The Oakland Athletics have already established a handful of youngsters as future cornerstones of their franchise, with the emergence of catcher Sean Murphy the latest noteworthy development.
The 24-year-old rookie has served notice to the Houston Astros with three home runs in two games, including a leadoff blast in the sixth inning Wednesday that keyed the Athletics' 5-3 comeback victory at Minute Maid Park. Oakland handed the Astros their second consecutive home loss, the first team to do so since Pittsburgh in late June, and is responsible for three of the four losses Houston has suffered at Minute Maid Park against American League West competition.
If the Athletics are to keep their faint division pennant hopes alive with a series victory, Murphy might prove critical to meeting that goal with his dual contributions as a power-laden backstop.
"Both behind the plate, you have to learn a pitching staff, you're having to learn players in the league with extensive scouting reports these days, and he handles it really well," Athletics manager Bob Melvin said. "Obviously, the bat has shown up, too. The more he plays, the more comfortable he's going to be, and he looks pretty comfortable right now."
Right-hander Homer Bailey (12-8, 4.87 ERA) will start for Oakland Thursday.
Bailey is 3-0 with a 2.35 ERA over his last five starts after going 2-2 with an 8.17 ERA over his first five starts with the Athletics. Bailey is 5-2 with a 4.98 ERA over 10 starts with the Athletics. He has walked one batter or fewer in each of his last six starts, the longest such streak of his career. Bailey is 4-1 with a 2.83 ERA over nine career starts against Houston. He took the loss on July 22 after allowing nine runs on eight hits and three walks with two strikeouts over two innings.
Right-hander Justin Verlander (18-5, 2.52 ERA) will start the series finale for the Astros. He has allowed two or fewer runs in each of his past five starts, going 3-1 with a 1.21 ERA and 47 strikeouts against two walks during that stretch. Verlander has surrendered a .113/.134/.258 slash line over 37 1/3 innings in that span. He is 14-6 with a 2.53 ERA over 23 career starts against the Athletics including a 2-0 record and 1.29 ERA in three starts this season. In his previous appearance against Oakland, Verlander allowed two runs on four hits with 11 strikeouts in seven innings but did not factor into the decision of a 3-2 loss on Aug. 16.
With Verlander having logged 200 innings on the season to lead the majors, the Astros aren't in dire straits in terms of needing additional length from their bullpen in the series finale. Houston did utilize five relievers to cover the final four innings Wednesday after starter Wade Miley produced only one out Tuesday. There are extra arms available, but the Astros could use some relief reliability if they plan to earn a split of the series and lower their magic number to six.
"Our bullpen in general wasn't very sharp," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "While they were rested they also didn't quite execute even though a couple guys got out of some innings. But we'll be locked and loaded ready (for Thursday)."
--Field Level Media
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