Opening Day FAQ: Astros vs. A's

March 31st, 2021

After the A’s and Astros thrilled in an entertaining American League Division Series last year, we won’t have to wait long for the rematch. The AL West rivals square off in a four-game series at the Oakland Coliseum to kick off the 2021 campaign.

Oakland returns a strong core of impactful players, led by Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Ramón Laureano, Jesús Luzardo and Sean Murphy. That group was provided reinforcements this offseason in slugger Mitch Moreland and experienced bullpen arms Sergio Romo and Trevor Rosenthal.

The Astros return a stacked lineup from the club that eliminated the A’s in the playoffs last year before losing in seven games to the Rays in the AL Championship Series. Houston is aiming to advance to its fifth consecutive ALCS behind its star-studded infield of Yuli Gurriel, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman -- each of whom underperformed in the regular season last year. The Astros also re-signed outfielder Michael Brantley and return slugger Yordan Alvarez to the lineup after he missed almost all of 2020.

Chris Bassitt headlines an A’s rotation with no shortage of talent, including Frankie Montas, Oakland’s 2020 Opening Day starter, and Luzardo, who returns for his second full year in the big leagues after flashing his electric arm as a rookie. The back end of the bullpen received reinforcements with new closer Rosenthal and experienced veteran Romo.

Houston’s rotation -- after veteran Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers Jr., who last week signed a five-year, $85 million deal -- bursts with potential with Jose Urquidy and Cristian Javier, who finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting last year. The bullpen has been revamped, with Ryan Pressly taking over as closer and the return of side-armer Joe Smith, who’s baseball’s active leader in games pitched.

The Astros haven’t lost an Opening Day game since they moved to the AL in 2013, winning a club-record eight openers in a row. The A’s are aiming to snap that streak in order to send an early reminder that they are the defending AL West champs and will not give up the crown easily.

When is the game and how can I watch it?

First pitch is scheduled for 7:07 p.m. PT/9:07 CT on Thursday at the Oakland Coliseum. The game will be televised on both NBC Sports California and AT&T Sportsnet in Houston, along with MLB.TV, and there will be radio broadcasts on A’s Cast and 790 KBME.

The starting lineups

A’s: The top of the A’s lineup is going to look a little different than it has the past few years. With Marcus Semien now a Blue Jay, manager Bob Melvin and the A’s front office identified Mark Canha as an ideal leadoff man this spring for his supreme plate discipline and ability to work a count. Newcomer Moreland should get plenty of RBI opportunities hitting behind the two Matts -- Chapman and Olson. Jed Lowrie is back with the A’s for a third stint and will get regular playing time at second base, forming a double-play combo with new shortstop Elvis Andrus.

Projected lineup

Astros: Manager Dusty Baker settled on Altuve to return to the leadoff spot full-time to replace George Springer, who left for Toronto. He’ll mix in three left-handed bats -- Brantley, Alvarez and Kyle Tucker. Alvarez is starting on Opening Day for the first time after the 2019 AL Rookie of the Year was limited to two games last year before undergoing knee surgery. Myles Straw takes over in center field for Springer and likely hits eighth.

Projected lineup

Who are the starting pitchers?

A’s: Bassitt draws the first Opening Day assignment of his career. The 32-year-old righty emerged as Oakland’s unlikely ace in 2020, going 5-2 with a 2.29 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 63 innings to end the year eighth in AL Cy Young voting. Bassitt didn’t look much different in Spring Training, dominating the Cactus League with a 1.74 ERA in three starts.

Astros: Veteran right-hander Greinke, baseball’s active leader with 459 games started during his career, will make start No. 460 on Opening Day for the Astros. It will be the fifth Opening Day assignment for Greinke, who started for the Royals in 2010 and the D-backs in ’16-17 and ’19. He’s never won on Opening Day, though, going 0-1 with a 8.20 ERA. That included two starts with the D-backs in which he gave up seven earned runs (’16, ‘19). Greinke threw 77 pitches in his final start of the spring Friday in Florida and said he was satisfied with how he had built up his endurance. In his first start of the regular season last year, Greinke tired after only 58 pitches and 3 1/3 innings and said afterwards his endurance wasn’t there.

How will the bullpens line up after the starter?

A’s: Rosenthal signed a one-year, $11 million deal with the A’s in February and is tasked with replacing All-Star closer Liam Hendriks at the back of a bullpen that is expected to be a strength for Oakland. The A’s may opt to stray away from traditional bullpen roles and rely more on matchups for a given day. Romo, Jake Diekman, Yusmeiro Petit and Adam Kolarek will be utilized heavily in high-leverage situations as a bridge to the ninth inning. Lou Trivino, J.B. Wendelken and Burch Smith round out the bullpen as multi-inning options.

Astros: Pressly takes over as closer and said he feels back to his form from early in the 2019 season in which he was an All-Star setup man. There’s tons of versatility after that, with veteran side-armer Smith returning to pitch in high-leverage roles at the back end after sitting out last year. There are two lefties who had solid seasons last year in Blake Taylor and Brooks Raley, and Enoli Paredes dazzled in his debut in 2020. The Astros also signed veteran Ryne Stanek, so it will be interesting to see what role he fills. Houston will have two long relievers -- Bryan Abreu and either Luis Garcia or Brandon Bielak (the other will be the fifth starter).

Any injuries of note?

A’s: Veteran righty Mike Fiers will begin the season on the injured list after left hip inflammation kept him out of Cactus League action. Fiers has been throwing bullpen sessions over the last week, and the A’s remain optimistic about a return near the end of April.

Astros: Veteran reliever Pedro Báez, who was signed to a two-year deal in the offseason, missed a substantial amount of time this spring following a positive COVID-19 test and begins the year on the IL. Reliever Andre Scrubb, who made his debut last year, suffered right shoulder fatigue late in camp and is on the IL. Ace pitcher Justin Verlander had Tommy John surgery Sept. 30 and will miss the entire season. Verlander pitched on Opening Day last year and hurt his arm.

Who is hot and who is not?

A’s: Olson, who is on a mission to prove his .195 batting average from 2020 was a fluke, tore through the Cactus League, going 16-for-49 (.327) with six homers, five doubles and 18 RBIs. Laureano missed about a week of games in spring due to left side soreness but finished strong. He led the team with a .357 batting average in 13 games, hitting two homers, three doubles and two triples to go with 10 RBIs. A couple of outfielders were slumping this spring. Canha finished the Cactus League just 7-for-42, and Piscotty went 7-for-36.

Astros: Bregman, who was slowed by a left hamstring strain early in camp, went 5-for-20 with two homers and was robbed of two other homers. Bregman also got dozens of at-bats on the back fields and crushed the ball. Correa hit 12-for-39 (.308) with two homers and eight RBIs. Straw was 13-for-42 (.310) this spring and swung a good bat as he heads into his first season as a starter. Among those who didn’t swing the bat well this spring were Altuve (.212), outfielder Chas McCormick (2-for-26) and catcher Jason Castro (.200). Alvarez got a late start but hit .172 in 10 games.

Anything else fans might want to know?

• Bassitt will become the A’s 14th Opening Day starter in the last 16 years. In that time, only Sonny Gray and Kendall Graveman received the honor twice.

• Outfielder Ka’ai Tom, whom the A’s selected in December’s Rule 5 Draft, made the club’s Opening Day roster. He’ll make his Major League debut at some point in the series after spending the last five years in Cleveland’s farm system.

• Correa set a deadline for Opening Day to reach a contract extension with the Astros or he will be a free agent after this season. He turned down a six-year, $120 million offer earlier in the spring.

• The Astros signed veteran right-hander Jake Odorizzi on March 9, but he won’t be ready to start the season. He’s expected to make his first start next week when the Astros return to Minute Maid Park for their home opener and could face the A’s when they come to Houston on April 8-10.

• Astros players, coaches and staff who wanted to get one were able to receive their COVID-19 vaccinations Monday night after flying from Florida. The state of Texas lowered the age of those eligible for the vaccine to 16 years old beginning Monday.