Wednesday's Game Three
By: Willie Bee
Six is apparently the magic number when it comes to the Houston Astros. Five times this season, the Astros have managed to lose six games in a row, and five times they stopped the skid at that length, as they did Tuesday night in Houston with a 5-4 decision vs. the Oakland Athletics in one of the strangest walk-off scenarios you'll see.
Houston's victory not only snapped a 6-game losing streak that started just before the all-star break, it also stopped a 10-game losing streak with the A's this year. The clubs will decide the series with a matinee rubber match at Minute Maid Park that pits righthanders AJ Griffin and Bud Norris on the mound.
The Athletics are chalked around -160 for Game 3 which also finds an 8 run total on the MLB odds board.
Griffin has run hot-&-cold all year as his 10 quality starts in 20 assignments might lead you to believe. Last Friday in Anaheim saw him give up four runs and three long balls in five frames, and the setback stopped a string of four consecutive starts that went into the win column for Oakland. Both of his outings vs. Houston this season were winners for the A's, with Griffin working 11.2 IP and allowing six earned runs combined.
Are we seeing Norris make his final start as an Astro? Trade rumors have been swirling the past week or so with the Giants, Red Sox and Pirates among the interested suitors. Norris' performances in his last two outings suggest those talks should be cooling after the beefy righty got lit up by the Cardinals (5 IP, 7 ER) and Mariners (5.2 IP, 6 ER).
Oakland has also banged him around twice this year, one of those outings at The Coliseum in mid-April when the A's chased him before Norris could get out of the first. He also lost a 6-3 decision in Houston on April 6 when the Athletics scored five times (2 earned) before sending him to the showers in the sixth.
Jordan Baker, a big hulk of a man from Enid, OK, is slated to be behind the dish for the Hump Day finale. In his second season as a rover among the MLB umpiring crews, Baker is filling in for Wally Bell and brings a 7-9 O/U record into the tilt, road favorites going 4-2 in his contests. The only weather report you need for this game is it takes place in Houston on a summer afternoon. The roof will be shut.
Houston has come right back with a win three of the other four times following the end of a 6-game losing streak, but I'm going right back into Fade the Astros mode for this one, and will also add an OVER play to my free picks.
My pick: Athletics-Astros Over 8 (-115) at Bet365
Don't forget to check out Jeff Grant's Daily Pitching Report.
Tuesday's Game Two
By: Willie Bee
For a while Monday night, it looked like the Houston Astros were going to break their drought against the Oakland Athletics and maybe help their Lone Star State relatives in the process. Then the real Astros showed up.
Oakland looks to remain perfect against Houston when the clubs get back to business tonight at Minute Maid Park. An inviting matchup of young righthanders is on the schedule as the A's send Jarrod Parker out against Astros rookie Jarred Cosart. MLB odds started with the Athletics at -165 and haven't moved much following overnight wagering. The original 8.5 run total is down to 8 at most baseball betting shops.
The A's did their best to give Houston a dubya in the series opener by exhibiting sloppy play in the field and going 0-for-9 with a sac fly when they had runners in scoring position. Down 3-0, Oakland eventually broke out the big bats with a couple of late homers to rally for the 4-3 victory.
Parker got off to a rough start to the campaign with a 1-5 record and 7.34 ERA through his first seven outings, whittling that last stat down by more than three runs in the 12 subsequent assignments. His ERA is a solid 2.62 during his last four starts, all no-decisions for him and each one an Oakland loss. Tuesday will mark his first time to face the Astros, and the A's are 4-5 when he pitches on the road (3.58 ERA).
Part of the package Houston received from Philadelphia a couple of years ago in the Hunter Pence deal, Cosart beat the Rays 11 days ago in his MLB debut with an outstanding performance. The young righty had a no-hitter until Ben Zobrist broke that up one out into the seventh, then immediately erased him with a double-play grounder, one of three DP's the Astros turned during Cosart's eight scoreless innings.
Cosart can bring it in the mid-to-upper 90s and this will be his first appearance in front of the home crowd, many of them friends and family from just south of Houston where he was born and grew up.
Marvin Hudson is next up to call balls and strikes in the umpire rotation, and brings a 12-10 O/U record into Tuesday's tilt. Three of his last four plate assignments failed to reach the total and this will be the fourth time he's worked the dish in an Astros game this year, the previous three going 2-1 O/U.
Cosart's nerves early on will decide this one as he pitches in front of so many family and friends. I'll continue my Astros fade project and also like the OVER for a free play in Game 2.
My MLB Pick: Athletics-Astros Over 8 (-110) at Bet365
By: Willie Bee
Everything sets up nicely for the Oakland Athletics to start the week, and the opportunity is there to widen the gap between them and the Texas Rangers in the AL West. While the Rangers are home taking on the New York Yankees, the A's will be about 250 miles south along I-45 in Houston against an Astros club that is proving things can indeed go from bad to worse. Let's look at the baseball odds for this Game 1.
Monday's series opener finds a couple of young southpaws on the bump as Tommy Milone takes his turn in the Oakland rotation opposite Houston's Dallas Keuchel. Action on the Athletics has driven the moneyline up to -170 on the visitors with the MLB odds agreeing on a 9 run total that is juiced a little more to the UNDER.
Oakland begins the week with a 3-game cushion over Texas in the AL West, Houston sitting 23.5 behind with the worst record in the majors. The A's avoided being swept in Anaheim over the weekend thanks to Bartolo Colon's Sunday shutout while the Rangers were being broomed at home by Baltimore to start Monday on a 4-game slide. Another sweep was happening in Houston at the same time as the Seattle Mariners handed the Astros their fifth consecutive setback in a 12-5 laugher.
Series One-Sided Among New Division Rivals
Houston and Oakland played all of six games against each other before the 2013 campaign opened, and Monday will be the 10th time they've seen each other this year. It's also the last trip to Bayou City for the A's who have acted right at home at Minute Maid Park this season with six straight wins.
Of course, it hasn't really mattered where the teams played this year, or in the past, with Oakland coming out on top in all nine clashes this year and riding into Houston with 11 straight wins in this series dating back to an interleague set in 2007. Scoring this season has been a lopsided 68-31 in favor of the A's who covered the run line in seven of their nine victories during the season's first half.
Milone has started two of the Athletics' wins vs. the Astros, one a solid effort in Oakland back in April when the former Southern Cal star jumped out to a 3-0 start on the season and the other in Houston on May 24 when he needed his offense and bullpen to bail him out of a 5-3 hole after seven innings of work. Both of those assignments found Milone facing Houston's Erik Bedard, and the Astros are 10-15 vs. lefthanders overall.
Keuchel saw Oakland twice in April as a reliever with pretty good results (6 IP, 1 ER) and once as a starter in May with pretty bad results (6 IP, 6 ER). The former Razorback has pitched much better away from home (3.38 ERA, 40 IP) than at home (5.62 ERA, 49.2 IP) and has not won a game in Houston since beating the White Sox in mid-June. The A's are 19-13 vs. lefties overall, and have beaten four of the last five they've met.
Fade The Astros, Expect One Big Oakland Inning
We always hear managers and players stressing how important it is to keep the other team from having a big inning, and the Astros have failed miserably at that when facing the A's this year. Oakland has plated at least four runs in an inning seven times vs. Houston to account for 38 of the 68 runs scored, including a pair of 6-run first innings to all but deflate the Astros from the get-go. For those scoring at home, that is 56% of the scoring by the A's in a little less than 9% of the innings played.
You've also heard me speak of fading the Astros each and every game this year with a small play, something I intend to do this entire series as well as later this week when the Astros travel to Toronto and begin a 10-game road trip against the Blue Jays.
Expect the roof to be shut for this entire series that includes an evening affair on Tuesday before closing with a Hump Day matinee. I'll be starting the series off with a run-line play on the Athletics for my free pick.
My pick: Athletics -1.5 (+120) at Bet365