Athletics

A's bullpenning strategy immediately blows up on Aaron Judge home run

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AP

A's bullpenning strategy immediately blows up on Aaron Judge home run

The A's were confident "opener" Liam Hendriks would find success early against the Yankees in the American League Wild Card Game.

Yankees slugger Aaron Judge drove Hendriks confidence into the left field bleachers.

After Hendriks walked left fielder Andrew McCutchen to open the bottom of the first inning Wednesday night, Judge crushed a 2-1 fastball to give the host Yankees a quick 2-0 lead.

Hendriks managed to retire the next three batters in order, but the damage already had been done.

Astros issue statement in rout vs. A's that AL West belongs to Houston

Astros issue statement in rout vs. A's that AL West belongs to Houston

Just five days ago, the A's pulled within 4 1/2 games of the Astros for first place in the AL West. All of a sudden, there were murmurs around the league of a legitimate pennant race out west.

Houston sure silenced those talks in a hurry. The Astros won their sixth game in a row Monday night, obliterating the A's, 11-1, to push their division lead back to 7 1/2 games.

This was more than just a victory. It was a statement. The Astros pulled out their megaphones and declared to the world that the AL West still runs through Houston, as it has the past two seasons.

Houston is now 8-1 against Oakland this season, with a run differential of 53-21. The A's have made plenty of strides the last two years, but clearly, they're not yet in the same class as the Astros.

The most glaring difference between the two clubs is obviously pitching. Despite losing Charlie Morton to free agency and Lance McCullers Jr. to injury, the Astros' starting rotation is far superior to Oakland's.

Houston features two legitimate aces in Justin Verlander and Monday's winning pitcher Gerrit Cole, as well as a strong number three starter in Wade Miley. The A's, on the other hand, have had to piece together a rotation which is comprised of too many inconsistent arms.

On Monday, Oakland's newest starter Homer Bailey got absolutely rocked, allowing nine runs in just two innings of work. That followed a subpar outing Sunday from Daniel Mengden, who only lasted 3 1/3 innings in Minnesota, giving up four runs.

Houston has multiple starters who can go out and win a game without much run support. The A's have to rely solely on their offense in many cases, simply asking their starters to keep them close.

[RELATED: Report: A's have inquired on trades for Stroman, Minor]

The Astros' bullpen has also been more effective than Oakland's this year, with Ryan Pressly, Will Harris, and Roberto Osuna all maintaining ERAs under 2.40. As good as Liam Hendriks has been for the A's this season, he and Yusmeiro Petit have really been the only reliable relievers in Oakland's bullpen. With Blake Treinen, Lou Trivino, and Joakim Soria all having down-years, the A's pen has not been the strength they expected it to be.

Despite the A's mammoth struggles against the Astros this season, they still find themselves in great position to earn a wild-card bid for the second straight year. That's where the focus should be right now. Forget about the division -- that belongs to Houston.

A's vs. Astros lineups: Matt Olson looks to extend 16-game hit streak

A's vs. Astros lineups: Matt Olson looks to extend 16-game hit streak

The A's open a critical three-game series against the first-place Astros on Monday night in Houston. Oakland enters the week 6 1/2 games behind the Astros in the American League West Division.

A's first baseman Matt Olson will try to extend his career-best 16-game hitting streak, the longest current streak in Major League Baseball. He will bat third in the order.

Oakland centerfielder Ram贸n Laureano is also on a roll at the plate, hitting .542 (13-for-24) last week with two home runs, six doubles, and 10 runs scored. For his efforts, he was named AL Player of the Week.

The A's lineup will be in for a challenge, however, as they face talented right-hander Gerrit Cole. The 28-year-old leads the majors with 194 strikeouts in just 129 2/3 innings. He is 10-5 with a 3.12 ERA and 1.03 WHIP.

In seven career starts against Oakland, Cole is 3-1 with a 3.30 ERA. He has been especially dominant against Olson, who is 0-for-17 lifetime against Cole with 10 strikeouts.

The A's will counter with right-hander Homer Bailey, who will make his second start since being acquired from Kansas City. Bailey, 33, allowed two runs in six innings against Seattle last week to earn the win in his Oakland debut.

[RELATED: Report: A's have inquired on trades for Stroman, Minor]

For the season, Bailey is 8-6 with a 4.69 ERA. In eight career starts against Houston, he is 3-0 with a 1.46 ERA.

Here are the full lineups for the A's-Astros game, which will be broadcast on NBC Sports California and the MyTeams app. Coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. PT, with first pitch at 5:10.

Oakland A's (57-43)
Marcus Semien, SS
Matt Chapman, 3B
Matt Olson, 1B
Mark Canha, RF
Ram贸n Laureano, CF
Khris Davis, DH
Robbie Grossman, LF 
Jurickson Profar, 2B
Josh Phegley, C

Homer Bailey, RHP (8-6, 4.69 ERA)

Houston Astros (64-37)
George Springer, CF
Jos茅 Altuve, 2B
Alex Bregman, SS
Michael Brantley, LF
Yordan 脕lvarez, DH
Yuli Gurriel, 1B
Josh Reddick, RF
Robinson Chirinos, C
Aledmys D铆az, 3B

Gerrit Cole, RHP (10-5, 3.12 ERA)