Athletics

A's know they must work to catch star-studded Astros despite series win

A's know they must work to catch star-studded Astros despite series win

OAKLAND – Houston’s lineup comes at opponents with a procession of knives and swords and machetes, slashing and hacking until the pitcher begs for mercy. The Astros aim to destroy, and they usually do.

And when they fail, well, they suffocate teams into submission with an imposing starting rotation and gloves galore.

The A’s, however, spent the week squinting and shrugging at Goliath. They were so determined to foil the goal of a club built to win a World Series in October – and maybe two or three Octobers beyond – it wasn’t until Sunday that the Astros recovered from their bruises.

By the time Houston salvaged the last of four games with a 4-1 win at the Coliseum, it had received the message sent by the A’s: Oakland will not fall. It must be knocked down, hard and repeatedly.

Though winning three of four against the mighty Astros is -- by all accounts -- a generally satisfying achievement, utility man Chad Pinder needed a few moments to accept it with grace.

“I was not happy,” he told NBC Sports Bay Area. “I was really not happy. I took a little bit of time sitting at my locker.”

The source of Pinder’s temporary discontent was making the final out. His routine ground ball to shortstop meant the A’s were out of chances to do what they believe they are meant to do.

Win. No matter the opponent.

“Nobody wants to give away at-bats,” Pinder said. “Nobody wants to lose. So, when it comes down to the ninth inning, regardless of the score, guys aren’t giving away anything. When you see the guy in front of you not giving in, you don’t want to be the guy that makes the last out. You don’t want to be the guy that ends the game. You don’t want to be that guy.”

Yet winning three of four against a Houston team whose six highest-paid players combined make roughly the same amount as Oakland’s entire roster, is a huge net gain. It’s the order of the outcomes that left a residue of disappointment.

“Four-game sweeps are pretty tough, especially against a team like that,” manager Bob Melvin said. “But when you take the first three, you have some momentum and you want to take the fourth. We’re a little disappointed we couldn’t take the fourth game."

“But come tomorrow, when we look at three out of four, it’s a plus.”

The A’s under Melvin have made a habit of sticking their chins into the fight with baseball’s beasts. It’s as if coming into this series they ignored their 2-9 record against Houston this season – or maybe dismissed it because it’s mid-August, which is when the stakes start to rise.

The A’s (72-53) missed a chance to pull within 5.5 games of Houston (79-46) in the AL West but reminded themselves what it’s like to play games that matter. They left the ballpark 7.5 games behind the Astros but only one game behind Tampa Bay and two behind Cleveland in the Wild Card race.

They are making a spirited bid for October baseball despite the physical perils in their path. Starter Sean Manaea -- the ace of the staff a little more than a year ago -- has spent this season recovering from surgery. Jharel Cotton, a regular in the rotation when healthy, has endured two surgeries. Both pitchers in the midst of minor-league rehab assignments. First baseman Matt Olson underwent hand surgery and missed the first six weeks of the season. 

The team’s main offseason trade acquisition, second baseman Jurickson Profar, has been abysmal, toting the lowest batting average (.204) and on-base percentage (.269) of any regular in either league.

These shortcomings have had little impact on the A’s. Matt Chapman and Matt Olson keep crushing, offsetting Khris Davis’ relatively quiet bat. The pitching and defense have been solid, but the spirit keeps this bunch ticking.

The A’s believe, and keep believing, until the final out. Their nine walk-off wins are second only to the Dodgers’ 10. Since opening the season with a 15-21 record, Oakland is 56-32. 

“They’re fighters,” Melvin said of the A’s. “The Pinders and the Chapmans and the Olsons, these guys won all the way up (through the minors). They have an expectation to win all the time.”

As much criticism as the Coliseum gets, and most of it is deserved, the A’s 40-24 home record is behind only the Yankees (49-19) and Astros (43-15) in the AL. Still, upon arriving at the ballpark Sunday, the plan was to leave with a 41-23 home record.

[RELATED: Zack Greinke continues mastery of A's despite diminishing velocity]

“Obviously, you want to sweep,” Pinder said. “But the first thing we did (in the clubhouse) was put on the music. We had a good series, and you really want to win the series. We did, so we’ll take it.”

Particularly against a team that has kneecapped the A’s more than a few times. The pursuit continues.

A's remain in contract talks with Blake Treinen, GM David Forst says

treinen.jpg
USATSI

A's remain in contract talks with Blake Treinen, GM David Forst says

MLB's annual Winter Meetings head to San Diego next week, and there already are some big-name free agents receiving big paychecks. 

It appears the moves are going quicker than they started last offseason. As for the A's, one of their priorities is their pitching -- particularly out of the bullpen.

"We will continue to be in conversations with relief pitchers," Forst said Thursday in a conference call with reporters. One of those relievers includes former Athletic Blake Treinen.

The 31-year-old was non-tendered on Monday making him a free agent, but Forst said they're keeping the option open to re-sign him.

"We'll continue that conversation, but there's obviously going to be a lot of interest in him."

Treinen leaves behind a rough season that was the complete opposite of his 2018 All-Star campaign.

In 2019, he finished with a 4.91 ERA with just 59 strikeouts in 58.2 innings. The season prior? A 0.78 ERA with a 0.83 WHIP. He also was in AL Cy Young and MVP talks.

The good news for Treinen is the free-agent market is very forgiving with relief pitchers. One bad season could be right ahead of something great. 

Along with Treinen, Forst also explained that bringing back Jake Diekman was a priority for the team, which the A's did Tuesday on a two-year contract.

[RELATED: Profar trade gives A's infield clarity]

But the A's are far from being done, and Forst mentioned it had been a while since the A's went with a bullpen of fewer than eight players. 

"I think it's an area we will continue to address if possible," Forst added.

A's Marcus Semien, Liam Hendriks deserving of MLB All-Team honors

semienbregmanap.jpg
AP

A's Marcus Semien, Liam Hendriks deserving of MLB All-Team honors

Major League Baseball has initiated the first-ever All-MLB Team. This was put forth for fans to vote on their favorite players from the 2019 season's entirety.

This is a bit like the All-Star selections only that, in this case, it's not in the middle of the season, and with these, there are both first and second teams. Also, this team will not be broken up by leagues and players were previously nominated -- pretty cool, right?

I voted for my 2019 All-MLB Team and here are my results:

New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso put on a show at the plate this season and during the Home Run Derby. Sure, we dig the long ball, but we also appreciate a guy who shows his emotions when he does something great on the field, like setting a rookie home-run record with 53 dingers this season.

The middle-infielders as of late have become these gems filled with power, which is a characteristic we didn't see in the earlier eras of the game. 

For second base, Houston Astros star José Altuve proved once again why he is a constant force to be reckoned with. The six-time All-Star finished his 2019 campaign slashing .298/.353/.550 with 31 home runs and 74 RBI in 124 games. 

Marcus Semien was the vote at the shortstop position. While there were plenty that deserved the honors (Jorge Polanco and Xander Bogaerts should not go unmentioned), Semien was such a fascinating player this season.

Sure, there's a slight bias over here, but imagine having someone only get better as the season went on. Semien started in all 162 games this season and showed no signs of tiring, finishing with 33 homers and doubling last season's total. He was also third in AL MVP voting behind Mike Trout and Alex Bregman. 

Semien didn't receive All-Star honors this season, which is a shame. He deserves something after the show he put on.

Speaking of Bregman ... I voted for him at third base, the position that was the toughest to select across the roster.

He, Matt Chapman and Nolan Arenado each put up a phenomenal season and reminded you just why it's called the hot corner.

For Bregman, he was sensational across the board in each hitting category, finishing 2019 with a .296 average, 41 homers and a 1.015 OPS. Arenado matched Bregman's long-ball numbers with 41, but ya know -- Coors. 

And that energy is contagious.

Outfielders were easy to vote for.

Trout, Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich. I really hope you guys won't argue with me on those.

The starting pitchers, for the most part, hosted arms from the final two teams still playing October baseball. Justin Verlander earned his second Cy Young Award, posting a 2.58 ERA with 300 strikeouts in 223 innings and an MLB-leading 0.80 WHIP.

Well-deserved. 

Verlander's former teammate Gerrit Cole was behind him in Cy Young voting, leading the AL with a 2.50 ERA and MLB with 326 strikeouts and 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings.

I also voted for Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, and once again, I hope there are no arguments there. If there is, I have plenty of photos of them drenched in champagne celebrating a World Series championship to back me up.

Former A and current Cincinnati Red Sonny Gray didn't reach his 2015 heights, but he dropped his ERA drastically from his 2018 campaign, boasting a 2.87 ERA with the Redlegs. His season deserved to be recognized.

From the bullpen, A's Liam Hendriks got a vote because he not only put up the numbers but switched to closer role responsibilities and did it smoothly and masterfully.

He finished his 2019 All-Star season with a 1.80 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 85 innings with a 0.97 WHIP.

[RELATED: Hendriks shift in energy factors in success with A's]

How'd I do? Let me know.

The winners for first and second-team honors will be announced at this year's Winter Meetings in San Diego.