Breathing, But Barely: A’s sweep the Astros on Canha’s walk-off hit, and avoid elimination in the AL West title chase

By Morris Phillips

OAKLAND–Too little, too late. Game 1 (through 6) counts just as much as Game 162. Save some of that offense (or defense) for tomorrow’s game. In 2021, the A’s have found themselves on the wrong end of all the familiar catchphrases that shape the confounding game of Major League Baseball.

A sweep of the AL West-leading Astros to end the home campaign sets up an exciting, and critical final week of baseball leading into the postseason. Yeah, the A’s did that by winning 4-3 on Sunday at the Coliseum, but their still six games out with six to play.

The wild card race? Not much hope there either. On Sunday, the Blue Jays and Yankees won, not to mention the huge issue of the Mariners being a game ahead of the A’s in both the division and the wild card race.

The good news? The A’s battled all weekend against long odds and came up winners against the second best team in the American League, and they made it happen in late game situations, which in 2021, have been often been problematic.

“There’s a lot of desperation in what we’re doing right now,” manager Bob Melvin said.

With the game tied 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth, Mark Canha delivered an RBI single–scoring Sean Murphy–to earn the A’s a sweep against the team that more often than not (over the last six seasons) has gotten the best of them.

“We needed to grab some momentum and grab some good feels,” Canha said. “To sweep a great team like that feels really good, especially given the last homestand and what’s on the line.”

The A’s finish the season with three games in Seattle starting Tuesday, followed by the final weekend at Minute Maid Park in Houston for three more. Sunday’s win kept them from being eliminated in the division, and six more wins consecutively probably won’t help. According to ESPN, the A’s have a 0.6 percent chance to make the postseason.

“We’re just going to keep fighting. I think everyone is pulling in the same direction,” Canha said.

Across the board statistically, the numbers frame the A’s as a good team, just not good enough. They finished the home campaign with a 43-38 mark, the sixth, straight season they’ve been over .500 at home. But 43 wins isn’t how playoff teams eat. All seven AL teams in the postseason hunt have either won more than 43 games at home or have a chance to do so in the final week (Seattle, Toronto).

The A’s pitching has been just fine, except when it hasn’t. Starters Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas and Sean Manaea all averaged more than nine strikeouts per nine innings in 2021, which ranks them 1-2-3 in Oakland history besting previous high averages posted by Vida Blue (1971), Gio Gonzales (2011) and Todd Stottlemyre (1995). But all three weren’t what they could be in 2021: Montas’ best outings didn’t take place until the season was half over, Bassitt was terrific until he was felled by a horrific injury in August, and Manaea pitched equal parts dynamite and kryptonite.

The biggest number for A’s pitching in 2021 was a 5.20 ERA by the entire staff in September prior to Saturday. That and the bullpen collapsed at the end of August and beginning September resulting in a couple of disturbing losses and the demotion of closer Lou Trivino.

Offensively, the A’s collective batting average of .239 entering this weekend says it all. That number ranks fourth lowest in the AL, even as batting averages throughout the industry have plummeted. For the A’s who have wonderful numbers in drawing walks, hitting home runs and XBH’s along with a team record 93 passes issued from being hit by pitches, the batting averages lagged, dragging down the overall product. The result a 23-26 record in one-run games, along with one too many losses in which they scored zero, one or two runs.

Finally, the season was a rollercoaster. The A’s started 0-6, than won a major league-best 44 games over the next 65, than only 41 of their next 85 culminating with Sunday’s win. Too much up and down, and not enough in the stretch, which has been the calling card for the franchise under Melvin’s leadership.

Cole Irvin is the A’s projected starter for Tuesday’s series opener in Seattle. Chris Flexen is expected to get the start for the Mariners.

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