This was not what the rest of the division was hoping to see. An Astros team that stumbled their way through a .300 winning percentage in the Grapefruit League flew cross-country and transformed themselves back into the swaggering bullies of 2015-19.
Say cheese, Chas!
(c) Associated Press
You remember these Astros, the ones that terrorized the neighborhood? They were the type that knocked you over, stole your lunch money and walked away laughing while they tacked on a few extra runs just because they could. Well, judging from the carnage in Oakland this weekend, those guys are back.
Heck, Jose Altuve showed such disrespect that he charged home from third on an infield pop up and scored as the stunned fielder gathered himself and flung a three-hopper to the plate. No wonder the COVID-restricted crowd spewed their venom at the Texans. The easiest way to shut them up apparently is to put a nine-spot on the scoreboard.
Oakland hadn't seen this much damage since the 1989 earthquake - blowouts of 8-1, 9-5, 9-1 and 9-2 as Houston made it a clean sweep. The Astros treated the reigning division champs as if they were a bunch of rag-armed Mariners or Rangers. For the Athletics, this was devastating.
The Spacemen scored just short of nine runs per game in the series while limiting the A's to just over two. Worse, Oakland was held to 21 hits in the four-game set - that's just over five per game.
Zack Greinke buzzed through six shutout innings while Cristian Javier, Lance McCullers and Jose Urquidy each struggled out of the gate before settling down. Once they saw the support they were getting from the batters, the more they likely relaxed.
Houston received offensive support from likely sources (Alex Bregman, Michael Brantley, Yuli Gurriel, Yordan Alvarez) but also some unlikely ones (Jason Castro, Chas McCormick). Baker's Dozen had cooked up a delicious appetizer to the 2021 season.
Next up on the schedule is a trip to Disneyland to face the Anaheim Angels at LaLaLand. The Halos have broken fast out the gate themselves, taking three-of-four from the White Sox who were thought to be dark horses to win the American League crown after some free agent shopping this winter.
Young Luis Garcia, the surprise ALCS Game 5 starter last year, will try to keep the momentum going as he opposes lefthander Jose Quintana in an 8:38 Central time Monday opener. Greinke (1-0) returns in the 3:07 pm Tuesday contest against righty Griffin Canning who hopes to bottle the Astros in heavy syrup.
Regardless, the road trip is already a success, putting the Athletics into a four-game hole four games into the season and ensuring a winning record on their first west coast swing. Once that trip is done, the Astros set up shop at Minute Maid Park and their first guests will be none other than the recently-vanquished A's.
The only negative of the trip so far is that Brantley will miss a few days after he was hit on the hand by a pitch while batting Saturday. X-rays were negative and he'll probably sit awhile to heal up before returning to action. McCormick got his first start in Brantley's place on Sunday, striking a three-run homer. It was his first big league home run.
- Bob Hulsey