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USATSI

The Oakland Athletics wrapped up a five-game series win over the Houston Astros at RingCentral Coliseum (OAK 3, HOU 1) on Thursday afternoon. The A's won four of five and are now 6 1/2 games up in the AL West with 18 games to play. Not to brag, but a certain CBS Sports baseball scribe totally called Oakland winning four of five (just ignore the Tommy La Stella part).

The first 22 batters of Thursday's game made outs and it wasn't until Mark Canha led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a solid single to left that the dual no-hitter came to an end. The Astros picked up their first hit in the top of the sixth. Matt Olson's go-ahead two-run home run in the bottom half of that inning was the game's decisive blow.

The star of Thursday's win was A's lefty Sean Manaea, who held the Astros to one run on two hits in seven innings. He struck out four and did not walk a batter. Manaea threw only 61 pitches in those seven innings too. He was dominant and efficient, and it extends his recent run of excellence. Manaea now has a 1.98 ERA in his last five starts.

Check out the run Manaea is on:


IPERAWHIPK/9BB/9HR/9

First four starts

15

9.00

1.87

7.8

2.4

1.8

Last five starts

27 1/3

1.98

0.80

6.9

0.7

0.4

2020 totals

42 1/3

4.46

1.18

7.2

1.3

0.9

The strikeouts are down slightly in the last five starts but the walks and home runs are down considerably, and I'm guessing the A's and Manaea will happily trade a few strikeouts for fewer walks and homers. He's never been a high-strikeout guy anyway. His game is keeping hitters off balance and generating weak contact, and he's doing that now after struggling earlier this year.

Manaea was limited to five starts last season by major shoulder surgery -- he had a 1.21 ERA in those five starts, which earned him the start in the AL Wild Card Game -- and the Athletics are taking it easy on him this year. He's yet to throw more than 86 pitches in a start and he's averaged only 70.2 pitches in his nine starts. The A's rarely let him face the lineup a third time, but it works.

Oakland's rotation falls into the "good but not great" category this season but they do have six legitimate starters in Manaea, Chris Bassitt, Mike Fiers, Jesus Luzardo, Frankie Montas, and trade deadline pickup Mike Minor. With a postseason spot is in the bag, the A's are now in the process of figuring out who they will start in the best-of-three Wild Card round. 

Earlier this year Montas was the obvious Game 1 starter in the postseason, though he's allowed 20 runs in 14 2/3 innings in his last four starts, which hurts his cause. Luzardo has been mostly good, occasionally brilliant, and sometimes bad. Manaea, given his pedigree and his recent performance, is the odds-on favorite to be the guy in Game 1 now, regardless of opponent. 

No matter which way they go in Game 1, the A's know they have a powerhouse bullpen to fall back on as well as a quality offense and fantastic team defense. They're one of the most well-rounded teams in the game and, even after winning 97 games the last two years, the 2020 version might be their best with their core yet. A dominant Manaea only makes them that much more formidable.