Are the Houston Astros on their way back toward the top of the American League West? They have done nicely in recovering from a recent seven-game losing streak that allowed the Los Angeles Angels to take over the division lead. Now they seek a three-game sweep over the Boston Red Sox as they line up for Thursday night action that is scheduled to get underway at 8:10 PM ET at Minute Maid Park.
The Astros are battling back against folks who believe the lead they got off to in the division MLB picks was perhaps a fluke. They had at one point lost eight out of nine and then the Angels caught lightning in a bottle and passed them. Houston is the top team in the wild card race at the moment, but on an overall basis they have been a real success story, in that after losing 416 games over a four-year period, they have started to see the results of a lot of their plans, which have been the result of very aggressive use of analytics.
The Red Sox have a far bigger payroll than Houston does; in fact, they are doling out $166 million, while the Astros are just below $72 million. Yet Boston has the worst record in the American League as they work on a seven-game losing streak.
Houston Astros (McCullers) -149
Boston Red Sox (Miley) +139
Over 7.5 runs -115
Under 7.5 runs -105
Wade Miley (8-8, 4.49 ERA) will try to end the drought for the Red Sox. And it should be noted that one of the games they lost was the last game he started, and he had a no-hitter through six innings, ultimately leaving after seven innings of one-hit ball. They just can’t score runs, and they haven’t during this losing run. They were held scoreless, in fact, in the first two meetings with the Angels, getting a runner as far as third base only once. And they have now tallied nine runs in the last six games.
Lance McCullers (4-3, 2.52 ERA) has been one of the top rookie pitchers in the American League. And he has averaged better than one strikeout per inning. Last time out, which was eleven days ago, he gave up four runs in six innings against the Tampa Bay Rays, but registered ten K’s. In his three previous starts, he had allowed just three runs in 18 innings. And when McCullers takes the mound at Minute Maid Park, he is truly tough to deal with, as he has a 1.20 ERA and 0.90 WHIP ratio, with the opposition hitting just .152 and slugging only .248 against him.
This race may be coming close to an end for the Red Sox, but the Astros are offering indication that they could be in this thing till the end. They are just two games behind the Angels at the moment. And they have enough pitching, it seems, to take it to the wire. But that assumes people like McCullers can continue to do well.