Well, the 2020 MLB Playoffs are upon us. As baseball finally moves into its Bubble phase, 16 teams are squaring off to determine this year’s World Series champion. While it’s hard to think that there won’t be an asterisk next to the 2020 title, a champion will be crowned.
The MLB is a fickle beast. Star-driven and tank-friendly, teams in the dumpster one year can be the king of the mountain the next. With that, stakes are high for almost every team as they make their playoff run, with sought-after stars often heading for greener pastures if they feel their squad can’t get over the hump.
We’re looking at each MLB playoff series and diving into what’s at stake for each team, how they stack up, and the keys to victory for each squad.
So, let’s check-in ahead of the Wild Card series between the Oakland Athletics and the Houston Astros.
Oakland won seven of the 10 matchups between these two teams during the shortened season. The Athletics also outscored the Astros by 13 runs across these games.
Oakland has not been to the ALDS since 2013, when they lost to the Tigers in five games. Houston lost the World Series in seven games last season to the Washington Nationals.
One piece of drama between these teams is last November Athletics starter Mike Fiers shared information on the Astros sign-stealing process in an Athletic article. This is seen as the trigger for the MLB investigation into the Astros.
Oakland’s Keys to Victory:
Utilize their familiarity with the opposition.
The Athletics have been to the playoffs eleven times since 1998 when Billy Beane was promoted to GM and the Moneyball A’s began. They have only advanced past their opening game/series once (2006 ALDS victory vs. MIN).
They have also never faced a fellow AL West team in the postseason during this run. As discussed, the A’s owned the regular-season matchup and should feel confident they can do the same in this series.
A’s outfielders Robbie Grossman and Ramon Laureano each had an OPS over .935 against Houston this season, while slugger Matt Olson went deep three times vs. the Astros. Starters Chris Bassitt, Jesus Luzardo, and Sean Manaea all beat the Astros and had an ERA under 3. Frankie Montas had a 4.11 ERA vs. Houston this year, but he also beat them twice.
Houston’s Keys to Victory:
The Astros still need their offense to wake up as the lineup had a .194/.280/.254 slash line and only one homerun in their two-game sweep of Minnesota.
One potential way to do this is if the A’s send out Fiers to face his former team. Fiers did not pitch against Houston this season, but gave up 12 HR and 24 ER in the 23 innings he pitched vs. the Astros in 2019. And this was before the Astros had the added motivation of going against someone they might consider a whistleblower/snitch.
The Astros are also going to need a lot more from Zack Greinke than they got in the 2019 ALDS, when he gave up 6ER (and 3 HR) in less than four innings. The good news is Greinke has a career 9-3 record and 2.92 ERA vs. the A’s. While he was only 1-1 vs. Oakland this year, he did have a 17/2 K/BB ratio in 17 IP which could be a harbinger of a strong series for the right-hander.
Final Call: Athletics in 4 Games
Again, it comes down to the familiarity. Sure the Astros may have silenced some doubters with their sweep of the Twins. But the numbers from the series still reflect the sub-par team Houston was during the season.
The Athletics meanwhile had a .700 winning percentage vs. Houston this year for a reason (they are a better team), and will continue having the upper-hand in this series. A’s slugger Matt Chapman had a 1.450 OPS and 3 HR vs. Houston this year, and if he was not out for the season it would probably be a sweep for Oakland.
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