With the Houston Astros charging towards their fifth American League West Division title in six seasons, the Oakland Athletics' are in full rebuild mode yet again.
This is despite winning seasons in the A's past four years, and reaching the playoffs in three of those seasons.
A rebuild is nothing new to Oakland; it's part of what they do in their organisation. The franchise has a very small budget. According to Spotrac.com, the A's have a roster payroll of a little over $48million, only the Baltimore Orioles out of the 30 MLB teams have a worse budget. The Astros' payroll, by contrast, is three times the size of the Athletics.
It seems every other season, the A's front office will trade away their stars and rebuild the farm system, reload the roster with prospects and hope to go on a run to the playoffs.
In the last 10 seasons, Oakland have reached the postseason on six occasions, so the rest and rebuild clearly works with a franchise that has to find ways to compete.
|What||Houston Astros @ Oakland Atheltics, Game 1|
|Where||RingCentral Coliseum, Oakland, California|
|When||21:40 ET Monday 25th July 2022|
|How to watch||MLB.TV, ATT SportsNet-SW, NBCSCA|
The Astros' have won their first four games since the All-Star break including a two-game sweep over the New York Yankees at MinuteMaid Park, which has set the tone for Houston since the midseason break.
Pitcher Justin Verlander was in his usual sensational form in the second of three games against the Seattle Mariners.
The 39-year-old won his 13th game of the season (13-3) by allowing only one run on four hits and two walks while striking out nine batters in seven innings to lead Houston to a 3-1 win at T-Mobile Park.
Verlander has a 1.86 ERA, he must be favourite to win the American League Cy Young Award, he's 5-0 with a 0-79 ERA, in his last five starts.
Verlander missed the entire 2021 season following Tommy John surgery and his arm seems to be getting better with every start.
Speaking to the official Houston Astros' website, Verlander said: "Since my surgery, I've been creeping back and feeling better and better.
"I feel like I haven't been able to let it go like that in a long time. Really, it feels great. I feel like a younger version of myself. I used to be able to do that. The last few years, I felt like whenever I tried to step on the gas to let it go, the velo didn't correspond with the effort."
Prior to Sunday's final game against the Texas Rangers, the A's had won their last three fixtures and were starting to build a bit of momentum. It was their first three-game home winning streak in 2022, which also matches the club’'s longest winning streak of the season.
The A's did defeat the Astros at MinuteMaid Park prior to the All-Star break, which should heed as a warning to Houston going into this series.
Speaking to the official website, team manager Mark Kotsay said: "I did feel like we played better baseball going into the break.
"You always worry after a three-day break, how a team is going to come out. Right now, I feel like we're playing good clean baseball."
With the A' already way down in the playoff race, the second half of the season is all about developing their younger players.
Starting pitcher James Kaprielian is one to watch out for, the 28-year-old might not be in the youngsters category, but he’s relatively new in service time in Major League Baseball.
Kaprielian went scoreless for the first time this season in his last start against the Rangers. Over his last five starts, he has posted a 2.76 ERA.
The bullpen is developing for the Athletics. Domingo Acevedo, Sam Moll and Zach Jackson all helped the A's get the win on Saturday and that will build confidence for Oakland.
In the nine previous meetings this season. The Astros have defeated the A's six times, with five of those wins coming at the RingCentral Coliseum.
Despite the series defeat to Oakland last time out, Houston will be favourites going into the three-game matchup.