Astros-Athletics Preview

TOM CASTRO (STATS Senior Editor)
The Associated Press

Despite their major-league best record, the Oakland Athletics haven't been an impressive offensive team in July.

They may be on the way to changing that after their last game, however, and they've put together some impressive hitting displays against the Houston Astros this season.

Oakland also looks to continue its outstanding pitching when it sends Scott Kazmir to the mound to open a three-game home series with the Astros on Tuesday night.

The A's (61-37) came into Sunday's matchup with Baltimore batting .234 this month, but pounded out 15 hits in a 10-2 rout. Despite its July slump, Oakland is second in the majors with 4.95 runs per game and has won 10 of 14 after taking two of three from the AL East-leading Orioles.

Sonny Gray pitched 6 2-3 innings of two-run ball for the A's, whose 3.12 ERA is among the best in the baseball.

As good as Gray has been, Kazmir (11-3, 2.38 ERA) has been even better, with an ERA that's sixth best in the majors among starters. The All-Star left-hander has given up two or fewer runs in 10 of his last 12 outings, and he's 6-1 with a 1.57 ERA at home in 2014.

Kazmir won his second straight start July 10, throwing seven scoreless innings and giving up three hits in a 6-1 win at San Francisco.

"He gives up zero, one or two runs and gets you deep in the game," manager Bob Melvin told MLB's official website. "He's been as consistent as anybody in the league - both leagues."

Kazmir, who pitched two-thirds of an inning and didn't allow a run in the Midsummer Classic last Tuesday, has gone 2-1 with a 3.60 ERA in five career starts against Houston. The most recent came April 24, when he threw six innings of one-run ball in a 10-1 road victory.

Oakland also beat the Astros 12-5 the next day - its third double-digit run performance in the season series - to give it a 5-0 mark against Houston this year, though the Astros rebounded to take the last two in that four-game set. The A's have won 20 of 26 meetings since the teams became division rivals.

The Astros (41-58) also broke out offensively Sunday as they ended a three-game skid, beating the Chicago White Sox 11-7. Houston tied a season high with 17 hits and matched its run total of the previous five games, during which it went 1-4.

The club turned in the big offensive performance despite the absence of George Springer, who leads the team with 20 home runs but sat due to soreness in his quad and right leg. He's the third starting Astros outfielder to get hurt in the past month, joining Dexter Fowler and Alex Presley.

Springer is expected to return during this series.

"Obviously he wants to play and we would love to have him in the lineup, but at the same time, sometimes you have to protect them from themselves," Porter said. "This is one of those situations where, from a medical standpoint and my standpoint, we want to protect him from himself."

Brett Oberholtzer (2-7, 4.50) has posted a 3.09 ERA in his last five starts. The left-hander, though, opposed Kazmir on April 24 and gave up six runs in 3 2-3 innings.

All-Star Jose Altuve, batting .419 in the season series, is 6 for 13 with two doubles against Kazmir. Oakland's Josh Donaldson, who had two hits and two RBIs on Sunday, is 4 for 8 with two doubles and a homer off Oberholtzer. The A's third baseman is batting .346 with four home runs and 10 RBIs against Houston this year.