Having disposed of the team with the worst record in the American League, the Oakland Athletics turn their attention to the defending champions when they open a three-game series against the Houston Astros on Monday night.
The clubs met in Houston late in April, with the Astros taking two of three.
The AL West rivals have headed in different directions since then, with the A’s winning four of six and the Astros losing five of seven.
The series begins with half of the same pitching matchup as the opener in Houston, a game won 8-1 by the A’s, bombing Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel (1-5, 3.98 ERA) in the process.
Oakland won that game behind the strong pitching of Sean Manaea. The A’s will hand the ball to fellow left-hander Brett Anderson (0-0, 2.84) on Monday.
The one run of offensive support that Keuchel received against the A’s was typical of his season, helping explain how someone with an ERA below 4.00 could share the AL lead in losses.
Keuchel has allowed three or fewer runs in six of his seven starts (all but the game against Oakland), but has received just four total runs of support in his five losses.
The former Cy Young Award winner didn’t need a lot of support last season against the A’s, going 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA. That raised his career record to 5-5 with a 2.88 ERA in 19 meetings, including 17 starts.
The Astros’ two-out-of-three success in the earlier series was consistent with their mastery of the A’s in recent years. Houston has gone 27-14 against Oakland since the start of the 2016 season.
The A’s reversal of fortunes this season coincided with the scrap-heap signings of otherwise unwanted veteran free agents Trevor Cahill and Anderson.
Oakland has won three of Cahill’s four starts, including 2-0 in walk-off fashion in the middle of their three-game weekend sweep of the Baltimore Orioles.
Anderson has made just one start after beginning the season in the minors, going into the seventh inning of a 3-2 win last Monday in Seattle.
Both Cahill and Anderson, unsigned through most of spring training, are experiencing a reunion with the A’s after having had successful stints with the franchise earlier in their careers.
“You get an Anderson, you get a Cahill, and we’ll probably go after (Mark) Mulder at some point and see if (Barry) Zito will make a comeback,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said with a chuckle Sunday. “It’s a little bit of a back-to-the-future here, but these guys are pitching well.
“They kept themselves ready. It was a tough spring for free agents, guys who didn’t have jobs until late. It’s impressive what they’re doing.”
Anderson is 1-1 with a 2.40 ERA in three games (two starts) against the Astros in his career.
Both teams are coming off nail-biting weekends, one that ended favorably for the A’s but not for the Astros.
After Khris Davis belted a two-run homer to end Saturday’s 2-0, 12-inning win over the Orioles, the A’s again needed just a two-run inning to dispose of Baltimore 2-1 on Sunday. This time, it came in the fourth, with Matt Olson providing the difference-making RBI double.
The Astros, meanwhile, were on the losing end of a walk-off Saturday in a 4-3 loss at Arizona, before seeing staff ace Justin Verlander surrender a two-run triple to A.J. Pollock in the sixth inning of a 3-1 loss in the series finale.