OAKLAND — The Oakland Athletics may not expressly be thinking about catching the division-leading Houston Astros.
Before Saturday’s 8-4 win — their third in a row over Houston — manager Bob Melvin hand-waived it away before saying the A’s are just trying to win as many games as possible.
The fact that Oakland has now won four in a row and have taken three straight from the second-best team in the American League, though, is sinking in. After the homer-happy A’s beat the Astros on Saturday without a single ball leaving the yard, they’re now only 6 1/2 back with 39 games to go, half a game back of the second wild card spot and on the verge of sweeping a four-game set from the Astros for the first time since 2017.
“When you get against really good pitching, you’re going to have to find ways to manufacture runs,” Melvin said. “So every game that we play like that, where we don’t hit a home run and we win, I think is good for our psyche.”
The win was just the A’s third this season without hitting a home run — the second-fewest in the majors. They were 2-26 before that.
Oakland is 52-27 since May 16 — the best record in baseball outside of the Yankees and the Dodgers — and has won four of their last five games against Houston after having lost eight of nine meetings to start the season.
“I think we kind of approached the Astros the wrong way as a as a whole,” said starter Chris Bassitt. “Are they a top-two, top-three team in all baseball? Yeah, but when you give them more credit they deserve, everything snowballs on you. When you when you go on the attack and you attack them, it makes life a whole heck of a lot easier.”
Bassitt, who needed to eat innings after a 13-inning marathon saw four relievers throw seven the night before, threw 45 pitches over the first two innings as he felt out the second-best hitting lineup in baseball without fastball command.
Twice in the first two innings, Bassitt used his curve to get out of jams. He loaded the bases with one out in the first, only to fan Yordan Alvarez on the hook, and then got Carlos Correia to fly out to center to strand three. In the second, with Martin Maldonado on second with two outs, he got George Springer swinging at a curve in the dirt for strike three.
He couldn’t escape in the third, giving up back-to-back two-strike singles to Jose Altuve and Michael Brantly to lead off the inning, then allowing a booming RBI double into the left-center gap by Alex Bregman. Bassitt, though, struck out Yuli Gurriel and then caught Maldonado looking at a curve for strike three to at least limit the damage.
After the A’s got three straight singles to lead off the third, Friday-night hero Robbie Grossman lined a 1-1 bases-loaded base hit back up the middle to cut the lead in half. Hard-throwing Astros starter Rogelio Armenteros walked Matt Chapman, then gave up a Matt Olson RBI single and a two-run Mark Canha single to put Oakland up 5-2.
Nine of the A’s 12 hits on Saturday were singles, with six of those coming in the five-run third and another three in a three-run fifth. Oakland got mult-hit days from Olson (2-for-4, 2 RBIs), Canha (2-for-4, 3 RBIs), Josh Phegley (2-for-4, R) and Chapman (3-for-3, RBI), who is now 14-for-34 (.412) with five home runs and five doubles since he shaved his head eight games ago. After that, Bassit settled in.
“The offense kind of allowed it to happen,” Bassitt said. “After after they put up five the third I was like, ‘The heck with it, I’m just going to throw strikes.’”
After a 429-foot, 112-mph Alvarez solo laser to right in the top of the fifth (his first of two on the day), the first four A’s in the bottom of the frame reached base, including RBI singles from Olson and Canha, followed by a sac fly by Stephen Piscotty, who would later leave after jamming his right ankle on the basepaths (he won’t go on the IL). Bassit went back out, and after a leadoff single, got a double play and a pop-out to finish his day after 116 pitches.
“Our bullpen’s gassed, and I couldn’t look at the guy the guys, like, ‘I was tired,’” Bassitt said. “Every one of those guys down there are dead tired. I was I was trying to fill the six.”
Blake Treinen pitched for the third time in three days, then Ryan Buchter and Yusmeiro Petit finished things out.
Oakland has not swept the Astros in a four-game set since Sept. 8-10, 2017 (including a doubleheader). They still have five games left against Houston and six against the AL-leading New York Yankees. They have none left against the other two top teams in the wild card race — Tampa Bay and Cleveland. The Rays — tied for the second wild card — have 11 games left against last-place teams, and three against the wild card-leading Indians.
Melvin said that the A’s are not schedule watching headed into the home stretch, but in the clubhouse before the game, Olson, Marcus Semien, Mike Fiers and Tanner Roark were intently watching the New York-Cleveland game.
“Regardless if we’re playing the Astros or whoever we’re playing, we’re just trying to just do what we do,” Chapman said. “[We] just trust ourselves and believe in the work we’ve put in.”