New York Yankees

Why A's should hope for MLB playoffs matchup with Yankees, not Astros

Why A's should hope for MLB playoffs matchup with Yankees, not Astros

Boy, that escalated quickly.

After exploding for 21 runs against Seattle on Sunday, the Astros pounced on Mike Fiers and the A's for 11 more in the first two innings Monday night. Houston breezed to a 15-0 win, setting a franchise record with 36 runs in a two-game span. It also snapped the A's stretch of 104 straight games without being shut out, which was the longest active streak in the majors. That now belongs to the Astros at 54 straight games.

Sure, this only counts as one loss in the standings, but it serves a larger point, one we probably already knew. The A's match up far better with the Yankees than the Astros.

Houston and New York are battling for the best record in the American League -- the two squads are currently tied at 95-50. Whichever team ends up on top will face the winner of the AL Wild Card Game in the ALDS. In other words, the A's should be huge Yankees fans for the rest of the regular season.

It's not that the Yankees aren't also a great team, but the Astros are simply at a different level. While both teams feature terrific lineups and bullpens, Houston's starting pitching is vastly superior to New York's.

The ALDS is a best-of-five series, meaning the Astros could run out Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke, and if necessary, Wade Miley. Good luck winning more than a game against that foursome.

Meanwhile, the Yankees' starting pitching ranks 18th in the majors with a 4.65 ERA. Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, and CC Sabathia have all been shaky this year. James Paxton and Domingo Germán have been a little bit better, but still far from unhittable.

This season, the A's won four of six games against the Yankees, and it probably should have been five of six. Against the Astros, it's been a different story, with Oakland now just 5-11 after Monday's loss.

[RELATED: Re-ranking A's top prospects at end of minor league season]

Of course, the A's primary concern right now is simply making the playoffs, and hopefully winning the Wild Card Game. But Oakland fans might want to keep an eye on the battle between the Yankees and Astros, as well.

A's hope prospect Sheldon Neuse can relax after getting first MLB hit

A's hope prospect Sheldon Neuse can relax after getting first MLB hit

Even though Sheldon Neuse had played in just three major-league games, something already was starting to weigh on him.

The A's infielder still was looking for his first big-league hit, beginning his career 0-for-9. Sunday's game certainly would be a great time for it, with the bases loaded in the seventh inning of a scoreless game.

Neuse worked the count to 2-2 against Yankees right-hander Ryan Dull before slapping a two-run double down the right-field line to give Oakland the lead.

"It felt amazing to finally get it out of the way," Neuse told reporters in New York. "The only thing I could think of was, put one in play and score a couple of runs, and now I'm standing on second base at Yankee Stadium. I just took a deep breath, took it all in, and focused back up."

While the Yankees came back to win the game, Neuse still was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief, admittedly nervous to get his batting average above .000.

"Absolutely," Neuse acknowledged. "Every at-bat. Hopefully now I can just kind of calm down and play the game."

"That's huge for him," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He went through a little bit of a drought to get his first hit, but to be able to get it in that spot makes you feel good, especially here [at Yankee Stadium] in a big spot in the game. It gives us a lead. So my guess is he'll relax a little bit more at the plate."

Neuse, 24, is ranked as the A's No. 8 prospect by MLB Pipeline. After a down year last season in Triple-A, he put up huge numbers this year in Las Vegas, slashing .317/.389/.550 with 27 home runs and 102 RBI in 126 games.

"I think I panicked early on [last season] and it just kind of snowballed on me," Neuse explained. "A big thing going into this offseason was just trying to be quieter [in my batting stance] at the plate. So far, it's paid off."

Neuse earned his first career call-up last Thursday, allowing him to reunite with former Las Vegas teammates Seth Brown and A.J. Puk.

"They're excited," Neuse said. "I was excited for them. I think I might've cried a little bit when Seth came up, just seeing the emotions on him. ... Coming in and seeing him here after playing with him all year, it's totally different."

[RELATED: A's need answers for eighth inning]

Neuse has a real opportunity to earn consistent playing time down the stretch. But for now, he's just happy to have his first hit out of the way.

"I got the baseball, and it's in my backpack and it's going home with me," he said.

A's must find eighth-inning answer after gut-punch loss to Yankees

A's must find eighth-inning answer after gut-punch loss to Yankees

It all began to fall apart in the eighth inning, which suddenly is the A's archnemesis.

Like watching a car accident happen in slow motion, an inevitable sense of doom came over the Oakland bullpen at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. Leading 4-0, Jake Diekman walked Mike Tauchman, the Yankees' No. 9 hitter, to start the inning.

Then it was Lou Trivino's turn. The right-hander allowed a single and another walk to load the bases with no outs. Gleyber Torres hit a deep fly ball to center, advancing all three runners and cutting the lead to 4-1.

It was now Liam Hendriks time. Oakland manager Bob Melvin called on his closer for his second five-out save in the last four days. This time, he couldn't get it done.

Hendriks allowed his two inherited runners to score on a single by Didi Gregorius. Then in the ninth inning, he surrendered back-to-back home runs to Brett Gardner and Mike Ford, as the Yankees walked off with a 5-4 victory.

"That's another tough spot to put him in," Melvin told reporters after the game. "We're trying to get two outs in the eighth and just couldn't do it. We were down some guys today and just trying to put our best foot forward. We've asked five outs several times out of him now and that's a tough deal, especially against these guys."

It was the A's 26th blown save of the season, third-most in the majors and just one away from the top spot of an honor no one wants to hold. It also was Oakland's ninth loss when leading after seven innings, seven more than all of last year.

"It was basically a tale of two games, the first seven innings and then the last two," Melvin said. "Unfortunately, we ended up on the wrong end of it."

In reality, an off-game for Hendriks was inevitable, given his grueling workload. The A's have failed to find a reliable eighth-inning option out of the bullpen, which has forced Hendriks into far too many multi-inning outings.

"(I didn't) have the best command and it came back to bite us," Hendriks told reporters. "It's always tough just sitting down and then going back out. I think it's trying to battle your emotions while getting into a situation and somewhat get out of it, and then go back out there with a one-run game. It's a little harder. But it's still no excuse. I needed to get my job done and unfortunately wasn't able to do it, and now we get a loss instead of walking away with a happy flight."

[RELATED: Brown off to historic start with A's]

Perhaps Blake Treinen can step into that role; the right-hander has been much sharper over the past two weeks. Or maybe young A.J. Puk is ready to become the team's primary setup man.

One way or another, the A's have to come up with a solution. Otherwise, losses like Sunday will cost them a playoff spot.