Superb Pitching Makes A Profitable 'Under' MLB Pick In Astros vs. Athletics

Friday, April 29, 2016 5:08 PM GMT

A hot-shot rookie making his Major League debut and a veteran starting to round into form could produce an ‘under’ MLB pick when the Astros visit the Athletics.

MLB Record: 12-14-1, -0.62

Houston Astros vs. Oakland Athletics
There could be a scarcity of runs in a matchup of young vs. old Friday night when veteran Mike Fiers and the Houston Astros (7-15, 3-9 away) pay a visit to the highly touted debuting southpaw Sean Manaea and the Oakland Athletics (11-12, 3-7 home) at the spacious Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, CA at 10:05 ET in a game available on Comcast SportsNet - California.

The posted total at Heritage is 7½ for this contest with the current MLB odds on the ‘under' set at -105.

Upside Down Standings?
The Astros were a chic pick to win the World Series before this season and at they were the favorites to win the American League West. However, things have not gone according to plan with Oakland instead in last place in the division at 7-15 and the Astros have yet to win two straight games, which is something they are trying to do here after beating the Seattle Mariners 7-4 on Wednesday.

In fact, Houston is tied for the worst record in the American League at 7-15 along with the Minnesota Twins, ahead of only the 5-17 Atlanta Braves of the National League for the worst record in the majors.

The Athletics were the team expected to be in last place before the year, and while they are only in fourth place at 11-12 as MLB picks, they are actually only 1½ games behind the first place Texas Rangers in a division where no team is off to a terrific start. Thus Oakland is actually closer to first place than to the fifth place Astros, who are five games out of first and 3½ games behind the A's.

One of Best Pitching Prospects in Baseball
The starting rotation for the Athletics so far has been comprised of ace Sonny Gray and a bunch of under-achievers, with Rich Hill being the only other Oakland starter with a WAR above 0.0! However, help may be on the way tonight as well as a glimpse at the future in the form of Manaea, who was one of the most highly ranked pitching prospects in baseball as well as the second ranked player at any position in the Oakland minor league system entering the year.

The 24-year-old product of Indiana State was acquired from the Kansas City Royals last year as part of the trade for Ben Zobrist, and he did not have much left to prove at the Triple-A level after starting the year there with a 1.50 ERA and a great ratio of 21 strikeouts vs. four walks in 18 innings. Now, the struggles and demotion of Eric Surkamp have opened the door for Manaea to make his Major League debut, and he may stick around a while if he lives up to his billing.

The young southpaw has yet to strikeout fewer than 10 batters per nine innings at any of his minor league levels while totaling 257 strikeouts in 214 innings overall vs. 84 walks while accumulating a nice 2.82 ERA. He could be quite difficult his first time through the majors and he debuts vs. a Houston lineup that is batting just .238 overall while averaging only 3.91 runs per game.

Recovering from Poor Initial Start
Fiers pitched a no-hitter for the Astros after being acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers last season and he has also been a favorite in the sabremetric community due to a career 3.72 xFIP that belies his 25-30 record. Last year was par for the course as he combined for a 7-10 record at his two stops despite his overall 3.69 ERA and nice 8.98 strikeouts per nine innings. Thus, Fiers is usually an underrated hurler that is worth following.

Now, he did have a bad seasonal debut this year where he was roughed up for five earned runs on nine hits in just five innings, and that one outing is the main reason for his 5.73 ERA and 1.36 WHIP after four starts. Fiers has been trending in the right direction since then though as he has won his last two starts including limiting the Red Sox to two runs on five hits with six strikeouts in 5.1 innings in his last outing last Saturday.

Fiers now has the good fortune to be facing an Oakland offense that is batting a disgusting .185 here at home this young season vs. right-handed pitchers while averaging a measly 2.32 runs per nine innings against them.

Pitcher's Stadium
Finally, let us not forget that the Oakland Coliseum is one of the most friendly pitcher's ballparks in baseball with its dimensions and vast foul territory, and such has been the case again this season with games in Oakland averaging just a combined 6.50 runs per game. The ‘under' is 6-2 in the Athletics' last eight home games including 5-1 their last six home games vs. right-handed starters, as well as 6-1 in their last seven games inside the American League West.

Given Manaea's advance press clippings, Fiers starting to regain his good form and the ballpark, look for those ‘under' trends to continue for at least one more game when Houston opens up a weekend series at Oakland on Friday.

[/]{"component":"oddswidget", "eventId":2993723, "sportsbooksIds":[93,1096,169,999996,180,139], "LineTypeId":3, "PeriodTypeId":1}[/]
Free MLB Pick: Under 7.5 (-110)
Best Line Offered: at Bookmaker