BY ANTHONY SOSA
Justin Verlander and the Houston Astros overpowered the Oakland Athletics Thursday as they took the third and final game of the series, 7-3, to complete a three-game sweep at the Oakland Coliseum. In the three games, the Astros outscored the A’s 26-11.
The A’s had no easy task at the plate, as they took on one of the best pitchers in baseball. Entering the game, Verlander owned a 1.49 ERA, which ranked best among all qualified starters in baseball. He entered leading the league in WHIP (0.76) and batting average against (.157) with his 113 strikeouts ranked fifth most.
In the bottom of the second inning, Khris Davis launched a Verlander fastball into the left-field bleachers for a solo home run. It was Davis’ 20th home run of the campaign. He trails just Mike Trout (23) and J.D. Martinez (22) on the home run leader board.
For the Athletics, Frankie Montas came into the game having made three previous starts this season. In all of those, Montas earned a win and a quality start. His ERA sat at an impressive 1.25. However, facing a strong Astros’ lineup, Montas hit a few road bumps in this outing.
In the first inning, despite getting the first two batters out, Montas still managed to allow two runs to score. Carlos Correa singled and was knocked in when Yuli Gurriel drove a double into the left-center gap. Josh Reddick then singled Gurriel home. “You know what, it’s a good hitting team that’s swinging the bat real well right now,” Melvin said about the Astros’ success against Montas. “Looked like every ball he got in the middle of the plate, similar to everybody in this series, they hit.”
The Astros added another run in the top of the third inning. After a walk and a wild pitch put Jose Altuve on second, Correa singled him home and gave them their third run of the game. Things really started to unravel for Montas in the top of the fourth. He walked Marwin Gonzalez and then surrendered a two-run homer to Brian McCann. It was McCann’s fifth home run of the season. The lone bright spot of the inning came when Montas got Correa to ground into a double-play with the bases loaded, which prevented what could have been even more damage from being done.
After an uneventful fifth inning, the Astros bats came alive again in the sixth. After Chapman dropped a pop-up to start the inning, Tony Kemp singled to put runners on first and second. Montas then got Alex Bregman to ground the ball to Chapman, but after stepping on third, Chapman overthrew Matt Olson at first allowing Kemp to score. Altuve followed with an RBI double. Melvin pulled Montas after he walked Correa.
Montas final line included 5 1/3 innings pitched where he gave up seven runs (five earned) on 11 hits and four walks. He was only able to punch out one Astros’ batter. “Probably at other times, we’d get him out a little earlier but where we were with our bullpen, he knew he had to be out there for a while,” Melvin said. “He stuck it out for his team, but probably not as good as we’ve seen him the last three times.”
Along with the two errors made by Chapman in the fifth inning, he also misplayed another pop-up earlier in the game as well. The sun looked to play a big factor as it was clear many players struggled with it Thursday afternoon. Chapman doesn’t wear sunglasses and after the game he was asked if he would consider wearing them in future day games at the Coliseum. “I’m going to figure something out. Obviously, that can’t keep happening,” Chapman said. “To be honest with you, I’m not very comfortable wearing sunglasses. I don’t mind it with fly balls, but with ground balls, especially when they are close, it’s something I’m not fully comfortable with.”
After Davis’ home run, the A’s recorded just two hits the following four innings. However, in the bottom of the seventh inning, Verlander gave up a double to Davis and then a two-run shot to Matt Olson. It was Olson’s 13th home run of the year. Verlander finished the game with seven innings pitched, allowing three runs on five hits. He struck out seven batters. Despite earning the win and quality start, Verlander’s ERA rose to 1.61.
The Astros have now won eight straight games. They own a 45-25 record, which has them currently tied with the Seattle Mariners for first place in the AL West. As for the A’s, they fall to 34-35 and remain in fourth place in the division.
After completing their series with the Astros, the A’s continue their homestand as the Los Angeles Angels come into Oakland for the second time this season. In six meetings this season, the A’s are 2-4 against their division rivals from Orange County. On Friday, Chris Bassit (0-1, 1.29) takes the mound for the Athletics. He was called up by the team before Thursday’s game. For the Angels, lanky left-hander Tyler Skaggs (5-4, 3.08) toes the rubber. The game is set for 6:35 p.m. at the Oakland Coliseum.
After the game, Melvin said that Chapman was removed from the game in the seventh inning due to a right-hand contusion. Chapman confirmed it’s an injury that he dealt with in Spring Training as well, and toward the end of the 2017 season. “It’s hard to really say. It’s kind of gotten progressively worse over the last couple days, but I was just trying to push through it,” Chapman said about his hand injury. “It just flared up on me today. My hand was in a lot of pain. Just kind of swelling up. We’re getting an MRI and then we’re going to go from there.”
Before today’s game, the Athletics placed starting pitcher Trevor Cahill on the 10-day DL with a strained achilles tendon. Cahill was scratched from his scheduled start last Saturday. He joins seven other A’s that are currently on the DL. The seven include Matt Joyce, Boog Powell, Andrew Triggs, Brett Anderson, Ryan Buchter, Jharel Cotton and Daniel Gossett.
The Athletics also optioned reliever Danny Coulombe to triple-A Nashville. Along with the A’s calling up Bassit, they also called up reliever Carlos Ramirez. With Coulombe in the minor leagues, they currently do not have a left-handed pitcher in their bullpen.
Despite Semien committing 11 errors in 2018, the most by any shortstop in baseball, Melvin still had high praise for the defensive improvement he’s shown. “For me, the difference with Marcus, is he makes all the routine plays now,” Melvin said before Thursday’s game. “That was an issue for him for a while. He’s worked really hard to put himself in the position he is in.”
Evan Gattis, despite not having a big game on Thursday, killed the Athletics in this series. He finished 5-for-14 with three home runs, 10 RBI and three runs scored.