distances them a bit more form the group of people that want to discredit everything these players have ever achieved. While HOU is not great, they are at least experienced and have hitters that can do what they need to do potentially. they could get hot really fast. That won’t fix the rotation though! The As are one of those paper tigers with a hearty OPS but way too many guys that can’t put a ball in play when the chips are down. For the same reason that we shouldn’t put oto much stock into 2020 for anything else, it is also foolish to think that HOU hitters are just done based on that same season. That offense always has the chance to carry them and a bullpen is only worth what it is on a given day – it could be enough. That rotation is trash though. Teams like generally under-perform in a short series. I think this series is pretty even. I think the team that wins the series will be the first team to win three games. Its one of those IMO.

  2. theKraken says:

    I just noticed that HOU is going LAD mode and leaning away from one of their proven guys in Greinke. This is an indefensible decision. They have nothing and want to try to proceed without their only arm remotely resembling a reliable starting pitcher. They already are really short on arms and they are forfeiting the one of value. I figured they had some grand strategy in the works but they appear to be simply mismanaging the situation. The fact is they do not have anyone that has earned those critical starts. Simply hoping that the players with limited exposure are your best bet is just plain dumb and that appears to be what they are doing.

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