There aren’t many teams that know each other as well as the A’s and Astros, who have been the class of the American League West for the past four years. And there’s not many teams recently with as much hostility toward each other, either.
After ending the Astros’ run of consecutive AL West division titles at three this year -- in part because the Astros went 3-7 in the head-to-head meetings against the A’s -- the two rivals will meet again beginning with Monday’s Game 1 in the American League Division Series at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
“We have to grind it out and get our butts in gear,” Astros outfielder Josh Reddick said last week about possibly facing Oakland in the postseason. “Playing a team in your division is going to give you an upper hand recognizing and knowing how certain guys, bullpens guys, are going to pitch you, and starters, because they’ve faced you before.”
A's reliever Liam Hendriks also noted that Oakland sees the advantages of playing an inner-division rival after the A's defeated the White Sox on Thursday to advance.
“I think there’s a little bit of us wanting to make sure they know what they’ve done and we can prove it to them that they weren’t the top team in the AL West," Hendriks said. "But we also don’t want to be petty and let our emotions get the best of us. We played them enough times this year and had a good record. Now, we’ll go into that series and hopefully take care of business early. We’re very familiar with them. They’re very familiar with us. It’s going to be a matter of who executes the best. I believe in this team, and we’re going to try to stick it to them as much as we can and prove we’re the best team in the AL West.”
An early season dust-up between the two clubs in Oakland that led to the suspensions of A’s outfielder Ramón Laureano -- a former Astros Draft pick -- and Astros hitting coach Alex Cintrón set the stage for a season-long rivalry that is still waiting for its main event. Former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers may finally have to face Houston for the first time this year if the series extends the distance.
Fiers, who led the 2017 World Series champion Astros in innings pitched, has earned villain status in Houston after he helped blow the whistle on the intricate sign-stealing scheme the Astros used at home during the ’17 season. MLB investigated the allegations and punished the Astros on Jan. 13, leading to the club firing general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch.
Alas, Fiers somehow managed to avoid pitching against the Astros in the 10 regular-season meetings against the clubs, but that will be harder for the A’s to pull off if the series goes five games in five days.
In an Aug. 9 game between the clubs in Oakland, benches cleared after Laureano was hit by a pitch for the second time and voiced his displeasure to Astros pitcher Humberto Castellanos. Laureano, who was traded from the Astros in 2017, gestured toward Castellanos and exchanged words with him while walking to first base. While Laureano was standing on first, he argued with Cintrón and then charged the dugout, where he was tackled by Astros catcher Dustin Garneau.
Cintrón was suspended for 20 games and Laureano for six, though he got down to four games on appeal.
On the field, the Astros went 1-7 against the A’s in Oakland and swept them in Houston in the only games at Minute Maid Park they played there this year. The Astros hit .205/.259/.326 with seven homers in 10 games and averaged only 2.5 runs per game against the A’s, including 1.9 on the road.
Astros pitchers held the A’s to 3.87 runs per game, with Oakland scoring three runs or fewer six times in 10 games. The close games were a calling card of the season series. Five of the Astros’ seven losses were by two or fewer runs.
This will be the first time the Astros have met the A’s in the postseason. The Astros are 74-75 all-time against Oakland.