Oakland Athletics, Houston Astros get playoff rematch to open season

Mar 20, 2021; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Oakland Athletics pitcher Chris Bassitt against the Los Angeles Angels during a Spring Training game at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Athletics seek to continue their 2020 regular-season mastery of the visiting Houston Astros when last year’s top two teams in the American League West go head-to-head Thursday night on Opening Day of the 2021 season.

Right-handers Chris Bassitt (5-2, 2.29 ERA in 2020) of the A’s and Zack Greinke (3-3, 4.03) of the Astros will get the series-opening assignments when the clubs meet again after Houston ended Oakland’s season with a 3-1 series win in the AL Division Series.

Bassitt pitched Game 1 of the series and Greinke Game 4. Both left with a lead in their game, with the Astros rallying to take the opener and holding on in the series-clincher.

The postseason series was played in Los Angeles, but eight of the teams’ 10 regular-seasons meetings last year were held in Oakland. The A’s took seven of the 10, two in walk-off fashion en route to the AL West regular-season crown. The Astros finished second, seven games back.

All three Astros wins were in seven-inning affairs. The teams played two doubleheaders, one at each site.

The A’s outscored the Astros 38-25 in the regular season, with the series gaining notoriety when Oakland outfielder Ramon Laureano charged the Houston dugout to confront Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron.

Laureano received a four-game suspension, while Cintron was banished for 20 games.

Matt Chapman, who sustained a torn left hip labrum on Sept. 6 and missed the final 23 games of the regular season, as well as both of Oakland’s playoff series, crushed Astros pitching to the tune of a .450 average with three home runs and seven RBIs in five games.

Matt Olson also homered three times, three of the just four hits he had in 36 at-bats over 10 games against Houston.

Not counting the playoff game, in which he did not get a decision, Bassitt faced the Astros four times last season, going 1-1 with a 2.65 ERA.

He is 3-2 with a 3.53 ERA against Houston in his career in nine games, including eight starts.

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“Based on what he accomplished last year, I think he probably would have been surprised if he wasn’t the guy,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of the announcement of his Opening Day pitcher. “He was appreciative. This kind of starts a different level for Chris Bassitt.”

One guy Bassitt won’t have to deal with this time around is George Springer, who holds the distinction of having hit the first major league home run ever allowed by the right-hander in April 2015.

Springer, who left Houston for a free agent offer from the Toronto Blue Jays in the offseason, also was rough on A’s pitching in the regular season last year, hitting .296 with two homers in seven games.

Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley all return for the Astros, however, and they combined for seven homers in the four-game playoff series. Correa went deep three times, and the other two had two homers apiece.

One difference between this season and last will be fans in attendance in Oakland.

Houston slugger Alex Bregman said, “I love that fans are back in the stands. Hopefully, as we get nearer toward the end of this virus, we can start to see higher capacities. I can’t wait to play in front of fans again.”

Greinke faced Oakland three times in the 2020 regular season, going 1-1 with a 3.71 ERA.

He is 9-3 with a 2.92 ERA in 21 games, including 17 starts, against the A’s in his career.

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–Field Level Media