Just because the schedule over the coming two weeks aligned perfectly for the Houston Astros doesn't mean there were guarantees for success. That much was apparent on Monday.
Having won 10 of 14 games behind an offense posting frequent double-digit run totals, the Astros (82-63) fell 4-0 to the cellar-dwelling Oakland Athletics in the first of nine games over the next 12 against the two worst teams in the majors: the Athletics (45-99) and Kansas City Royals (44-100).
Houston will host Oakland again on Tuesday night.
The Astros averaged 11 runs per game in their previous 10 wins, a surge that propelled them to the top of the American League West.
However, they ceded ground in the division when Athletics rookie right-hander Mason Miller and bulk reliever Ken Waldichuk combined to limit Houston to one hit over eight innings. Waldichuk followed the flame-throwing Miller — who tossed 11 pitches at 100-plus mph over two frames — with six no-hit innings of sparkling relief. Trevor May finished with one inning of two-hit relief.
If the Astros had designs on coasting against inferior opposition, those thoughts were quickly shelved.
"It doesn't matter who you're playing if a guy is dealing on the mound out there — and that's what they were doing," Houston manager Dusty Baker said. "They pitched a hell of a game against us."
Justin Verlander (11-7, 3.23 ERA) has the starting assignment for the Astros on Tuesday.
The 40-year-old right-hander rebounded from his worst start since joining Houston at the trade deadline by limiting the Texas Rangers to two runs (one earned) on four hits and one walk with six strikeouts over seven innings in a 12-3 road victory on Wednesday. Verlander improved to 5-2 with a 3.43 ERA over seven starts with the Astros following his acquisition from the New York Mets.
Verlander is 16-7 with a 2.49 ERA over 27 career regular-season starts against the Athletics. He also is 4-0 with a stellar 1.24 ERA in five career postseason outings vs. the A's.
In his most recent start against Oakland, Verlander pitched five no-hit innings while allowing one walk with nine strikeouts in a 5-0 home victory for Houston on Sept. 16, 2022.
JP Sears (4-11, 4.51 ERA) is the scheduled starter for Oakland on Tuesday. It will be the team-leading 29th start of the season for the left-hander, the only pitcher to spend the entire season in the Oakland rotation. Sears, 2-0 with an ERA of 0.82 in two starts this month, has hit a big-league-high 15 batters and has allowed 31 home runs, tied for the fifth-highest total in the majors.
Sears is 0-1 with a 5.52 ERA across three career appearances (two starts) against the Astros. He has faced Houston twice this season, surrendering seven runs on 13 hits and two walks with eight strikeouts over 11 2/3 innings.
Behind solo home runs from Brent Rooker, Shea Langeliers and Ryan Noda on Monday, the Athletics improved to 11-9 over their past 20 games. In that span, they are 3-4 against the top three teams in the AL West: Houston, Texas and the Seattle Mariners.
"It's confidence for us for the rest of this year moving into next year," Rooker said. "We've got a young team, an inexperienced team, but we came out here and competed and won a game. We competed in Texas, we competed in Seattle a week or so ago.
"I think we're showing ourselves that there are three elite teams in our division and we can compete with them and we can beat them, and I think that's huge for us moving forward."
The A's are one game ahead of the Royals, who have lost four in a row, in the race to avoid the majors' worst record.
—Field Level Media