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Houston Astros shoot for four-game sweep of host Oakland Athletics

Apr 1, 2021; Oakland, California, USA; Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27), shortstop Carlos Correa (1) and left fielder Chas McCormick (6) celebrate after a win against the Oakland Athletics at RingCentral Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 1, 2021; Oakland, California, USA; Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27), shortstop Carlos Correa (1) and left fielder Chas McCormick (6) celebrate after a win against the Oakland Athletics at RingCentral Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Rival fans in Oakland wasted no time on Opening Day reminding the Houston Astros of their 2017 cheating scandal.

And over the last three days, the Astros have reminded the A’s that they did something else three years ago — win a lot.

Houston will go for a four-game sweep over the defending American League West champions when the clubs complete their season-opening series on Sunday afternoon in Oakland.

The Astros’ 3-0 start mirrors that of 2017, which they used as a starting point for a 101-win regular season and subsequent run to the World Series championship.

This year’s start hasn’t just been perfect; it’s been totally dominant. The Astros have never trailed, taking the lead for good in the fourth, third and second innings in their wins.

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In sending the A’s to their worst start since 1997, the Astros have hit the hosts from every angle.

After Michael Brantley, Jose Altuve and Yuli Gurriel combined for 14 hits, including two homers, in the first two games, Yordan Alvarez, Aledmys Diaz and Carlos Correa combined for eight hits in Saturday’s 9-1 win.

Alvarez provided the big blow Saturday with a three-run homer in the fifth, three innings after Brantley had to leave the game after being hit by a pitch in the right wrist.

“A lot of the talk is: Are they the same thing without (George) Springer?” A’s manager Bob Melvin noted after Saturday’s loss. “But they didn’t have Alvarez last year and obviously he does some damage. He’s a tough guy to navigate around.”

That task on Sunday will fall upon the left arm of A’s starter Sean Manaea (4-3, 4.50 in 2020), who has gone 3-5 with a 3.27 ERA in 13 career regular-season starts against the Astros.

Houston will counter with right-hander Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.73), who has allowed just three hits in 11 innings over two career starts against the A’s in the regular season but has only a loss to show for it.

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Coincidentally, Manaea and Urquidy put up identical numbers — four runs on five hits over 4 1/3 innings — in appearances in last year’s AL Division Series, which the Astros won 3-1.

Manaea’s performance came at home as a starter in a Game 2 loss, during which he allowed homers to Springer and Martin Maldonado.

Urquidy, meanwhile, gave up four home runs — including one apiece by Mark Canha and Matt Olson — in relief in Game 3, Oakland’s only win in the best-of-five.

The A’s won the AL West last season, finishing seven games ahead of the Astros.

One big difference in the first three games this year has been the performance of the relievers. While the Houston bullpen has limited the A’s to three earned runs on nine hits in 12 1/3 innings, the Astros have bombed Oakland’s relief corps to the tune of 17 hits and 13 earned runs in 12 1/3 innings.

“That’s our thing,” Astros manager Dusty Baker noted after Saturday’s win, which featured a four-run ninth. “We gotta keep scoring.”

The Astros are expected to have Brantley available Sunday after X-rays taken Saturday were negative.

–Field Level Media