The Los Angeles Angels are limping into Houston tonight for the Sunday night baseball game of the week, to face off against the red-hot Astros. This is a must-win game for the Angels, as entering play today they are 4.5 games back of the Minnesota Twins for the second American League wild-card spot with just eight games left to play. The Astros took game one 3-0, as the newly acquired Justin Verlander complete shut down the Angels. Verlander threw seven shutout innings and allowed only one hit on the day. Game two of the series looked fairly similar as the Astros starter Charlie Morton was dominant, going seven innings and giving up only one earned run in the 6-2 Houston win. Today, the Angels will send lefty Tyler Skaggs (2-6 4.30 ERA) to the mound, and the Astros will counter with All-Star Lance McCullers (7-3 3.97 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 5:08 PM PST from Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas.
Today’s MLB Pick:
Los Angeles Angels (76-78) at Houston Astros (95-59)
Tyler Skaggs (2-6 4.30 ERA) vs. Lance McCullers (7-3 3.97 ERA)
When the Angels made last second moves at the waiver trade deadline to acquire Brandon Phillips and Justin Upton, I will admit I was the first one to jump on the Angel bandwagon. Never this late in a season had a contending team been able to add that level of talent. The Angels were already on the upswing and had the best player in baseball, Mike Trout, coming back from injury. All signs pointed to the Angels making a run at the postseason.
But they haven’t. The Angels have lost six in a row heading into this one and are seeing their playoff chances go up in smoke. It has been a rough spot in the schedule for L.A. as their last two series have been against the best two teams in the American League, in Cleveland and Houston. But that is no excuse. If the Angels wanted to make the playoffs these are the type of teams, they need to be able to compete with, and they just aren’t. They will look to keep that playoff door cracked open today with a win, by sending Tyler Skaggs on the mound.
Skaggs has been a little better than his numbers might show on the season. His problem has been consistency. Two starts ago against these Astros, Skaggs pitched seven shutout innings allowing only three hits in a blowout Angels win. Two starts before that against Texas? He lasted only two innings and got pounded for six runs. He just can’t seem to string together good starts and it’s always one step forward and two steps back for the youngster. That is not the type of guy you are going to want to back against what might be the best team in the American League tonight.
The Astros have been up and down this season. They ran out to the best record in the majors for most of the seasons first half, then regressed as the injuries started to pile up. They lost Carlos Correa, Evan Gattis, Dallas Kuechel, and McCullers amongst others, at times this season and struggled. Now they are healthy again and are reminding everyone just how good they can be when they have all their players on the field. Th Astros have won eight out of their last nine games and seem poised to take a run at Cleveland for the number one seed in the American League playoffs. Entering play today the Astros are just 1.5 games back for that coveted number one seed, so they absolutely have something to play for in this one.
I want to say the Angels are going to get their act together and make the playoffs, but at this point, it’s mostly out of their hands. They would need an epic collapse from the Twins and would have to run the table themselves and having lost six in a row it would be unrealistic to say that will happen. What is more likely is that this Angels team will continue to struggle and finish on the outside looking in for the playoffs. And things aren’t going to get any easier today against All-Star McCullers.
McCullers was fantastic in baseballs first half this year. He ran out to a 7-1 record out of the gate, and it looked like a star was born in Houston. Then reality set in for the young right-hander. McCullers was 0-2 with an ERA of over nine in July before getting injured and missing more than a month. In his first start back from the DL, McCullers was OK against Seattle. Pitching 5.1 innings and giving up three earned runs in a 5-3 Houston win. I suspicion that McCullers wasn’t fully healthy in July and that attributed to his sharp decline in results. Now that McCullers is back and well rested I expect that he will get back on track and be an arm the Astros can rely on in the postseason.
My heart wants to take the Angels tonight in this one. But my brain won’t let me. It’s sad to see such a talented team like L.A. miss the playoffs but they have stumbled badly down the stretch and their season is all but over. I have to stick with the hot hand tonight in Houston as it looks like the Astros are making a big push for that top seed in the playoffs. This Angels team looks like they have given up over the last week and while I don’t think they are just going to lay down in this one, I also don’t think they have enough firepower to get the job done tonight. Give me the Astros in the sweep tonight in game three.
The Bet: Astros -151