HOUSTON -- If there is a silver lining in losing three of four games to the A’s for the second time in a month for the Astros, perhaps it’s that they’ve positioned themselves to make it harder to meet Oakland in the American League Division Series next month.
The Astros will finish the season with an 11-8 record against the A’s after losing their third in a row, 3-2, on Thursday night. Oakland has proven to be a difficult matchup for Houston down the stretch, winning three of four at the Coliseum from Aug. 15-18 and taking three in a row at Minute Maid Park after losing Monday’s series opener, 15-0.
“It obviously isn’t the way we wanted it to go, but they played some really good baseball and came in here after taking a beating and turned around and gave us right back the favor,” Astros outfielder Josh Reddick said.
The losses dropped the Astros two games behind the Yankees for the best record in the AL with 14 games remaining. The A’s are battling the Indians and Rays for the two spots in the AL Wild Card Game, the winner of which will face the No. 1 seed in the ALDS. If Houston can’t catch New York, it will face the AL Central champs in the first round. Minnesota is leading the Central race.
“Obviously, we do want the home-field advantage,” Reddick said. “If it doesn’t work out, then we’ll do what we have to do to win.”
The A’s, who have posted the second-best record in baseball since June 17, behind the Yankees, are 7 1/2 games behind the first-place Astros. The series loss was Houston’s second at home all season (June 25-27 vs. the Pirates).
“They won 97 games last year, too, so they’re here to stay,” Hinch said of the A’s. “They’re a really, really good team. They put pressure on you from the very beginning.”
Oakland did just that to Astros starter Justin Verlander when Marcus Semien singled on the first pitch of the game and scored later that inning. The A’s continued to work deep counts to run up the pitch count before Verlander (18-6) made adjustments. He gave up a two-run homer on a fastball to Matt Olson in the third, but he struck out 11 batters in six innings and got within 19 strikeouts of reaching 3,000 for his career. He has three starts remaining.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know where I was at,” Verlander said of the milestone. “It’s kind of on the back burner, I guess. I’m aware of it, but trying not to focus on it too much. It would be pretty cool to get to it this year.”
Hinch admitted it’s hard not to scoreboard watch this time of the season.
“You look around the league and everybody knows what’s going on, and I hear it talked about all the time,” he said. “I wish more people would admit it around the game that all of us look at what’s going on around the league. The focus during the competition is about your own game, but there’s enough down time, enough curiosity around the league. Everybody’s paying attention to the best time of the year.”
The Astros cut the lead to 3-2 in the eighth on a homer by Jose Altuve, left the bases loaded later in the inning and couldn’t capitalize in the ninth when the first two batters reached. They were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position and fell to 0-47 when trailing after eight innings this season.
“We had some situations really throughout the game, early and late, that normally we push a run across the board and tack on a run here and there and we look up and we’ve outscored them,” Hinch said. “I take the opportunities that we can get. When you don’t come through it’s frustrating.”