Both ALDS series this year have gone to a deciding Game 5 and look for pitching to set the tone when Collin McHugh and the Astros visit Johnny Cueto and the Royals Wednesday.
The young Houston Astros need to forget about blowing a four-run lead in the eighth inning of Game 4 of this ALDS, and good pitching can help them do it Wednesday night as they send 19-game winner Collin McHugh to the mound when they pay a visit to fellow right-hander Johnny Cueto and the Kansas City Royals for the deciding Game 5 from Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, MO at 8:07 ET in a game televised nationally on FOX Sports 1, with the series tied 2-2.
The posted total at Pinnacle Sports is 7½ for this contest with the current odds on the ‘under’ set at -107.
Comeback for the Ages
Now, teams have rallied from late four-run deficits before, but the timing and venue of the Royals’ 9-6 win in Game 4 after being down 6-2 entering the eighth inning made the comeback memorable. The Astros had just extended a 3-2 lead to 6-2 on back-to-back mammoth home runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, and with the noise inside Minute Maid Park at deafening levels, there was a general feeling among just about everyone that the series was over.
The Royals never received that memo though and proceeded to rip the hearts out of everyone else in attendance, forcing this decisive game by getting the road win they needed after losing the home field advantage in this series as the losing MLB Picks here at home in Game 1. But lest you think that the Astros cannot possibly come back from such a devastating loss, remember that it was their Game 5 starter McHugh that pitched them to that upset win here in the series opener.
Keuchel Available in Relief?
McHugh was a late bloomer in the Major Leagues as the journeyman came out of nowhere last season to finish among the ERA leaders in the American League while going 11-9 for a Houston team that lost 92 games with a 2.73 ERA and 157 strikeouts vs. 41 walks. Now, many considered that season fluky, but McHugh may have topped it this year going 19-7 with 171 strikeouts vs. 53 walks, albeit with a 3.89 ERA (but a 3.11 ERA after the All-Star break).
And those 2015 numbers obviously do not include Game 1 of this series when McHugh allowed two runs on four hits in six innings with both runs he allowed coming on solo home runs. And that was not the first time that he shut down the Kansas City lineup as he tossed seven scoreless innings and allowed just five hits in his only regular season start vs. the Royals.
Granted the Houston bullpen is a legitimate concern that was magnified in the Game 4 meltdown, but the Astros may have an ace (literally) in the hole here as there is a very real chance that American League Cy Young Award favorite Dallas Keuchel is available in relief in what would be his ordinary “throw day” anyway if he were on his normal pitching every fifth day cycle. That would serve the dual benefit of also not exposing the Astros’ pen again.
Will Cueto be Ace Royals Expected?
With all of that said, will the Astros get to Cueto again like they did when scoring four earned runs off of him in six innings back in Game 2 in a game the Royals rallied to win 5-4? Well, the Royals thought they were trading for the ace of what had been a struggling staff when they acquired Cueto from the Cincinnati Reds at the trading deadline, and this is precisely the spot that they picked him up for!
Yes, we totally get that Cueto has flopped since coming to the American League, going 4-7 with a 4.76 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in a Royals’ uniform after the trade before the mediocre effort in Game 2. However, we actually expect Cueto to have one of his best games as a Royal here while determined to prove that Kansas City did not make a mistake. Whether or not he pitches well enough to win could be debatable, but we do not expect him to get rocked this time around.
Trending the ‘under’
Finally, even with the wild finish to Game 4, the ‘under’ is still 5-2 in the last seven head-to-head meetings between these teams and 4-1 in the last five meetings here at Kauffman Stadium. The ‘under’ is also 21-7-3 in the Royals’ last 31 home games vs. teams with winning records, as well as 12-5-1 in McHugh’s last 18 starts overall for the Astros.
If we are correct in our assumption that Keuchel is available to finish this game for Houston to take that shaky bullpen out of the equation, then the Royals should have a very tough time scoring vs. the top two Astros’ starters and Cueto could afford to give up a few runs and still keep this penultimate Game 5 of the ALDS ‘under’ the total in Kansas City on Wednesday.
MLB Pick: Astros, Royals ‘under’ 7½ (-107)