As I noted in my first MLB Series Pick from Friday, I have a couple of MLB Series Picks on the go at the moment, both of which got off to fabulous starts on Thursday night.
The Washington Nationals pummeled the Atlanta Braves 13-4 and got our Nationals at +110 pick off to a nice start in the process. While Stephen Strasburg went just 5.1 innings and allowed three earned runs, he did for 3 for 3 at the plate with a home run and five RBI, so you could say that Strasburg was the driving force in this blowout win after all.
With Patrick Corbin and possibly Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer to follow, I feel really good about this pick moving through the weekend.
Our second pick took a little longer to decide, but the Giants got us off to a nice start at identical +110 odds after all.
Madison Bumgarner went nine innings and allowed just one earned run, but he still left with a no-decision in a 1-1 tie thanks to Noah Syndergaard’s seven innings of one-run ball himself. It would take a couple more hours to decide, but the Giants scored two runs in the bottom of the 16th inning after the Mets scored one in the top half of the inning to come from behind and win the game 3-2 in 16.
With Jacob deGrom going for the Mets today, it’s nice to have that win in the back pocket as the pitching matchups favor the Giants on both Saturday and Sunday.
With those two series’ starting off on the right note, let’s turn out attention to our second pick that kicks off this Friday night, featuring an AL West rivalry and the battle of Texas between the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros from Minute Maid Park in Houston.
Let’s take a look at the odds for this three-game set, courtesy of MyBookie.
Rangers vs. Astros MLB Series Odds
Now let’s take a quick peek at the probable pitching matchups for this series, courtesy of MLB.com.
- Friday: Minor (TEX) vs. Verlander (HOU)
- Saturday: Jurado (TEX) vs. TBD (HOU)
- Sunday: Lynn (TEX) vs. Armenteros (HOU)
Let’s have a look at these matchups in more detail before getting into some notes on the offenses, bullpens and my final pick!
Friday: Mike Minor (8-4, 2.73 ERA) vs. Justin Verlander (11-4, 2.98 ERA)
The series-opening pitching matchup is a doozy as the Rangers give the ball to left-hander Mike Minor who is with Verlander among AL Cy Young candidates this season.
Minor enters play sporting that electric 2.73 ERA, however, his 3.82 FIP and 4.42 xFIP would suggest that Minor is due to regress at some point this season. The FIP is elevated based on the fact that Minor is walking too many batters at a 3.25 BB/9 clip and the fact that he has stranded 85.4% of base runners to this point, a number that is more than 10% above his career 74.7% mark.
Interestingly, Minor is inducing more ground-balls than ever this year as his 43.8% ground-ball rate is notably higher than his 37.5% career mark and far higher than his 34.4% mark from last season, which can help explain his 0.96 HR/9 rate this year compared to an elevated 1.43 mark a season ago despite a normal 10.6% HR/FB clip.
Minor has been really good on the road this season, which was his Achilles’ heel last season. Shockingly, Minor owns an identical 2.73 ERA on the road than he has posted at home. While his 2.99 FIP at home supports that number, Minor’s 4.70 FIP on the road does suggest notable regression, mostly from his huge 92.5% strand rate on the road.
He also owns an elevated 1.52 HR/9 mark on the road as well.
Minor faced the Astros in his last start and allowed four earned runs across five innings of work. In three starts against the Astros this season, he’s pitched to a 3.71 ERA. He allowed three earned runs across five innings in his one start in Houston this season back on May 9th.
He owns that tidy 2.98 ERA, but also a 4.07 FIP and 3.71 xFIP as well. He’s stranded 88.6% of baserunners this season, a number that sits almost 14% above his 74.9% career mark. Furthermore, Verlander has held the opposition to a tiny .186 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), a number that sits miles under his .281 career mark and the .272 mark he posted last season. That BABIP number is 100% going to rise as the season moves along.
There’s also the fact that Verlander leads baseball with 26 home runs allowed this season, mostly because of his huge 46.7% fly-ball rate against as well as a big 40.6% hard-hit rate against, a number that towers over his 27.9% career mark and the 29.1% mark he posted last season.
That said, this is a results-based business and like Minor, Verlander’s gotten the job done in spades despite some uncomfortable peripherals.
He continues to rack up the punchouts with a 10.85 K/9 on the season to go along with a small 1.90 BB/9 clip as well.
Verlander faced the Rangers in his last start, throwing six innings of two-run ball with seven strikeouts against just one walk, earning the win. He pitched seven shutout innings of shutout ball with eight strikeouts against the Rangers in Houston back on May 10th and owns a 2.62 ERA across four starts against the Rangers this season.
I’ll explain in more detail later, but while I’m giving the edge to Verlander here, this is very much a winnable game for the Rangers.
Saturday: Ariel Jurado (5-5, 4.63 ERA) vs. TBD
Ariel Jurado’s surface numbers aren’t great and he didn’t have a great night against the Astros back in Arlington coming out of the All-Star break, but there’s some stuff to like about the right-hander.
The biggest factor to like about Jurado is that he’s a better pitcher when he gets out of the hitter-friendly confines of Globe Life Park in Arlington, which makes sense.
At home, Jurado has pitched to a 5.45 ERA, but his results have been much better on the road with a 3.74 ERA despite a brutal 4.81 K/9 clip away from home. His FIP climbs to 4.67 and his xFIP all the way to 5.35, but the results nonetheless have been good.
Jurado’s last road start came against the light-hitting Tigers, but he hurled seven shutout innings nonetheless. He’s also pitched quality starts against the Angels and Red Sox over his last four road starts. He was roughed up for seven runs in Cincinnati as well in that span, but three of his last four starts on the road have been impressive.
Still, it’s going to be a tough matchup for Jurado. His peripherals are scary and he doesn’t generate enough strikeouts.
It’s totally unclear what the Astros plan to do on Saturday. Both Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley will be unavailable as they started the final two games of Houston’s series in Los Angeles this week.
It’s likely to be a bullpen day with Josh James likely to get a couple innings or more, but more likely than not it’s going to be a bullpen day.
Still, it’s hard to gather enough information here to give a distinct advantage to either side.
Sunday: Lance Lynn (12-5, 3.87 ERA) vs. Rogelio Armenteros *(4-6, 5.05 ERA)
*Numbers from Triple-A
Lynn actually leads all AL pitchers in WAR as he’s having a big season for the Rangers.
Lynn owns that solid 3.87 ERA, but also an excellent 2.92 FIP while his xFIP jumps back up to 3.77. He is racking up the strikeouts at a career-high rate of 9.84 K/9 while walking the opposition at a stout 2.04 BB/9 clip. He’s also allowed just 0.77 HR/9 despite pitching at the homer-friendly Globe Life Park in Arlington. I would normally say his 8.6% HR/FB rate should rise, however, he owns a career mark of just 9.3% so that is a rather normal figure for Lynn.
He coughed up five earned runs across six innings against the D-backs in his last start, however, Lynn absolutely stymied the Astros last week by tossing seven innings of shutout ball to go along with 11 strikeouts against just a pair of walks. Lynn has pitched at least seven innings in five of his last six starts and in 10 of his 20 starts this season.
In his lone start against the Astros in Houston, Lynn once again reached seven innings, allowing three earned runs with eight strikeouts against just one walk while taking a tough-luck loss in the process.
I used Armenteros’ Triple-A numbers this season as this will mark his first start with the Astros as he’s made three relief appearances to this point, pitching to a 2.00 ERA.
He’s made 13 starts and 14 appearances in Triple-A this season, pitching to an ugly 5.03 ERA and 4.98 FIP to go along with a 5.33 xFIP. He generates strikeouts at a nice 9.95 K/9 clip at Triple-A but also walked 3.32 batters per nine while allowing 1.58 HR/9 as well.
The 25-year-old has a history of high strikeout rates in the minors, and he probably won’t be asked to pitch many innings in this one, but the home run rate is concerning, especially against a Rangers team that can hit the ball out of the park to be sure.
While we don’t know much on Armenteros heading into this start, there’s little doubt that the advantage here goes to Lynn during a big-time season for the veteran right-hander.
Rangers vs. Astros MLB Series Pick
Clearly, the Rangers are an inferior team to the Astros as they sit 10 games back of Houston and are just 19-25 on the road while the Astros enter play a whopping 33-14 at home.
As a result, it’s not like you have to make this bet, but I’ll explain why I see value in the Rangers here.
First of all, the Rangers avoid Gerrit Cole in this series and on a night they face the Houston ace Justin Verlander, they can counter with Mike Minor who actually sports a superior ERA to Verlander.
That’s a winnable game for the Rangers. The Rangers rank eighth with a .333 wOBA against right-handed pitching this season and seventh with a .195 ISO against righties. Remember, Verlander has allowed 26 home runs this season – the most among any pitcher in baseball. He’s been good against Texas, but the Angels did rough him up for four runs in four innings in his first start against them this season.
If the Rangers can find a way to beat Verlander behind a strong outing from Minor, we are in serious business with this pick.
Jurado will be in tough on Saturday, however, a bullpen day from Houston guarantees nothing. The Rangers have the offense to do damage against any bullpen, and the Astros’ pen has slipped to 12th with a 3.91 ERA in the month of July.
Behind Lance Lynn on Sunday, the Rangers have a good chance to win. Lynn dominated the Astros his last time out and has allowed just three runs against them in 14 innings this season, good for a cool 1.93 ERA. Armenteros has been roughed up in Triple-A starting duties, so we have something to work with here.
The Astros’ offense is one of the best in the league and their bullpen is easily a top-five big league ‘pen. The Rangers, on the other hand, rank 25th with a 5.02 ERA from their bullpen this season.
However, given the length Minor and Lynn have given the Rangers this season, the Texas bullpen will (hopefully) not be forced into too much action on Friday and Sunday. I love the fact that we get Texas’ two best pitchers in this series against only one pitcher from Houston that is a full-time member of their rotation, albeit an AL Cy Young candidate.
If they don’t win game one, they can still theoretically win the series if Jurado can keep up his fine work on the road.
The Astros are likely to win this series. That’s evidenced by their 33-14 record at home, their 61-37 record overall and their -265 to win the series.
However, I think there’s value in the Rangers given everything noted above. If you want to look for some serious value on what should be another entertaining weekend of baseball, I suggest you give the Rangers a look at +225 and see if they can pull the upset.