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USATSI

Monday night at RingCentral Coliseum, the Oakland Athletics and Houston Astros will begin a five games in four days series that could very well determine the AL West race. The two teams will play a doubleheader Tuesday to make up their Aug. 30 game which was postponed after the A's had a positive COVID-19 test.

Here are the AL West standings as of Monday morning (here is our daily postseason outlook):  

  1. Athletics: 23-14
  2. Astros: 21-19 (3 1/2 GB)
  3. Mariners: 18-22 (6 1/2 GB)
  4. Angels: 17-25 (8 1/2 GB)
  5. Rangers: 13-26 (11 GB)

The A's and Astros are close to postseason locks, according to Sportsline, which gives both teams at least a 98 percent chance to make the postseason. The question is which team will win the division and secure home-field advantage in the Wild Card Round, and which team will settle for second place and possibly have to go on the road to face one of those AL Central powerhouses?

"It's a key series every time we play them as the season goes along," A's manager Bob Melvin told reporters over the weekend, including John Hickey of Sports Illustrated. "It's getting more and more important, especially since this is the last time we play them this year."

Here are the details for this week's five-game series in Oakland. Games can be streamed regionally on fuboTV (try for free).  

DateStart timeStarting pitchersTV

Mon., Sept. 7

9:10 p.m. ET

RHP Chris Bassitt (2-2, 3.72) vs. RHP Cristian Javier (4-1, 3.35)

NBC Sports California, AT&T SportsNet Southwest

Tues., Sept, 8

6:20 p.m. ET (Game 1)

RHP Frankie Montas (2-3, 6.06) vs. RHP Zack Greinke (3-0, 2.91)

NBC Sports California, AT&T SportsNet Southwest  

Tues., Sept. 9

TBD (Game 2)

LHP Mike Minor (0-5, 5.94) vs. TBA

NBC Sports California, AT&T SportsNet Southwest  

Weds., Sept. 10

9:10 p.m. ET

LHP Jesus Luzardo (2-2, 4.23) vs. RHP Luis Garcia (0-0, 2.08)

NBC Sports California, AT&T SportsNet Southwest  

Thurs., Sept. 11

3:40 p.m. ET

LHP Sean Manaea (3-2, 5.09) vs. RHP Jose Urquidy (0-0, 4.91)

NBC Sports California, AT&T SportsNet Southwest  

The Astros, it should be noted, will be the home team for Game 1 of Tuesday's doubleheader. That's the makeup game of the Aug. 30 postponement in Houston. The game will be played in Oakland, of course, but the Astros will bat in the bottom half of the inning.

Here are five things to know about this week's five-game series in Oakland, with a prediction thrown in at the end for good measure.

1. The season series has been pretty even

As noted by Melvin earlier, this will be the final series of the regular season between these two AL West rivals. The season series to date has been pretty even. Here's a recap:

in OAKLAND

in HOUSTON

  • Aug. 29 (Game 1): HOU 4, OAK 2 in 7 innings (box score)
  • Aug. 29 (Game 2): HOU 6, OAK 3 in 7 innings (box score)

The scheduled Aug. 28 series opener at Minute Maid Park between these two teams was postponed to protest racial injustice. The scheduled Aug. 30 finale of that series was postponed after the A's had a positive COVID-19 test.

The Athletics hold a 3-2 season series lead and have outscored the Astros 18-15 in their five games to date. That Aug. 7 game was essentially a coin flip game, so yeah, the season series has been even. Each team is undefeated in its home ballpark, which would seem to bode well for Oakland this week, though what happened last month doesn't really matter now.

2. There is lingering bad blood

Ramon Laureano
OAK • CF • 22
BA.235
R16
HR4
RBI13
SB1
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These two clubs do not like each other, that has been evident for a few years now, but things escalated on Aug. 9, when the benches cleared in Oakland. A's center fielder Ramon Laureano was upset after being hit by a pitch for the second time in the game and exchanged words with Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron, then charged the dugout.

Here's the video:

Laureano was suspended six games for his role in the brawl -- it was later reduced to four games on appeal -- while Cintron was hit with a massive 20-game suspension, the longest ever given to a coach. Laureano alleged Cintron said something about his mother, which prompted him to charge the dugout.

"I regret charging him because he's a loser," Laureano later said.

While I would always bet against another benches-clearing incident, it's clear there is no love lost between these two clubs. It goes beyond the brawl last month too. Houston is on everyone's bad side following the sign-stealing scandal, which came to light thanks to whistleblower and A's righty Mike Fiers, who is not scheduled to pitch this series. The Astros have a target on their back, for sure.

3. The Astros are reeling

The A's dropped two of three to the Padres over the weekend and they've lost four of their last five games overall, so they're not exactly flying high at the moment, but they're not as downtrodden as the Astros, who have lost four straight and allowed 32 runs in those four games, all against the Angels.

It's not just four straight losses either. They were crushing losses. The Astros lost on an 11th-inning walk-off Friday night and a seventh-inning walk-off in Game 1 of Saturday's doubleheader. They then blew a two-run lead in the seventh inning of Game 2 of Saturday's doubleheader, and allowed four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning of a tie game Sunday. Ouch.

Houston really taxed its pitching staff this weekend too. They needed 10 1/3 innings from their bullpen in Friday's extra-innings game because starter Lance McCullers Jr. exited with an injury before recording an out, then they played the doubleheader Saturday. Lefty Framber Valdez wore it Sunday, throwing 108 pitches in seven innings while allowing eight runs.

The Astros won eight straight games from Aug. 12-20 to improve their record to 15-10. Since then, they are 6-9 and have seen their AL West title chances dip down to 23.5 percent, according to Sportsline, which is better than I would've guessed.  

4. Who's hot, who's not?

Kyle Tucker
HOU • LF • 30
BA.284
R29
HR8
RBI37
SB5
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It feels like he's been around forever, but Astros outfielder Kyle Tucker is still only 23, and he is enjoying a breakout season. The No. 5 overall pick in the 2015 draft is hitting .284/.338/.596 this season, and he's been off the charts good these last two weeks. Tucker and fellow outfielders Michael Brantley and George Springer have carried the load offensively.

Here are their last two weeks:


PAAVG/OBP/SLGHRRBI

Michael Brantley

44

.350/.409/.625

2

11

George Springer

44

.289/.372/.632

3

5

Kyle Tucker

46

.390/.457/.854

4

17

On the flip side, first baseman Yuli Gurriel has struggled a bit these last two weeks, hitting an empty .268/.279/.390 in 43 plate appearances. Carlos Correa owns a good but not great .282/.317/.436 batting line in 41 plate appearances over the last 14 days. The Astros need more from Correa and Gurriel with Altuve, Alvarez, and Bregman sidelined.

Because of their recent COVID-19 shutdown, the Athletics have played only eight games the last 14 days, and in those eight games they've hit .224/.314/.360 as a team and averaged only 3.88 runs per game. Matt Olson has led the way with a .296/.406/.481 line in 31 plate appearances these last two weeks. Mark Canha (.167/.375/.208) and the now-injured Matt Chapman (.120/.185/.240) have held the offense back in those eight games, though Canha is at least getting on base.

5. Both teams have key players out injured

headshot-image
Matt Chapman
3B •
BA.252
R22
HR10
RBI25
SB0

Every team has lost important players to injuries in this unusual season, it seems, and the Astros and Athletics are no exception. McCullers exited Friday's start with nerve irritation in his neck, and he was placed on the injured list Sunday. That further thins out an Astros pitching staff already decimated by injuries:

Osuna and Verlander might be done for the year and there is no firm timetable for James to return. On top of that, the Astros are also without Jose Altuve (knee sprain), Yordan Alvarez (knee surgery), and Alex Bregman (hamstring strain). Alvarez is done for the season and Altuve was just placed on the injured list this past weekend. Bregman could return soon though.

"I'm ready and I'm excited," Bregman told reporters late last week, including MLB.com's Brian McTaggart. "... Everything's been going extremely well. I've run up to 100 percent, taken swings, taken ground balls and feel good during all of it. Just trying to listen to our training staff's advice, but I feel good, feel strong. Especially in that hamstring, I feel really, really good."

As for the Athletics, they are currently without their All-Star left side of the infield. Iron man Marcus Semien has been sidelined with a side injury for over a week, but could take batting practice Monday and return to the field soon thereafter, according to MLB.com's Martin Gallegos. Chapman, meanwhile, exited Sunday's game with a hip problem. He went for an MRI.

"It's not great timing, period, to lose a player like that," Melvin told reporters following the game, including Gallegos, adding the hip issue is something Chapman has dealt with on and off this season.  "We've actually been pretty fortunate with few injuries. To lose a guy like Chappy would hurt if it was an extended period."

On the pitching side, the A's are without promising youngster A.J. Puk, who has been out all year with a shoulder problem. Breakout righty Burch Smith is likely done for the season with a forearm strain and swingman Daniel Mengden is on the COVID-19 injured list. There is no timetable for his return. As good as the Astros and Athletics are, this five-game series will lack some of their biggest stars.

Prediction

We're going to close with a prediction, so feel free to bookmark this post and use it to mock me in five days. The official CBS Sports prediction: Athletics win four of five and put the AL West race on ice. The Astros are without too many important players and their pitching staff is both extremely young -- 10 of the 15 pitchers on their active roster have less than one year of service time -- and a bit overwhelmed at the moment. The A's are dynamite at home (14-6 with a plus-17 run differential) and simply the better team at this point. Trade deadline addition Tommy La Stella is the hypothetical series MVP with three multi-hit games.