Just five days ago, the A's pulled within 4 1/2 games of the Astros for first place in the AL West. All of a sudden, there were murmurs around the league of a legitimate pennant race out west.
Houston sure silenced those talks in a hurry. The Astros won their sixth game in a row Monday night, obliterating the A's, 11-1, to push their division lead back to 7 1/2 games.
This was more than just a victory. It was a statement. The Astros pulled out their megaphones and declared to the world that the AL West still runs through Houston, as it has the past two seasons.
Houston is now 8-1 against Oakland this season, with a run differential of 53-21. The A's have made plenty of strides the last two years, but clearly, they're not yet in the same class as the Astros.
The most glaring difference between the two clubs is obviously pitching. Despite losing Charlie Morton to free agency and Lance McCullers Jr. to injury, the Astros' starting rotation is far superior to Oakland's.
Houston features two legitimate aces in Justin Verlander and Monday's winning pitcher Gerrit Cole, as well as reliable veterans Wade Miley and Brad Peacock. The A's, on the other hand, have had to piece together a rotation which is comprised of too many inconsistent arms.
On Monday, Oakland's newest starter Homer Bailey got absolutely rocked, allowing nine runs in just two innings of work. That followed a subpar outing Sunday from Daniel Mengden, who only lasted 3 1/3 innings in Minnesota, giving up four runs.
Houston has multiple starters who can go out and win a game without much run support. The A's have to rely solely on their offense in many cases, simply asking their starters to keep them close.
The Astros' bullpen has also been more effective than Oakland's this year, with Ryan Pressly, Will Harris, and Roberto Osuna all maintaining ERAs under 2.40. As good as Liam Hendriks has been for the A's this season, he and Yusmeiro Petit have really been the only reliable relievers in Oakland's bullpen. With Blake Treinen, Lou Trivino, and Joakim Soria all having down-years, the A's pen has not been the strength they expected it to be.
Despite the A's mammoth struggles against the Astros this season, they still find themselves in great position to earn a wild-card bid for the second straight year. That's where the focus should be right now. Forget about the division -- that belongs to Houston.