The Oakland A’s have an impressive record of 71-53. Over the past few weeks, they have been playing good baseball keeping themselves right in the thick of the wildcard race. The A’s current homestand, which began this past Thursday, is arguably one of the most important and challenging of the season given the teams they are facing  (Astros, Yankees, and Giants) and the fact that any loss coupled with a Rays win would push the A’s farther back in the wild card hunt. 

The Astros came to Oakland these past four days to kick off the potential season-altering homestand. The A’s, who prior to the series had not had much success against Houston this year, changed that narrative by winning the first three games of the four-game set. They won each game in a different way. On Thursday night, the A’s outslugged the Astros 7-6 in a game that felt like a home run derby. Each team bombed five home runs, but it was Matt Chapman’s tie-breaking and game-winning home run in the bottom of the 8th inning that was the most significant. Normally in Oakland, the ball doesn’t carry as much due to the marine layer and overall cooler temperature than other places. However, the weather on Thursday night was significantly warmer than most Bay Area nights which might explain why there were so many home runs. On Friday night, the A’s managed to win a game in which their longtime pitching nemesis Justin Verlander started. Recently acquired Tanner Roark held the Astros mostly in check and the A’s, in turn, got to Verlander for two solo home runs. Giving up home runs has been Verlander’s lone weakness this year. The game dragged on and on until finally, in the 13th inning, the A’s broke the 2-2 deadlock on a Robbie Grossman walk-off single–the first of his career. The following day, the A’s knocked around a pitcher making a spot start for Astros co-ace Gerrit Cole who was out with hamstring tightness. Amazingly, they managed to score eight runs and win 8-4 despite not hitting a single home run. To illustrate how much the A’s rely on the home run to win games, the win on Saturday improved their record to 3-26 for games in which they don’t hit a home run. Unfortunately, despite a Semien home run in the bottom of the 4th, the A’s came up short yesterday failing to complete the four-game sweep of arguably the most complete team in the American League.

Tomorrow, trailing the Astros by 7 for the division and the Rays by 1-and-a-half games for the second wild-card, the A’s will welcome the Yankees for a three-game series. It will be the first meeting for these two historic franchises since the Yankees defeated the A’s in last year’s AL Wild Card Game. The Yankees, whom many believe are the Astros’ main competition in the American League, have had a fantastic season despite getting no contribution from big-money injury-prone slugger Giancarlo Stanton and injured ace starting pitcher Luis Severino. Despite losing one regular after another to injury, the Yankees just keep on winning. It will be another tough series and thus another chance for the A’s to prove that they can beat a potential playoff opponent while keeping pace or hopefully passing the Rays for that second wild card.

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To help out the bullpen, today the A’s promoted their 2nd best prospect: left-handed pitcher AJ Puk. Puk, a 2016 first-round draft choice out of the University of Florida, is a classic power pitcher who throws an upper 90’s fastball complemented with a nasty slider. Puk pitched well in spring training of 2018 and was expected to make his MLB debut last year, but unfortunately had to undergo Tommy John surgery. He has been rehabbing from surgery in the minors as a reliever to conserve his innings, but is expected to return as a starting pitcher next year.

I’m looking forward to an exciting series and hope fellow A’s fans show their support by packing the Coliseum to cheer on the green and gold the next few days. 

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AJ Puk

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