The A’s open up their most anticipated series of 2020 tonight at the Oakland Coliseum.
It’s not just a current battle for the division standings, but also a history of the past few seasons where Oakland finished runner-up to a Houston franchise recently punished for cheating.
Here are a few angles to look for in the upcoming three-game set.
Animosity exists, but retaliation likely won’t surface
It’s not a guarantee we won’t see any inside pitches or jawing on the field over this weekend. The general consensus among A's players is that they had long been familiar and frustrated with the Astros tactics, well before it became public knowledge.
While nobody across baseball has been impressed with the way Houston has acknowledged their punishment, the A’s don’t have any outstanding reasons to make it extra-personal, at this point. They’d prefer to hurt the Astros where it counts most, on the scoreboard, and continue a six-game win streak.
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Oakland’s bullpen has been overshadowed
They come into this series with a 1.80 ERA across 55 innings this season. It’s easy to get distracted by grand slam walk-offs, eight-run innings, win streaks, and dominant starting performances. But when your team has recently dove into a stretch of 30 games in 31 days, nothing matters more than maintaining a fresh and reliable group of relievers.
As much as some of Houston’s star hitters are struggling out of the gate, the collective team is second in AL batting average at .251.
Why Jesús Luzardo is special
The 22-year old will pitch Sunday against Houston, coming off his first MLB start which was impressive all around. While it’s possible he could encounter typical learning curves early in his career, the only thing more impressive than Luzardo’s fastball has been his composure.
With only nine relief appearances to his name (including a playoff game), the lefty certainly appears rotation-ready, and shouldn’t encounter the early grooming process most young starters do. Look for him to keep the pitch count progression climbing after recovering from the coronavirus, throwing 44, 67 and 76 pitches in his first three appearances of 2020.