OAKLAND — The A’s must take care of business at home in order to contend in the American League West, and they’re taking baby steps in the right direction.
Despite missing out on a sweep with Sunday’s 2-1 loss to the Houston Astros, the A’s have won their past two series at the Coliseum after dropping seven of their first eight home games. They’ve shown the ability to pull games out in the late innings in front of the home crowd, though that didn’t happen Sunday, when they let the Astros escape with a win despite the visitors mustering just two hits.
Now the A’s welcome the Seattle Mariners, one of the AL’s hottest teams recently, for three games at the Coliseum beginning Monday. The Mariners had won eight of 10 before losing to Kansas City on Sunday, and they seem like such an appropriate measuring stick for this A’s club.
Both teams stumbled to losing records in 2015 and are looking to prove they are legitimate contenders this season. Which team can take meaningful steps forward in a division that seems wide open right now given how badly the Astros are floundering in last place?
Seattle, under first-year GM Jerry Dipoto and first-year manager Scott Servais, is off to a 13-11 start, which doesn’t exactly jump off the standings page. But the Mariners are rolling, winning five series in a row for the first time since 2011.
However, the A’s should be bolstered by memories of their three-game sweep at Safeco Field back in early April. Two of the starters they’ll see this week they also faced in Seattle. They hung a loss that weekend on Nathan Karns, who will oppose Kendall Graveman on Monday. They also pulled out a late-game win on a day that Felix Hernandez displayed dominant form. He takes the ball Wednesday afternoon in an entertaining matchup with rookie Sean Manaea. Hisashi Iwakuma will pitch the middle game, an important one for the A’s as Sonny Gray will look to rebound from the shortest start of his career his last time out.
“We just want to play our game, continue to build on what we did against them the last time,” shortstop Marcus Semien said. “Felix and Karns, those are two guys that we’ve seen. We saw how they attacked us. Just play solid defense and get some more hits, timely hits, and I think we’ll do better.”
Semien delivered the only timely hit for the A’s on Sunday with his RBI single in the seventh, which cut the Astros’ lead to 2-1. But Oakland couldn’t finish off the sweep despite the Astros not registering a hit past the third inning. The A’s took the first two games but — and it’s hard to fathom — they are still without a sweep of three or more games at the Coliseum since July 3-6, 2014.
“We had some opportunities if someone gets a big hit,” manager Bob Melvin said. “When you only give up two runs and two hits, then you have an opportunity to get back in the game and potentially go ahead. We just weren’t able to do it, so yeah, it’s a little bit frustrating.”
Though it won’t impact the Seattle series, one addition the A’s are looking forward to is that of third baseman Danny Valencia. His strained left hamstring is healing nicely. Valencia went through a full pregame fielding session with infield coach Ron Washington on Sunday, and he’s slated to begin a three-game rehabilitation assignment with Single-A Stockton on Monday. If all goes well, he’ll return to the lineup Friday in Baltimore for the start of a nine-game road trip.
Chris Coghlan has started all 11 games at third in Valencia’s absence. And though he’s homered three times in that stretch, he’s also just 5-for-37 (.135) and has struck out eight times in past five games. Coghlan did single and score the A’s only run Sunday.