By Alex Hall
Special to S.F. Examiner
OAKLAND — The Oakland Athletics have a chance to move into a tie for first place in the AL West if they can beat the Houston Astros on Saturday. There to watch their quest are members of another legendary underdog A’s team — the 2002 squad that rode a famous 20-game win streak to an unexpected postseason berth.
Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, Scott Hatteberg and David Justice were among the former players and coaches in attendance for a pregame ceremony. Former manager Art Howe had been scheduled to attend but couldn’t make it in the end, instead checking in with a video message on Diamond Vision.
As for the current 2018 group, they’re coming off a dramatic comeback victory Friday night, in which Matt Olson delivered a walk-off homer in extra innings. As has been customary for Oakland this year, starting pitcher Edwin Jackson was pulled relatively early in favor of the dynamic bullpen that has been the hallmark of the pitching staff. Jackson went five innings, and then a parade of five relievers combined to finish off the final five frames.
Former pitching coach Rick Peterson commented on the league’s recent trend toward shorter starts and heavier bullpen loads.
“I think just because of the fact that there’s not as many quality starting pitchers anymore is what it comes down to,” Peterson said. “I don’t think they’re shifting that way because the starting pitching’s so good, they’re shifting that way because of the fact that the starting pitching really struggles to flip a lineup over three times. You take a look at some of the guys here that were great starting pitchers (like Hudson, Mulder, Zito), and they could flip the lineup over four times because they had the kind of weapons to be able to do that. And you don’t see that as much today.”
Peterson sees it as cyclical, though, rather than a permanent change. “Just like every industry, there’s gonna be cycles. We’re in a cycle right now where the bullpen has been more prevalent, and I think that cycle will shift back around if you get the starting pitching that’s quality.”
Saturday will see Oakland’s Trevor Cahill face one of Houston’s former Cy Young winners in Dallas Keuchel. Peterson pointed out Keuchel as one of the present-day starters who is still capable of going deep into a game and facing a lineup several times. With the lefty on the mound, rookie outfielder Ramon Laureano will make the seventh start of his MLB career after also playing a big role in Friday night’s heroics.