By Morris Phillips
OAKLAND — After another highly satisfying weekend, one of baseball’s best teams is still on the outside looking in.
The A’s failed to sweep the AL West-leading Astros four straight, falling 4-1 on Sunday afternoon as Zack Greinke picked up his 200th career win. The Astros avoided a sixth, consecutive loss, propping themselves up with Alex Bregman’s 4 for 4 afternoon, including a three-run homer in the fifth inning.
But with the Indians, Twins and Rays winning Sunday, the A’s will need to pick it up to grab an American League Wild Card spot. Even as the second hottest team in baseball over the last 50 games (34-16), the A’s are still trailing in the race for the second, wild card spot which they captured in 2018.
Manager Bob Melvin remains focused on having his club prepared each day, without being preoccupied with the standings. In Melvin’s mind, with 38 games remaining, it’s still to early to compare wins and losses.
“We’re just trying to win as many games as we can,” Melvin said. “We know we’re quite a bit behind (the division-leading Astros), so every game we can win against them gets us a little bit closer. We’re still in August. It’s not until a little bit later in September ’til I start focusing on kind of where we are as far as the division and the wild card. Things flip around pretty quickly.”
That flip around was abrupt over the weekend, as the A’s had dropped nine of their first 11 contests against Houston, before finally standing up to the division leaders with three, consecutive wins. More impressive, the A’s matched the pitching-rich Astros on the mound while getting some key blasts from its powerful lineup.
Things reverted to the norm on Sunday with Bregman’s big day at the plate, and Greinke on his game, which has been the case in almost all of his Bay Area outings. The future Hall of Famer limited the A’s to four hits, and only Marcus Semien’s fourth inning home run came at a cost.
“He does it a little bit differently than most premiere starters,” Melvin said of Greinke. “He paints with his fastball. His changeup is almost the same speed as his fastball, yet it dives off the table and goes straight down.”
Brett Anderson struggled in his five innings of work, uncharacteristically walking four batters. That issue came in focus when Melvin abruptly removed Anderson in the middle of an at-bat, when he spotted the pitcher laboring due to a blister.
The A’s bullpen closed the door, but couldn’t aid the offense, which saw scoring opportunities evaporate in the seventh and ninth innings due to double plays.
The Yankees visit the Coliseum starting Tuesday, as the A’s brace for a second, consecutive elite opponent. New York is still without Giancarlo Stanton, but haven’t missed a beat with several other bit players taking more prominent roles during their injury-riddled, but productive season to date.
On Tuesday, Homer Bailey will take the mound for the A’s in a matchup with Cy Young candidate Domingo German (16-2, 3.96 ERA).