OAKLAND Authentic Taron Johnson Jersey , Calif. — The Oakland Athletics will encounter one of their all-time nemeses Thursday afternoon when they face Houston Astros right-hander Justin Verlander in the finale of a three-game series.

The Astros have dominated the first two games of the series between American League West rivals, riding a total of 10 RBIs from Evan Gattis to 6-3 and 13-5 victories.

Houston has won seven of eight from Oakland this season.

The Astros have done it without any help from Verlander (8-2, 1.45 ERA), who has yet to face the A’s this season.

They have seen plenty of each other in the veteran’s 14-year career, including five times in the postseason, when Verlander has gone 4-0 against Oakland.

Included in the four wins were Game 5 clinchers for Detroit in 2012, when Verlander pitched a 6-0 shutout, and 2013, when he threw eight innings of shutout ball in a 3-0 win.

A’s general manager Billy Beane got so fed up losing to Verlander, he attempted to stack the Oakland pitching staff in anticipation of a rematch in 2014, acquiring Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel at midseason at the costly expense of Addison Russell and Yoenis Cespedes.

The A’s, who already had Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir anchoring their staff, never got a shot at Verlander in the playoffs that year, losing 9-8 to Kansas City in the American League wild-card game, which Lester started and Hammel finished.

With Lester, Samardzija and Hammel all leaving the team the following season either via trade or free agency Authentic Jeremy Kerley Jersey , the A’s haven’t been back in the postseason since. In fact, they’ve never finished higher than fourth place the last three seasons.

Verlander has a 10-6 record and 2.61 ERA in 17 starts against the A’s in his career during the regular season. He’s 5-4 with a 2.38 ERA in 10 starts in Oakland.

The A’s will counter with their modern-day version of Verlander, rookie right-hander Frankie Montas (3-0, 1.25), who has been brilliant in three starts this season.

Acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in one of Oakland’s many veteran sell-offs since becoming a non-contender in 2015, Montas has allowed a total of three runs in 21 2/3 innings in wins over Arizona and Kansas City (twice).

Montas pitched twice in relief against Houston in 2017, getting shelled in one inning in each appearance.

He gave up three hits and two runs in the ninth inning of a 10-6 loss to the Astros in his 11th career appearance early in the 2017 season, then served up a three-run home run to Marwin Gonzalez in the ninth inning of a 7-2 loss two weeks later.

Gonzalez had one of Houston’s four home runs in Wednesday’s shellacking, but the story of the game for the second consecutive night was Gattis.

The designated hitter, who had recorded four RBIs nine separate times in his career before this series began, enjoyed his second consecutive five-RBI performance in Wednesday’s win, belting two home runs along the way.

Gattis had been just 3-for-12 with no homers and no RBIs in six games against the A’s this season before exploding for four hits, including three homers, in seven at-bats the last two nights.

One team has a suffocating defense. The other has the NFL’s No. 1 unit.

Defense should win at least the NFC championship.

Two of the league’s elite defenses go at it Sunday when the Philadelphia Eagles (14-3) host the Minnesota Vikings (14-3) in the conference title game.

”They have a great defense, we have a great defense,” Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham said. ”Whoever is most complete will win.”

The Vikings allowed the fewest yards (275.9) and fewest points (15.8) per game. The Eagles were fourth in yards allowed (306.5) and fourth in points (18.4).

May the best defense reach the Super Bowl.

”Typically, when you’re good defensively Authentic Trent Murphy Jersey , you’re going to stay in the ballgames,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. ”Then you have a chance to win them at the end.”

Minnesota has three Pro Bowl players on defense: end Everson Griffen, outside linebacker Anthony Barr and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Safety Harrison Smith and Rhodes are All-Pros.

”It’s just a smothering defense,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. ”(Griffen) is a game wrecker. They just mix it in. You don’t know necessarily what’s coming. Rhodes is a tremendous corner, safeties are playing extremely well.”

Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and safety Malcolm Jenkins are Philadelphia’s Pro Bowl picks. Defensive end Brandon Graham had an excellent season and cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills are solid.

Hearing about Minnesota’s defense all week is extra motivation for Philadelphia, which is a home underdog for the second straight game.

”When you’ve got the No. 1 defense coming in statistically, obviously, it fires us up,” Cox said. ”We know going into this game that whoever’s defense plays better is going to win the game. The way we’re prepared, we won’t change nothing that we do. We’ll just go out and be ourselves.”

Here are things to watch for in the NFC championship game:

BATTLE OF THE BACKUPS: Case Keenum and Nick Foles were teammates in St. Louis in 2015 and began this season as backups. Keenum had a breakout season for the Vikings after Sam Bradford was injured. Foles is 3-1 since MVP candidate Carson Wentz tore his ACL. Expect defenses to focus on the running backs and challenge the quarterbacks.

”We’ve got to make Nick Foles win the game,” Griffen said. ”We’ve got to make him win the game but we’ve got to stop the running game, affect him and give the ball back to our offense as much as possible so that they can score points.”

OWNING MINNESOTA: Eagles receiver Alshon Jeffery has more catches (45), yards (685), and touchdowns (7) against the Vikings than he has against any other team. But Jeffery, who spent his first five seasons with the Bears, did most of his damage against other cornerbacks while also being the featured guy in Chicago’s offense. The Eagles spread the ball around, so Jeffery had only 789 yards receiving Authentic Isaiah Oliver Jersey , but his nine TDs were the second most in his career. Jeffery, by the way, turned down more money in free agency from Minnesota to join the Eagles on a one-year deal. Philadelphia gave him a four-year, $52 million extension during the season.

BROTHERLY LOVE: The Kendricks family from Northern California is guaranteed to have a son playing linebacker in the Super Bowl. Eric Kendricks is in his third season with the Vikings, and Mychal is in his sixth year with the Eagles.

Eric had his best season with 136 tackles to lead the team for the third straight time, nine passes defended and one interception return for a touchdown. Mychal was fifth on the Eagles with 72 tackles in 2017, adding two sacks.

Both were second-round draft picks, Eric out of UCLA with the 45th overall selection in 2015 and Mychal from Cal with the 46th overall pick in 2012. Their father, Marvin, was UCLA’s leading rusher in 1970 and 1971 and went on to play in the CFL.

With both teams at the top of the NFC and both defenses at the top of the league all season, the two siblings have traded their share of friendly trash talk along the way. Family members have been known to wear split jerseys to support both players.

”I always make jokes: I feel like my brother gets a little bit of the advantage as far as who the family roots for, because he’s the first born,” Eric said. ”It’s all love, though.”

FIND THEIR FOOTING: The Eagles laid fresh sod between the hash marks this week to help improve the conditions at Lincoln Financial Field. The weather should help, with a dry forecast and expected temperatures in the 40s, but the Vikings have been preparing for the worst.

Zimmer had a video put together of Falcons players sliding and slipping on the field last weekend. Players have been encouraged to try seven-stud cleats in pregame

NOT YET: The Vikings are 0-3 against the Eagles in the postseason. Philadelphia won a wild-card game in Minnesota after the 2008 season and home games in the divisional rounds on the way to Super Bowl appearances following the 1980 and 2004 seasons. Minnesota has not been to the Super Bowl since 1977 and is 0-4 in them.



AP Pro Football Writer Dave Campbell contributed.



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