Chad Pinder and the Oakland Athletics knew the Houston Astros were going to be a difficult opponent in the AL Division Series even after winning seven of 10 meetings during the regular season.
With the Astros nearly back to full strength, the A's find themselves in a familiar playoff position — facing elimination.
Houston's 5-2 victory Tuesday in Game 2 at Dodger Stadium means Oakland needs to win three straight to oust the defending American League champions.
“We knew going in this was going to be a dogfight. They have experience in the postseason and are not going to roll over," Pinder said. "We have to somehow find it in us to get that one big hit.”
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Hoping to save their season, the A's will start rookie left-hander Jesús Luzardo in Game 3 on Wednesday — a week after his 23rd birthday. Luzardo started the first-round opener against the Chicago White Sox and took the loss, giving up three runs, six hits and two homers in 3 1/3 innings.
He was 3-2 with a 4.12 ERA during the regular season.
“We just have to win tomorrow and worry about the next day after that. Anything further than that is a distraction. All we have to do is win a game,” manager Bob Melvin said.
Oakland won the AL West for the first time since 2013 and seemed to exorcise some of its postseason demons in the first round, when the A's took the final two games from the White Sox to advance for only the second time in their last 14 playoff appearances.
Oakland is one of six teams to reach the postseason each of the last three years, but hasn't made it to the AL Championship Series since 2006.
The Athletics find themselves in trouble after struggling in two areas where they did well during the regular season — scoring in late innings and not allowing home runs.
Oakland was second in the AL with 89 runs scored in the seventh inning or later. On Monday and Tuesday, they managed only two baserunners and went 1 for 18.
“Those have been our best innings. We tend to be good against potential bullpens, but they have shut us down,” Melvin said.
Oakland's pitching staff allowed the third-fewest home runs in the AL, but the Astros have gone deep six times in the series.
The Athletics were technically the home team for the first two games, but with the coronavirus moving all postseason series to Southern California and Texas beginning with this round, they haven't enjoyed the home-field advantage they would have if the games were at the Oakland Coliseum.
With games being played in the afternoon and the temperature above 90 degrees both days, Dodger Stadium has played smaller and been a launching pad for both teams. During the later innings, the shadows near home plate and the mound have caused problems for Oakland hitters.
“The nice thing about playing here is you can see the exit velocity of balls hit on the scoreboard. If the ball is hit over 102 (mph) and the angle is 25 to 30 (degrees), it is probably going to go out,” A's shortstop Marcus Semien said. “When you barrel it up it has a chance. It's hard to take pitches.”
The odds of Oakland coming back to take the series are not in its favor. This is the seventh time in postseason history the A's have dropped the first two games, with five of those series ending in sweeps.
Despite being up 2-0, Houston manager Dusty Baker is taking nothing for granted because he's been on the wrong end of postseason comebacks before.
“Those guys don’t get demoralized easy over there. I’ve been up 2-0 before. You've got to put them away when you get a chance. If you let them get off the mat, these guys know how to win,” he said.
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